All-Star Panel: Netanyahu victory a setback for Obama?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 18, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (via translator): I'm touched by the weight of responsibility that the people of Israel have put on my shoulders. I really appreciate the decision of the Israeli citizens to choose me and my friends against odds and great obstacles.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: It was a brief phone call. Secretary Kerry called the prime minister this morning to congratulate him. Given there is an ongoing government formation process they did not discuss substantive issues.

ZEV CHAFETS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: There is a general sense I think in Israel even again in the center as well as in the right that the American government at the moment, this administration is colder to us than it needs to be, and very unreliable.


BAIER: Secretary Kerry called to congratulate Benjamin Netanyahu today on a big win. We haven't heard when or if the president is going to call the Israeli prime minister. But it was a big win. The Israel Project, a nonprofit analyzing the election, wrote it this way, "The pre-election polls were wrong but, maybe, understandably so. They predicted the seats for the left wing parties fairly well. What they missed was a late surge by the Likud, which drew votes away from parties to its right...Many voters who preferred [Netanyahu] to be prime minister, but who had been planning to vote for a potential coalition partner rather than for Likud directly, ended up voting for him. Exactly why those voters wanted Netanyahu hasn't been answered by data yet. It could be that security played a greater role in the election than had been anticipated. The region is disintegrating. Iran is on the verge of being legitimized as a nuclear threshold state, and voters might have reached for stability."

One analysis. Let's bring in some others. Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it was a big victory for Netanyahu personally, and I think the reaction of the administration is now reaching levels where it has become unseemly, the pettiness and the petulance with which they are discussing the election – a presidential spokesman congratulates Israel on holding an election rather than – as did the prime minister of Canada and the U.K. -- congratulating the winner.

Look, it's clear that Obama loathes Netanyahu more than any other world leader, meaning more than the Ayatollah in Iran or Putin in Russia, and he did everything he could to unseat him. But he failed. And I think the message here is this was an election between Bibi and Obama. That was on the ballot because Obama was essentially saying if you want to reconcile with the United States, you want your ally behind you, you have got to get rid of Bibi. That worked in ousting Prime Minister Shamir in the '90s. It worked in defeating Bibi in 1998. But the regard with which Israelis hold Obama and the fear they have of the dealing with Iran is such that Bibi won. That's the message. He wasn't speaking out of place in the Congress. He was speaking on behalf of Israelis, and that is what I think Obama is having trouble swallowing.

BAIER: They denied spending taxpayer money against Netanyahu but, obviously, there were the charges. A.B., here is what Charles is referring to with the White House gaggle. The Jerusalem Post writes it this way, "After several hours of public quiet, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest expressed 'deep concern' with Netanyahu's pre-election warning that Arab citizens were being bused to the polls 'in droves,' risking right wing power in the Knesset. 'Rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerned and it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis,' Earnest said aboard Air Force One, congratulating the people of Israel for holding the poll."

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: That was for last week. Netanyahu, who spoke before the Congress two weeks ago -- this is a different man. He is completely empowered now. He is much stronger. He had a resounding victory. And I'm sure that Mitt Romney and his Republican friends and Bibi Netanyahu were very disappointed in what they saw was a surprise at the polls in 2012 when Obama was re-elected. It's time to deal with it. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. It is time for him to call him on the phone and move forward. At this point, with what is on Obama's plate with this person who is stronger, not weaker, with an Iran deal, the results of no Iran deal possibly and the threat of ISIS, it's a mistake to actually further curdle this relationship.

BAIER: Here is the minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi.


NANCY PELOSI, D-CA, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Well, people of Israel have spoken. I respect the result that they have produced. I think what they have produced will be a continued, lively discussion about the peace process. But our relationship with Israel is a strong one and will always be. It doesn't depend on personalities.


BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, give her credit for holding back tears, which she managed to do when Netanyahu spoke. The reaction from the White House and Democrats, but, particularly the White House, is of course disappointing. It's not at all surprising. The comments from Josh Earnest, you remember, this is an Obama team that claimed -- Vice President Biden claimed that if Mitt Romney were elected blacks would be back in chains, Republicans wanted to put blacks in chains. So talk about divisive rhetoric. At the time, the Obama campaign dismissed as faux outrage when they Romney campaign came back to them on that. Look, in terms of a relationship going forward, I don't think much changes. I mean, right now you have the United States, the Obama administration basically embracing and maybe enabling a stronger role for Iran in the region. You have the Israelis I think correctly understanding that Iran presents to them an existential threat and is a broader threat to the region and to the United States. That is not going to change whether there is a nuclear deal or not, although, I think the tensions will be exacerbated if this, what certainly sounds like a bad deal, is, in fact, approved.

BAIER: Charles, do you buy that, that this was an election about security, that this was an election perhaps even about Iran?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think that was the overwhelming issue. There were, of course, economic issues and that's where the left was strongest. But there is no distance between the labor coalition and Bibi and the Likud coalition on the issue of Iran. They are simply appalled by what the Obama administration is negotiating.

And remember, Bibi will now be in power after Obama is retired. And second, as a result of this pettiness, open opposition where Israelis had to choose between a president of the U.S. whom none of them trust and between a prime minister for all of his faults is defending his country, what they decided is Bibi was the one that they could trust and that in the ongoing negotiations the result of all of this, Netanyahu, as A.B. said, is stronger, and that means he will have a less recalcitrant war cabinet if he decides he is going to attack Iranian facilities.

BAIER: And quickly, A.B., the other big issue today that everyone seemed to weigh in on was the two state solution, that Netanyahu had said that it's not going to happen. He said that on Election Day, actually. Now, the White House, the State Department, "We are going to evaluate our approach with regard how best to achieve a two state solution" around him?

STODDARD: That was considered a desperate ploy on Netanyahu's part to get out his vote. It might have been and it might have worked. But what he is saying is this process is dead. John Kerry tried. That was before Netanyahu was facing reelection. He is stronger now. They are not going to get the same man they were dealing with when this process failed a year ago. So I think it will be a while before we see him backtracking.

BAIER: Next up, former Vice President Dick Cheney on President Obama and the race card.

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