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Middle East expert visits with tea party in Forsyth
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Forsyth County News

FORSYTH COUNTY — Attendees at a recent local Tea Party gathering shared a conference call with Middle East expert George Birnbaum, who is former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Birnbaum, an Atlanta native, offered a glimpse into how Netanyahu is forming his governmental cabinet after recently winning re-election. Any development in a nuclear deal with Iran is a priority in the process.

Netanyahu’s political party, Likud, won 30 seats in the election, but he needs at least 61 — of 120 — to run his cabinet, Birnbaum told those at the meeting Monday night.

So Netanyahu must choose between a right-wing government with 67 seats, which would defend Israel’s stance against Iran, Birnbaum said, and may last the prime minister a “solid full term.”

Or he can form a unity government with the Labor Party, which should provide more international stability but would more than likely result in another election in two years.

Birnbaum worked on dozens of GOP congressional and senate campaigns before moving to Israel in 1998 to serve under Netanyahu.

He then formed a partnership with political consultant Arthur Finkelstein, consulting and managing large-scale political campaigns across the world, including in Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Kosovo.

He said the former choice is what he expects Netanyahu to end up with, though the process becomes more complicated when the policies of members of Knesset, Israel’s government, are used as leverage for promises and seats.

“It would create the real chance of military action taking place in Iran if something bad were to happen there,” he said. “It’s a very difficult decision to make. He has an enormous amount of pressure from international governments.”

Netanyahu has until May 6 to accumulate his cabinet. Birnbaum said he expects discussions to last through May 5.

“The 67-seat, right-wing [cabinet] will march in step with him in terms of foreign policy,” Birnbaum said. “It would set the stage for a very interesting couple of years.”