The 2012 US presidential elections were particularly combative. One of the most
divisive issues was President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies. Obama was
assailed for purportedly being too weak on Iran; he was criticized for pushing
Israel too hard vis-à-vis the Palestinians; he was taken to task for failing to
confront the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and radical Islam elsewhere.
Republican opponents highlighted Obama’s tense relationship with Prime Minister
Obama was accused of snubbing Netanyahu during visits
to the White House; in a “hot mic” moment, he seemed to concur with then-French
president Nicolas Sarkozy about his distaste for Netanyahu; in September, Obama
failed to find the time to meet with Netanyahu during the prime minister’s trip
to the US to address the UN General Assembly.
Relations between the two
men were seen in Israel to be so bad that in the aftermath of Obama’s victory
some even expect the US president – no longer concerned about getting reelected
– to take revenge.
Just a day after the US election, Army Radio quoted
sources in the Likud claiming that Obama could work against Netanyahu in the
upcoming Israeli elections as payback for Netanyahu’s apparent preference for
Mitt Romney in the US presidential race.
The tensions between the
countries and their leaders were reflected in surveys of Israeli attitudes. A
Smith Research poll sponsored by The Jerusalem Post in mid- October, for
example, found that 28 percent of Jewish Israelis believed that the Obama
administration was more pro-Palestinian, 18% found it to be more pro-Israel and
40% called it neutral, with 14% declining to participate.
Obama and Romney might have voiced very different approaches on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, four more years of Obama’s leadership will, we
hope, not be a source of concern for those who care about
Regarding Iran, Obama might ultimately be more disposed than
Romney to use military means if necessary.
Romney, who would likely be
perceived by the American Left as continuing George W. Bush’s “regime change”
policies in the Middle East, might face a massive anti-war campaign if he
launched a military attack on Iran.
In contrast, Obama could be more
successful at building a broad consensus – both at home and abroad – for using
force to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Unlike Romney, who would take precious
time putting together his own foreign policy team as Iran continues its stubborn
march toward nuclear weapon capability, Obama has already articulated his stance
on Iran – including going on record numerous times as saying that it is an
American interest to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapon capability. And
he has made a point of not ruling out military action.
With regard to
Palestinians and settlements, Obama seems to have learned from his mistake of
forcing a construction freeze on Israel. Though his intention might have been to
set in motion negotiations leading to a viable two-state solution, the move only
succeeded in hardening a hopelessly intransigent Palestinian
As former US president Bill Clinton discovered in his second
term and as Obama has undoubtedly already realized, so long as the Palestinians
refuse to reconcile themselves to Jewish nationhood, it will be impossible to
achieve long-lasting peace.
With Syria engulfed in a bloody civil war,
Egypt entering an era of radical Islamization and Iran threatening to attain
nuclear weapons, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not hold the same urgency
as it once did, particularly since the relatively peaceful status quo that
exists between Israel and the Palestinian Authority seems sustainable – at least
in the short-term.
On numerous occasions, Obama has presented himself as
a friend of Israel. Whether from the podium of the UN General Assembly, via the
strengthening of military cooperation between the US and Israel or in his
unequivocal stand on Iran, Obama has defended cardinal Israeli interests that
dovetail with American interests.
There might still be a strained
relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, but this should not get in the way of
the strong relations between the countries. It is our fervent hope that the next
four years will see these ties boosted even further, together with a reduction
in the tension between our respective leaders.