WASHINGTON – The negotiations between Israelis and Palestinian have entered a
holding pattern while the sides wait for next Tuesday’s elections that are
almost certain to give Republicans control of the US House of Representatives
and possibly the Senate.
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But the anticipated shake-up of the American
political landscape won’t necessarily have major reverberations on the US-Israel
relationship and American-brokered peace talks.
The White House is
expected to give more attention to reinvigorating the stalled process after
Election Day, but not to shift tactics.
“The expectation is that it will
be back to business again, trying to get these talks moving and trying to get
the two sides to sit down to business,” said one Israeli official, speaking as
the sides remained deadlocked. Israel refuses to renew its freeze on
construction in the settlements and the Palestinians continue to make the freeze
a condition for negotiating.
Though some observers have suggested a vocal
Republican congressional majority – regarded as strongly supportive of Israel
and willing to oppose signs of pressure on Jerusalem – could put the brakes on
Obama’s efforts, an Israeli official disagreed.
“It would be a mistake
for any policy maker in Israel to think, come November 3, that because it’s a
Republican Congress we’re going to have an easier or better time than we’ve had
before. It won’t make a difference,” he said. “Foreign policy is dictated by the
White House, and Congress and the administration are going to be preoccupied
with dealing with the economic situation.”
At the same time, he said he
has seen no sign that the White House would do anything more than continue its
intensive efforts to get the talks back on track, despite speculation that US
President Barack Obama might come down harder on Israel to compromise on
settlements after the focus on midterm elections – and its domestic politics –
are behind him.
The Israeli official gave late winter as the earliest
time-frame for America to come forward with its own bridging proposals, in a
scenario in which negotiations resumed in the near future.
That would be
soon after Republicans take the reins of Congress in January, if the elections
go their way. In the House, where the GOP is most likely to take control,
several key Israel allies would be in line to assume key positions, though
they’d generally be replacing Democrats who are themselves strongly
Eric Cantor of Virginia, currently minority whip, would be
almost certain to become majority leader in place of Maryland’s Steny Hoyer.
That would make Cantor the highest- ranking Jewish Republican in House
Howard Berman, a Jew from California, would lose the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to Republican Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, but the latter is considered staunchly supportive of
“I think you’ll see slightly more friendly [congressional]
leadership, but usually both parties are quite friendly toward Israel,” said
Tevi Troy, a Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush White House, of a potential
But he suggested that a Republican Congress could still
complicate Israel’s position, hypothesizing that if Obama finds his domestic
agenda “stymied” by the GOP, he could intensify his foreign policy
“You might have a situation where Congress is more friendly to
Israel but it ends up with Israel being pressed more as a result, although
indirect,” Troy said.
Other Israel supporters are worried that a
Republican Party increasingly conservative and influenced by Tea Party
candidates who prioritize budget-cutting could hurt US aid to
Cantor, responding to a question about the growing Republican
tendency to vote against foreign aid, told JTA that he would seek to put Israel
aid in a category separate from the general foreign aid budget.
the dilemma is that Israel has been put in the overall foreign aid looping,” he
said. “I’m hoping we can see some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars
going to Israel.”
But that kind of change could set Israel on a dangerous
course, warned National Jewish Democratic Council President David
“It’s a strategy the organized pro- Israel community has
opposed,” Harris said of similar suggestions to change the source of Israel aid
allocations in the past. “Politically, it’s not the wisest move to separate
Israel from every other country in the world and from every other constituency
in the country.”
He argued that a Republican vote against foreign aid
would be a sign of a policy of isolation, which also bodes ill for
Still, Harris acknowledged that even if Democrats retain the
House, it would be by a very slim margin that would complicate legislative
The Israeli official said that either way support for the Jewish
state would be widespread.
“We might have a strong Congress, slightly
more vocal in support of Israel,” he said of a Republican victory, but he
pointed to a recent letter supporting Israel in its peace efforts signed by 87
“We’re in pretty good shape regardless of whether Republicans
take over the House or not,” he said.