It is not for an Israeli to intervene in American politics; thus that is not the
purpose of this article. Yet every Israeli will admit that our national security
and even economic well-being are highly dependent on our main ally – the United
States of America.
Based on shared values and common strategic interests,
this has been a strong alliance – a unique bridge that generally disregards
partisan divides in both countries. Yet the quality of these critical relations
depends very much on the person sitting in the White House as well as in the
Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
The election period in the United
States has begun, and as always it affects policy-making in Washington. This
comes at the beginning of a prolonged era of turmoil and shifting sands in the
Middle East. Therefore who the leader of the free world will be after November
2012 is important to Israel and the region.
The dividing lines in the
United States in ideology and policy seem clearer than ever. On one side, Barack
Obama, the first African-American president, a liberal intellectual who took
America by a storm of optimism, acting towards more government intervention in
the economy and less intervention in the world while opening a new dialogue with
the Muslim world.
On the other side, an ultra-conservative Republican
Party, swept by a right-wing storm generated by the Tea Party movement, with
candidates such as Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, who espouse
less taxes, a free market led by the champions of Wall Street, pro-life and
anti-abortion, with little tolerance for minorities or immigrants.
Israelis, we must put forward questions that relate to our interests:
which side of this equation do we share more common values?
• Who will support
Israel on the international scene?
• Who will strengthen our national security?
– Who can lead towards a viable peace process in our region?
• Who can assist
the Middle East, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, to steer closer to the
West and stability?
• Who can contend better with the Iranian threat?
have little doubt that the next president of the United States will be a staunch
ally of Israel, I do think that there is an important difference between the
reelection of Obama or a new Republican president. In the same manner as
Americans preferred Yitzhak Rabin to Binyamin Netanyahu, according to their own
interests, we have the right to look at our own interests in relation to the
elections of November 2012.
With this in mind, I will attempt to answer
the aforementioned questions:
• As far as common values are concerned, it is to some degree a bipartisan issue
in the US, in terms of fundamental democratic values. Yet I admit to
feeling closer, as Israel should, to the liberal, humanitarian and universal
values of Barack Obama, than to the more conservative, often Evangelical values
of today’s Republicans.
• As far as support for Israel in the
international scene goes, I assume that the Republicans will back Israel more in
its isolation, while Obama will support Israeli positions that will not isolate
it, or the United States for that matter.
• In terms of our national
security – this is the one issue that crosses all divides in Washington – both a
Democratic president and a Republican would surely preserve Israel’s strategic
advantage and its qualitative edge in our region.
• As far as a viable
peace process goes, American presidents who facilitated peace breakthroughs in
the region were generally Democrats, specifically Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
It is related to the fact that Democratic presidents are perceived by the Arab
world as more honest brokers.
While Obama has yet to achieve such a
breakthrough in the region, I believe that given his positions and vision, his
chances to facilitate a peace process are better than those of his Republican
opponents. A good president for peace is a good president for
• In terms of the wider region, Obama has maneuvered with
relative success through the shifting sands of the Arab Spring – he stood by the
Tahrir Square youth, by the Tunisian revolution, intervened with NATO in Libya
and is imposing sanctions on Bashar Assad in Syria. Obama’s opening of a
dialogue with the Muslim world since his Cairo speech of June 2009, is fully in
Israel’s interest, as it may keep a large part of this world in the Western
• The Iranian question is an all-important one. So far Obama has
opted for the diplomatic route of sanctions, while not taking other alternatives
off the table entirely. I believe that this is the route to go from Israel’s
point of view, as a military strike on Iran might not necessarily prevent the
nuclearization of Iran and would probably spark a regional non-conventional war,
turning the Muslim and Arab world against the West and Israel for years to come.
A more adventurous president coming from the interventionist American Right,
could be more pro-Israel, and at the same time potentially more dangerous for
Israel’s future. The Iranian nuclear threat has to be contended with by a united
international community exerting heavy pressure on Iran, threatening it,
engaging it. Obama may be capable of this.
SO MY analysis leads to a
clear conclusion in favor of Obama 2012, out of Israeli interests. Yet it is not
enough to hope that the United States will rescue us or the peace process. It is
also wrong to wait for the 2012 elections, although it seems as though our prime
minister is hoping for a Republican victory, as he has also forged a bond with a
Republican House of Representatives.
Even with the most pro-Israeli
president in Washington, the responsibility still lies in Jerusalem, and
Jerusalem must think and act in American pre-election terms and work with
President Obama, first and foremost to create a regional and international
coalition in favor of our interests vis-a-vis the region and Iran.
way to such an alliance passes through a peace process with the Palestinians,
providing Netanyahu can make the necessary difficult decisions to make a viable
peace possible, i.e. accepting the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations and
announcing a settlement freeze. Once such a process is in place, we will be able
to renew our relations with Egypt and Jordan, improve our relations with most of
the region including Turkey, and strengthen our international standing,
especially our relations with Washington.
The year remaining until the
American election should be a year of promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace
process, of creating an international coalition in favor of it, also serving to
contain Iran and strengthen Israel’s security. Then at the end of 2012, there
will be room for the elected American president to intervene more strongly in
favor of our interests, hopefully a second- term President Obama.The
writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief
negotiator for the Oslo Accords.