What's in it for Israelis?A view outward from this small, dependent country is preoccupied by the political, economic, technological, and military weight of the United States. Most countries are dependent to some extent on the United States, and more so than on any other country. By the measure of what happens in the UN, Israel's political dependence on the US is greater than most.
Israeli issues were by no means the whole of what was considered by something like 100 million overwhelmingly non-Jewish voters. Israeli interests may not have been critical in any of the House or Senate races, or mattered even a great deal, but they were in there somewhere.
Even in the US-Israel couplet, dependence is a two-way street. Israel has at least a bit of weight on US policy. In part this comes from American Jewish contributors to politicians and other activists, but also from how Israel employs its discretion in cooperating--to one degree or another--with US preferences about political and military matters in the Middle East, the sharing of intelligence, and to which countries Israel sells military hardware.
Big Uncle is a prominent figure in Israel, while Little Nephew is not entirely negligible among US voters and policymakers.
It is best to think about a plurality of elections. Along with popular dissatisfaction with Barack Obama were numerous state and local issues, as well as the charms of individual candidates. Moreover, only part of dissatisfaction--and it may be a small part of the dissatisfaction--with Barack Obama derives from his foreign policy. Issues of health insurance, immigration reform, economic problems and fears, and at least a bit of racism have figured in the commentary that has gotten my attention.
Detailed analysis must wait for the polls. These mid-term elections should get more than the usual attention from pollsters, journalists, partisans and other commentators, as well as political scientists. Academics will probe the variety of surveys that come available, as well as one another's statistical acumen and overall conclusions.
At the very least, it doesn't look good for Barack Obama. His "place in history" will be apparent only in the squabbles of commentators and scholars from tomorrow and far into the future, but his next couple of years will be uncomfortable.
As ever, the President will have more leverage in foreign than domestic policy. Israelis hoping for a turnaround in his tilt toward us rather than the Palestinians are likely to be disappointed. Chances are slim that the Embassy will move to Jerusalem. The Supreme Court and not the President, or perhaps neither, will change the official US designation of Jerusalem to a city in Israel, from being a city outside of a country.
Jonathan Pollard need not begin packing his bags.
Israel's friends in Congress may apply pressure on the White House, Defense Department, and State Department. Some may trade votes on domestic issues for the sake of Israel, but one should not be certain about the calculations made by 535 politicians. They are more likely to be concerned about themselves than about Israel.
The President's clumsiness in handling the Middle East has been prominent in discussions of foreign policy. One of the media flagship of liberal Democrats weighed in close to the election with an editorial critical of Obama's handling of Israel. Referring to the "chickenshit" brouhaha, the Washington Post wrote
" . . . the attack reflects an unreasonable and disproportionate reaction to Mr. Netanyahu’s resistance to U.S. nostrums on matters of crucial importance to his country — as well as rank unprofessionalism by one or more of the president’s senior aides. As Mr. Kerry pointed out, the indiscretion will only make it harder for the administration to reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran or the settlements.U.S. administrations have often clashed with Israeli governments — including some that were considerably more militant on settlements than Mr. Netanyahu’s. But presidents prior to Mr. Obama tended to smooth over differences, at least in public. They understood that an open rift with Israel could encourage political assaults on the Jewish state by U.S. allies and military adventurism by adversaries — such as Iran. Given the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and the very real threat that it will spread and escalate, Mr. Obama would be wise to initiate a reset with Mr. Netanyahu."
Settlements and Iran are the primary issues between Israel and Obama. Both may cost the President some Congressional votes on domestic issues if he and his advisers continue on recent paths. Iran is the most explosive, given the possibility of what Israel might do if its leadership truly feels threatened by Iran's technology and the continued expressions from the peak of the Iranian government about the need to remove Israel from the Middle East.
Recent comments by a respected retired general and former national security adviser to the Prime Minister bear consideration.
"If a “permanent agreement” with Iran fails to guarantee the bare minimum safeguards against Iran’s nuclearization that Israel feels is necessary, Israel will have to rethink its policy and avoid being influenced by the fact that its closest ally signed an unacceptable agreement with Iran. Israel will have to defend itself by itself, as U.S. President Barack Obama once said – with everything that doing so entails. This would truly put the relationship between Israel and the U.S. to the test."
Political mavens will be projecting other implications from the the President's comeuppance in this election.
Betting will tilt against another Clinton in the White House. Hillary always had to worry about the rarity of one party winning the presidency three times running. It's only happened once since 1948. Now she will have to distinguish herself from having been part of an unpopular administration.
I wouldn't bet the farm on the Republicans. Should one of their extremists capture the nomination, or weaken the party in the process of seeking the nomination, the odds will change.
All of the above might give Israel a bit more wiggle room in its international politics, but anything like full "sovereignty" will remain a long way from this little country, or even the biggest ones with which it must deal.
And what about American Jews?
Initial reports are that they again voted mostly Democratic, but perhaps less than previously.
Politics aside, they are taking good care of themselves. Many of them do what they can to express support for Israel, but mostly in the context of being Americans. Israelis appreciate their support, and seek to enhance Jews' sense of identity with Israel, but like their American cousins, Israelis also think primarily of themselves.