The Israel Factor: Obama keeps climbing

A real test for the US president's standings with the Israel Factor panel will be following PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.

US President Barack Obama 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
US President Barack Obama 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
Obama is becoming more popular with our Israel Factor panel. No news here – this is something we’ve highlighted last month:
The new Obama, the one giving up on pressuring Israel for more concessions, the one deciding that settlement freezes no longer will be the ultimate goal of American mediation of the peace process, is much more in tune with our panel’s view and beliefs (And as I’ve demonstrated recently, this panel is not a very hawkish one, but rather moderate by Israeli standards). One can add to the mix the general assumption that Obama is moving to the center on most matters, that the lesson of 2010 had been learned, and suddenly, our Israeli panel sees the American President more positively.
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Looking at the April survey of the Factor, this trend is still in play. Remarkably, Obama had inched up with this panel from a mere 5 points (out of 10) back in November, just before the midterms, to 5.25 in December, to 6 in February 2011, to 6.25 in April. There’s no mistake here: our panelists see something in Obama they didn’t see earlier. They, apparently, believe that something had really changed – and that’s even before the Bin-Laden achievement! (See our statistics page for numbers and graphs).
But a real test for Obama’s standings with the panel will be coming shortly, following PM Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. With the President now more popular, more a “leader” that can no longer be tagged as “too weak” or be portrayed as “not tough enough” – with Congress less likely to pick a fight over foreign policy – but also with a very complicated situation following the decision of Palestinian Fatah and Hamas to form a unity coalition – with all these, the President didn’t yet give us a hint if he will be putting forward his own peace plan. We do not know yet whether he will be pressuring Netanyahu to agree to such a plan (we also don’t know what Netanyahu is going to propose as his much celebrated Congressional speech).
If Obama will decide that this is really the time for him to dive into the Israeli-Palestinian swamp yet again, the panel will probably be torn once more between those wanting more American involvement and those panelists thinking American pressure at this point is uncalled for. Remember: American handling of Middle East affairs got mediocre grades from our experts (you can see my analysis of this part of the survey here). Especially low were the grades given to American handling of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, with the panelists generally in consensus that “peace process” policies have failed.
So, we have a problem: if policies have failed, change is necessary. On the other hand, such change is risky when it comes to Israeli support for Obama policies. Is now the time for the President to act? That depends on three factors:
1. Does Obama want to spend the political capital he just gained on Israeli-Palestinian affairs?
2. Does he believe that spending such capital can bring to results at this point in time?
3. Will he risk political fallout when 2012 is becoming more of a factor?