In election defeat, Obama may now better understand PM

Analysis: Facing hard new choices himself, the US president could have more sympathy for Netanyahu's domestic political considerations.

311_obama yo mama (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
311_obama yo mama
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
SAN FRANCISCO - In the tidal wave of words that flooded the US airwaves Tuesday night following the midterm elections that saw the Republicans re-take the House of Representatives, three words were conspicuously absent: "foreign policy" and "Israel."
Both before and after the results came pouring in, dozens of analysts on networks from Fox to CNN and NBC were looking at and dissecting the results from every conceivable angle and direction, analyzing what happened and what message the Republican thumping of the Democrats at the polls sent to US President Barack Obama.
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But very few words were spent talking about the Middle East diplomatic process, Israel or the Palestinians.
The US voter sent Obama a clear message Tuesday night, rejecting his domestic program -- the president's signature health care program, his economic stimulus package, his bailouts. The message was for lower taxes and less government. It had nothing to do, however, with foreign policy, Israel or the Palestinians.
There were those who over the last few weeks have said that once the elections were over, the US President would have a free hand for at least a year, until the 2012 presidential race began in earnest after Labor Day next September, to come down hard on Israel without having to face the displeasure of Jewish donors to the Democratic party, or Jewish voters.
There were others who argued the exact opposite, saying that once the midterm election ended, Obama would need to begin thinking seriously about re-election, and as a result would not do anything - such as pressuring Israel while stroking the Palestinians - that could further alienate Jewish support.
But the most likely scenario is that that as far as the President's overall Middle East policy is concerned, Jerusalem - despite Tuesday's results - will see more of the same from the Obama.
Obama has been very consistent regarding his perception of our conflict, and the way to resolve it. Over the last few months there has been a tactical change regarding his tone toward Israel, but not an overall strategic shift in how he views the conflict or its solution. And that is unlikely to change now.
Obama's commitment to remaining heavily engaged in the diplomatic process, to working toward a two state solution, and to publicly coming out against construction in the settlements, is not likely to change as a result of the elections, or the resounding defeat his party received. He will not, justifiably, interpret that defeat as a vote on his Middle East policies.
But where there may be some change is his appreciation of the genuine political constraints facing Prime MInister Binyamin Netanyahu, something that may impact on his overall relationship with the prime minister.
Over the last few weeks, numerous stories have been coming out of Washington saying there was a good deal of frustration and anger at Netanyahu inside the Administration for using domestic political "excuses" as a reason for not responding positively to Obama's call to extend the settlement moratorium that expired on September 26, something that would have kept the Palestinians at the negotiating table.
According to these reports, while Obama and his Middle East advisers appreciate that Netanyahu does indeed have coaltion constrainsts, and that if he moved too far - or went back on his promise and extended the settlement moratorium - then he risked losing his coaliton and perhaps even the premiership, they do not see this as a legitimate excuse. The president, according to these reports, believes that the role of a leader is to lead, and expected Netanyahu to do just that, even if the personal political price he would have to pay would be high indeed.
Tuesday's results may give Obama a better understanding of Netanyahu's dilemma, since Obama will now - as a result of the thunderous loss his party took in the elections - either have to take political reality into account and steer his domestic policies to the center, or face defeat if he, as is widely expected, decides to run again in 2012.
As one pundit said Tuesday night, Obama's choice is now either to be a pragmatist - as Bill Clinton proved to be in 1994 when he suffered a mid-term election disaster and then quickly adjusted his polices and moved toward the center - or be an ideologue and possibly burn himself up in the next election.
The starkness of the real political choices Obama himself will have to make after Tuesday may give him a better appreciation of the real political challenges Netanyahu is up against. And the Administration may no longer view Netanyahu's "domestic political considerations" as just a convenient "excuse" designed to wiggle out of having to negotiate.