The Obama-Netanyahu question: Can they get along?

"I think US Jews are quite worried about possible Netanyahu-Obama clash."

obama netanyahu 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
obama netanyahu 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
How a government led by Binyamin Netanyahu would get along with the Obama administration was one of the many issues on the minds of attendees at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.
"I think American Jews are quite worried about a possible Bibi-Obama clash, and they're terrified of [Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman," said Sandra Breslauer, a delegate from Houston.
Breslauer said that unless Netanyahu could form a broad coalition that included parties such as Kadima, American Jews believed Israel would be on a crash-course with the Obama administration, and real harm to Israel-US relations could result.
"Bibi has to be able to mellow out," Breslauer said. "If not, I think American Jews are worried about the state of future relations."
"On the other hand," she said, "American Jews are increasingly concerned that Israel has lost the resolve to fight, and after watching the Israelis walk out of Lebanon and then just now, the way we walked away from Gaza, I think a lot of Jews in the States feel like, you know, either put up or shut up. If we're going to let them fire rockets at our children every day, we might as well pack our bags."
Others saw less reason for concern.
"I don't think there is a sense of panic about this in the US," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, CEO and executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. "There are people who may be frustrated if their way isn't the way [of the next government], but there are others who might be happy."
At a panel discussion on "The State of Israel as Reflected in the 2009 Elections," Israeli journalists weighed in on the future of relations between Israel and the US.
"[Netanyahu] wants a unity government because he knows that Obama is in the White House," Channel 2 anchorwoman Dana Weiss said. "With the rightists in his government, including extremists such as Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir sitting in as his Knesset aides [they may become aides to National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari], [Netanyahu] has no chance of getting anything from America. He has to start pursuing the two-state solution and the road map, and he can't do that without a unity government."
However, Channel 1 reporter Yaron Dekel countered that "Mr. Obama has bigger problems than the Israel-Palestinian track to begin with."
"I think he'll start with other issues instead of immediately bringing a final-status agreement to the table," Dekel said. "We don't know what his policies are exactly. He said he would talk to Iran and pull out of Iraq - he was quite vocal about those issues during his campaign - but he hasn't been as clear on Israel. We know he's serious about it - we saw that when he nominated Senator George Mitchell [as his Middle East envoy]. But I'm not sure he knows what his policies are, and if he does, he's keeping it a secret."
Regardless, Dekel said it was doubtful that sparks would fly between Obama and Netanyahu, at least in the near future.
"I don't think any US administration is willing to get into a confrontation with Israel," Dekel said.
Channel 10 commentator Raviv Drucker said Obama would try to pursue the Syrian track with Netanyahu, as negotiations with the Palestinians had proven too perilous.
"The Syrian issue is the realistic goal for Bibi, even though a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights is the key to negotiations with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, because the gaps are too wide between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators," Drucker said.