Lew to ‘Post’: US-Israel ties closer than ever

White House chief of staff says Obama would continue pursuing similar path on peace process if elected for a second term.

Jack Lew and Obama 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jack Lew and Obama 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the US and Israel “have never had a closer relationship.”
He dismissed widespread reports of tension between his boss, US President Barack Obama, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“I don’t start from the premise that there’s a problem,” said Lew, the first Orthodox White House chief of staff, during a telephone interview in which he was speaking in his personal rather than official capacity.
“The fact is the United States and Israel have never had a closer relationship working day to day on matters of national security at every level.”
Asked how Obama would handle relations with Netanyahu in a second term, Lew said, “I speak to the future by reference to the past,” and described that past as a “level of cooperation and coordination that has never been better.”
He pointed to the president’s commitment to funding the Iron Dome short-range missile defense system as well as more efforts key to Israel’s security, and other demonstrations that he was a friend of Israel.
Click here for special JPost coverage
Click here for special JPost coverage
Asked about perceptions of US pressure on Israel during Obama’s early efforts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Lew said that there had been “a lot of misinterpretation of things.”
He said he expects Obama to pursue a similar course on Middle East peace, should he be reelected.
“He continues to be of the view that it is in Israel’s best interest and the interest of regional and world security to continue to push forward on the peace process,” said Lew.
“The role that he has played is the role that the United States has played in the past – to help bring the parties together, but not force the parties,” Lew said, though he didn’t offer any indication of how Obama hoped to find success when his efforts of the past four years have not resulted in progress.
“It has been very hard,” he acknowledged. “But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you don’t pursue it.”
Though campaign officials have indicated Obama would make his first visit to Israel as president in a second term, Lew said simply that “he wants to go again,” referring to trips Obama made before he became president.
Lew declined to address the results of recent polls showing that Israelis overwhelmingly back Republican candidate Mitt Romney over Obama.
According to an October Peace Index survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, Jewish Israelis prefer Romney over Obama by a margin of 57 percent to 22%.
“I don’t follow domestic polls, much less international polls,” Lew said.
But he added that there was still “very strong support” for Obama within the American Jewish community, describing it as comparable to Jewish support for Democratic candidates in previous elections.
Lew was speaking to the Post ahead of an event sponsored by the Orthodox Union in Ohio featuring surrogates representing both candidates. He has also traveled to Florida to make the case for Obama to Jewish voters there.
The neck-and-neck nature of the US race has spurred efforts such as Lew’s to reach out to Jewish voters in swing states, even if they are a small fraction of the electorate.
“Both candidates realize that 1,000 votes here and there make a difference, and it’s very important to the president that he make his case,” he said.