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Friday, May 09, 2008

If the US and Israel have elections at the same time

Eric Trager has an interesting observation on Commentary's Contentions blog:

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

I agree in part and disagree in part. Netanyahu will definitely use the mistrust of Obama that pervades this country in the general election campaign. And well he should. It is at least as legitimate an issue for Israelis as Hamas' support of Obama is for John McCain (Hat Tip: SeekerofTruth via Little Green Footballs). In fact, those two are essentially the same issue.

I don't think it's so likely that Obama will be elected - assuming that he is the nominee - regardless of what the polls currently say. Many of the Clinton supporters are serious when they say that they will not support Obama in the general election if he is the nominee. And if anything, the type of racial polarization that we are seeing in the Democratic primaries will carry through to the general elections. There are more working class whites than there are elitist blacks. And those working class whites will find it much easier to identify with a man who was a hero at the Hanoi Hilton than with the wife of a former President who has only recently come to try out guns and beer.

As far as Netanyahu 'interfering' in the US elections, his impact in the US will be minimal, and even if it's not, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Americans have been interfering in our elections for years.
In his recent book The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace, the veteran US Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller writes of the frustrating period leading up to the Israeli election of 1996:

"The six months from Rabin's murder to the election of Benjamin Netanyahu was a frenetic period of diplomatic activity as we tried to make progress between Israel and Syria, defuse crises, and frankly do all we could to ensure that Shimon Peres, heir to Rabin's legacy, won the election.

"The idea that America doesn't sometimes interfere in Israeli politics is about as absurd as the idea that Israel doesn't meddle in ours. Much of what we did during that period was designed to support Peres, and in doing so save Arab-Israeli diplomacy... But Peres ran a mediocre campaign. Netanyahu, the master politician, ran a better one and eked out a slight victory... On election night all I could think about was how we were going to save the Oslo process from extinction. But I didn't get it. Oslo, as Israelis and Palestinians had known it, was already dead."
Netanyahu's election will only be a disaster for US-Israel relations if Obama is elected President. If McCain is elected opposite Netanyahu, US-Israel relations will do just fine. And if nearly any of the other potential Israeli candidates are elected opposite Obama (Livni, Barak, Shitreet and possibly even Dichter or Mofaz), it won't be a disaster for US-Israel relations, but it will be a disaster for Israel, with one dangerous concession after another being fed to an Obama administration where foreign policy is dominated by the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Samantha Power. As I have said before, Obama is bad for the Jews. In the context of an Obama Presidency - to put it bluntly - US-Israel relations matter a lot less than protecting Israel from the damage that could - God forbid - be done by the company Obama keeps.

Netanyahu opposed Annapolis because it's a farce. A conflict that hasn't been resolved in 100 years isn't going to suddenly be resolved within a year unless there has been a decisive military event in the recent past. There hasn't been. And the demeaning way in which the Israeli delegation was treated at Annapolis shows that the true agenda for that 'conference' had nothing to do with peace among equals and everything to do with bolstering President Bush's political standing and creating a 'legacy' for himself and Secretary of State Rice. Under those circumstances, it's not Netanyahu who was wrong for opposing Annapolis, but the feckless Olmert-Barak-Livni government which was wrong for having played along (and continuing to play along) with what could be a deadly game for Israel.

Finally, Netanyahu is too politically astute to outright reject land for peace - if that's what Trager fears. He knows that won't go over well right now in the United States (even though it's the right thing to do morally, legally and in every other way - even politically - with the possible exception of diplomatically) What's more likely is that he will say that he's putting it on hold until there's a real 'Palestinian' partner on the other side. While it's unlikely that will happen in your lifetimes or mine, it might mollify people like Trager who apparently see 'land for peace' as the only solution.


At 8:10 PM, Blogger Joshua E. said...

One point in your post that I disagree with is the implication that black support for Obama is concentrated among "Black elites". This is erroneous. Obama has captured over 90% of the entire black vote, which is interesting for a "post-racial" candidate.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Obama has support among latte white liberals and blacks. In other words, white professionals and blacks, the Dukakis Coalition. I think it was pointed out by Clinton strategist Paul Begala in a debate with Donna Brazile last week that base captured exactly 10 states back in 1988. Every American election is always close and its too soon to say where its a rerun of 1972 let alone 1988.

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