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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The 112th Congress is good for the Jews

Former Defense Minister and Israeli ambassador to the United States Moshe Arens writes that the 112th Congress will be good for the Jews.
As is well known, in the United States foreign policy is determined by the president. He decides and he and his secretary of state execute. Only when foreign policy decisions require budgetary allocations is the president dependent on congressional approval. At first sight it looks like there is hardly any room for the Congress to interfere or influence when it comes to foreign policy. However, there is more here than meets the eye. First of all, the new Congress is very friendly to Israel. Not that friendship, and even admiration, for Israel is limited to the Republican party - that sentiment is bipartisan and includes Democrats and Republicans alike. However, many Democrats in Congress who did not agree with the pressure that the president applied to Israel in the past two years have hesitated to voice criticism of the president's policy out of loyalty to the leader of their party.

Republicans in the new Congress will feel no such compunction. They will let the president and the country know when they disagree with him. The new Congress can be expected to be openly supportive of Israel. That means that if the president were to resume his tactic of pressuring Israel he will find himself in opposition to many in the Congress. With many other urgent items on his agenda he may not want to get into a collision with Congress on this issue. If he were to consider taking punitive measures against Israel, if he finds the Israeli government recalcitrant, he will find it difficult to get the cooperation of Congress in the areas where this is required.

It is therefore unlikely that we will see a repeat of the crises between the U.S. and Israel, real and artificial, that we witnessed in the past two years. The Israeli prime minister will not again be insulted on his visits to Washington. There'll be some changes. This Congress will not give the president a free pass on Israel.
So then why is Prime Minister Netanyahu rushing to appease President Obama?

Others disagree with Arens. For example, both Newsweek and Haaretz's Akiva Eldar believe that Israel will soon be subjected to more pressure from Obama.
Both Newsweek's writer and Eldar conclude that, as the former puts it, "when the dust clears, [Netanyahu] can expect renewed pressure to resume the settlement freeze in the West Bank and get serious in talks with the Palestinians."
Benjamin Kerstein, at that last link, believes that Netanyahu can walk between the raindrops.
The reality in Israel is now completely different. Arafat's betrayal of Clinton at Camp David in 2000, the collapse of Oslo in the carnage of the second intifada, and the all but total lack of sympathy with or support for Israel displayed by the international community throughout the upheavals of the past decade have fundamentally changed the country's domestic consensus. However Israelis may feel about specific issues like settlements and borders, the overwhelming majority are unwilling to take the same risks they took in 1994, or for that matter in 1996. Moreover, they feel they should not be asked to do so.

As long as Netanyahu keeps himself in sync with this consensus, and does not swing too far to the Left or the Right, he is likely to be relatively safe from American attempts at triangulation. Indeed, he may be in a position to indulge in a little triangulation of his own, pleasing the center-Right in Israel and the U.S. by reacting sharply to Obama's criticism of building in Jerusalem ("Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel") while pleasing the center-Left by acquiescing in another temporary settlement freeze.

Barring unforeseen events, then, it is highly questionable that Obama will be able to match Clinton's effectiveness in pushing his dream of a breakthrough agreement in the Middle East on a skeptical Israeli public, or for that matter on an American public whose sympathies are running strongly in Israel's direction. Again barring unforeseen events, Obama may find himself wishing for the kind of congressional support that Clinton never needed.
I believe that it all depends on where Obama sees himself. If Obama sees himself as a viable candidate for a second term (and right now he does), then Kerstein is right and Obama will not be able to put real pressure on Israel, at least until after the 2012 elections.

But if Obama comes to the conclusion that he is destined to be a one-term President, then he is likely to be more willing to pressure Israel in a bid to create a legacy for himself. In that case, while Congress may love us, there will be little they can do for us.

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At 11:40 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The last thing on earth Israel should be doing is throwing the drowning Obama a life raft.

Israel's government should not be making life easier for him.

If Obama needs Israel, let him be the one to make an offer, not the other way around.

What could go wrong indeed

At 5:09 AM, Blogger BH in Iowa said...

Obama is weak. Every other leader has told him to go pound sand. He's backstabbed our allies and appeased our enemies. Sadly Netanyahu is the one leader who respected BHO and the US-Israel relationship. He never told BHO to go pound sand. Now Netanyahu is the one place BHO can go to appear strong. Sadly, I believe BHO has nothing left but to try to bully Israel. The challenge for Israel is to avoid allowing a temporary situation lead to permanent consequences.

At 1:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unlike the American voters and media that supported obama, Israel should not ignore the things obama's reverend has to say about Israel and the Jews. Obama spent about 20 years listening to and supporting outright antisemitism.


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