Ogling a tray of fresh hot chocolate rolls straight out of the oven at my favorite bakery, with my mountain bike sitting in the sunshine on the West Jerusalem sidewalk outside – the neighborhood where I have lived for the last two years – I thought of something a GOP activist told me in Las Vegas back in 2008.
“If Barack Hussein Obama gets elected, the state of Israel will cease to exist,” he said without the slightest hint of hyperbole.
We met at a an event sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition aimed at rallying Jews in Nevada to support John McCain. The stakes could not be higher, the activist told me. And he proceeded to run through a litany of supposed signs that Barack Obama would be a disaster for the Jewish State, including Obama’s alleged ties to Islamic extremist groups. In a slightly less-overheated manner, the RJC is still pushing the “Obama is dangerous for Israel” message in 2012.
But from my desk today, down the road from that fabulous bakery and four years after Obama’s election, I can report that Israel is still standing.
In all seriousness though, it is little surprise that an American presidential election stirs profound hope, anxiety and passion here in Israel, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and back in the US. Can’t get enough commentary, analysis and – occasionally – pure venom related to the Holy Land? Try here, here, here, and here.
Today’s papers in Israel are full of stories about America’s election day. Without putting much meat on the bones, Ynet has a piece based on unnamed sources saying that Israeli officials fear that President Obama, if he’s re-elected, might exact some revenge on Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Obama and Netanyahu are thought to be something less than true political soul mates. Critics of the prime minister say he has inserted himself into an American presidential election – in support of Mitt Romney – in a reckless fashion. But never mind the speculation, said Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon in a radio interview this morning. US support for Israel is bipartisan, Ayalon said, no matter who wins the presidential race.
That might be true. But there are some big potential disagreements between this Israeli prime minister – who is widely expected to win re-election himself in January – and Barack Obama. If the US president does win another term, the Iranian nuclear issue is likely to be an ongoing point of friction between the two allies. In an Israeli television interview that aired Monday night, Netanyahu said he would be willing to attack Iran with or without America’s blessing. The prime minister’s political opponents have painted Netanyahu as reckless on Iran, but so have prominent voices from Israel’s military and intelligence communities.Mitt Romney has taken a more hawkish view on Iran than President Obama, even going so far as saying that under a Romney administration there would be no daylight between the US and Israel on such important matters of security. How does Barack Obama view Iran’s nuclear activities? The answer depends on who you ask. Here is an interesting discussion about the view from Israel’s perspective and how President Obama might or might not handle the situation at the moment of truth.
As for the Palestinians, they have a dim but conflicted view of the US presidential election, which I tried to highlight in this radio story. The Palestinian public has little faith that the next American administration will do much for them. In the Gaza Strip, the Islamic militant group Hamas – branded a terrorist organization by Washington – rejects negotiations with Israel altogether and sees the US simply as Israel’s patron. In the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority depends on American financial aid just to get by, there is a feeling that time is running out for achieving a two-state solution.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, set off a bit of a political firestorm with his recent comments on Israeli TV about giving up any hopes of returning to his childhood hometown in northern Israel. The message from Abbas was seen by some Israelis as a willingness on the part of the current Palestinian leader to be flexible on one of the toughest issues with Israel, the Palestinian right of return. Prominent Israeli novelist David Grossman has an op-ed in today’s Ha’aretz calling on Netanyahu to reciprocate the gesture from Abbas by getting back to the negotiating table. The prime minister has issued a statement repeating his invitation for talks without preconditions.
But the two sides are heading for another showdown at the United Nations. The Palestinians say their effort for greater recognition from the international community is compatible with the goal of reaching a negotiated solution with Israel. The response from the US and Israel, as one Jerusalem-based analyst put it to me the other day, has been “you must be kidding.” Now, Netanyahu’s new political partner Avigdor Lieberman is reportedly threatening to bring down the Palestinian Authority if Abbas goes through with his plans at the U.N. What does this mean for the next US administration? Well, a lot. Brokering a just, long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stated US policy going at least as far back as Lyndon Johnson.