Israel/Palestinian : More Of The Same From US
By Jonathan Cook
November 14, 2012 "Information
- Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election
last week was greeted with general unease in Israel.
Surveys conducted outside the US shortly before polling day
showed Obama was the preferred candidate in every country but
two – Pakistan and Israel. But unlike Pakistan, where the two
candidates were equally unpopular, he scored just 22 per cent in
Israel against a commanding 57 per cent for Mitt Romney.
these figures, it is unsurprising that Israel’s rightwing prime
minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made little effort to conceal his
political sympathies, laying on a hero’s welcome for Romney when
he visited Jerusalem in the summer and starring in several of
his TV campaign ads.
Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister, accused Netanyahu
of “spitting” in the president’s face, warning that Israel would
now be exposed to Obama’s second-term wrath.
The general wisdom is that the president, freed of worries about
being re-elected, will seek his revenge, both for Netanyahu’s
long-term intransigence in the peace process and for interfering
in the US campaign.
Newspaper cartoons summed up the mood last week. The liberal
Haaretz showed a sweating Netanyahu gingerly putting his head
into the mouth of an Obama-faced lion, while the rightwing
Jerusalem Post had Netanyahu exclaiming “Oh bummer!” as he read
The speculation among Israelis and many observers is that an
Obama second term will see much greater pressure on Israel both
to make major concessions on Palestinian statehood and to end
its aggressive posturing towards Iran over its supposed ambition
to build a nuclear warhead.
Such thinking, however, is fanciful. The White House’s approach
towards Netanyahu and Israel is unlikely to alter significantly.
Netanyahu’s bullish mood was certainly on display as voting in
the US election was under way: his government announced plans to
build more than 1,200 homes for Jewish settlers in East
Jerusalem, the presumed capital of a future Palestinian state.
The reality, as Netanyahu understands well, is that Obama’s
hands are now tied as firmly in the Middle East as they were
during his first term.
Obama got burnt previously when he tried to impose a settlement
freeze. There are no grounds for believing that Israel’s
far-right lobbyists in Washington, led by AIPAC, will give the
president an easier ride this time.
And as Ron Ben Yishai, a veteran Israeli commentator, noted,
Obama will face the same US Congress, one that has
“traditionally been a stronghold of near-unconditional support
Obama may not have to worry about re-election but he will not
want to hand a poisoned legacy to the next Democratic
presidential candidate, nor will want to mire his own final term
in damaging confrontations with Israel. Memories are still raw
of Bill Clinton’s failed gamble to push through a peace deal –
one that, in truth, was a far-more generous to Israel than the
Palestinians – at Camp David in the dying days of his second
And whatever his personal antipathy towards the Israeli prime
minister, Obama also knows that, the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict aside, his policies in the Middle East are either
aligned with Israel’s or dependent on Netanyahu’s cooperation to
Both want the Israel-Egypt peace agreement to hold. Both need to
ensure the civil war in Syria does not spiral out of control, as
the cross-border salvos in the Golan Heights have indicated in
the past few days. Both prefer repressive West-friendly
dictators in the region over Islamist gains.
And, of course, both want to box in Iran on its nuclear
ambitions. So far Netanyahu has reluctantly toed the US line on
“giving sanctions a chance”, toning down his rhetoric about
launching an attack. The last thing the White House needs is a
sulking Israeli premier priming his cohorts in Washington to
undermine US policy.
A sliver of hope for Netanyahu’s opponents is that a disgruntled
US president might still take limited revenge, turning the
tables by interfering in the Israeli elections due in January.
He could back more moderate challengers such as Olmert or Tzipi
Livni, if they choose to run and start to look credible.
But even that would be a big gamble.
The evidence shows that, whatever the makeup of the next Israeli
governing coalition, it will espouse policies little different
from the current one. That simply reflects the lurch rightwards
among Israeli voters, as indicated in a poll this month showing
that 80 per cent now believe it is impossible to make peace with
In fact, given the mood in Israel, an obvious attempt by Obama
to side with one of Netanyahu’s opponents might actually harm
their prospects for success. Netanyahu has already demonstrated
to Israelis that he can defeat the US president in a staring
contest. Many Israelis are likely to conclude that no one is
better placed to keep an unsympathetic Obama in check in his
Faced with a popular consensus in Israel and political backing
in the US Congress for a hard line with the Palestinians, Obama
is an unlikely champion of the peace process – and even of the
Palestinians’ current lowly ambition to win observer status at
the United Nations.
A vote on this matter is currently threatened for November 29,
with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas apparently hoping that the
anniversary of the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine will
provide emotional resonance.
Meanwhile, all Israel’s main parties are battling for the large
pool of rightwing votes. Shelley Yacimovich, leader of the
opposition Labor party, last week denied her party was
“left-wing”, in a sign of how dirty that word has become in
Israel. She has studiously avoided mentioning the Palestinians
or diplomatic issues.
And the great new hope of Israeli politics, former TV star Yair
Lapid, has rapidly come to sound like a Netanyahu-lite. Last
week he publicly opposed giving up even the Palestinian parts of
East Jerusalem, arguing that the Palestinians could be
browbeaten into surrendering their putative capital.
The reality is that the White House is stuck with an Israeli
government, with or without Netanyahu, that rejects an agreement
with the Palestinians. As tensions flare again on the
Israel-Gaza border – threatening an Israeli attack, just as
occurred in the run-up to the last Israeli election – it looks
disturbingly like four more years of the same.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for
Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of
Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle
East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s
Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is
A version of this article originally appeared in the National
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