Obama for President

Posted: October 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Aluf Benn predicts in today’s Haaretz, that the next president of the US won’t be too involved in the Arab-Israeli peace process. “Ever since efforts failed to achieve final-status agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and the Palestinians, in 2000, U.S. policy has been to ‘contain’ the Israeli-Arab conflict”, writes Benn, and concludes that more urgent problems – such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis – will prevent a change of policy, regardless the identity of the winner in the upcoming election.

To that we can add the fact that no administration has ever been very effective in the Palestinian-Israeli front on the first two years in office: it takes time before the administration forms its own ideas in regards to the middle east, and more time before medium level envoys (and above) arrive, and even then, both sides here are very good at playing tricks on the new guy: the Israelis promise him to stop building settlements and to dismantle some of the road blocks, but somehow by the next visit of the American envoy, there are new Jewish neighborhoods on the shrinking Palestinian land and more road blocks. The same goes for the Palestinian promises to fight terrorism and stop the anti-Israeli, and sometimes anti-Semitic, propaganda (though most observers agree there has been a significant improvement on these issues in the West Bank recently).

It took Bush the father three years to drag PM Yitzhak Shamir to the peace conference in Madrid, and Clinton offered his peace plan only when the negotiation reached a deadlock in 1999. By this time, it was too late. With McCain or Obama we might not have to wait seven years, but it’s clear that there won’t be any peace initiative coming from Washington before 2010.

With all this in mind, there will still be a big difference between the effects that each of the candidates might have, if elected, on the dynamics in the region. McCain’s, one must admit, will probably have a shorter learning period of the issues. But the real danger is that he will follow the policies of the current administration towards Israel, and that’s not something we can afford.

Already, some people wonder if the two states solution is still applicable, and with the growing settlements and the Hamas gaining power, it’s clear that in five years or so, establishing a Palestinian state will be all but impossible. Even now it’s hard to see an Israeli prime minister who will be able to pay the political price of taking down more than a handful of settlements. The Bush administration has practically given Israel a carte blanche in all of the west bank but Jerusalem. An Obama administration might change that.

Obama also seems more careful with the idea of using military force to change the political dynamics – something both PM Sharon (in the territories) and Olmert (in Lebanon) – tried to do, again, with America’s support. It is more than likely that Netanyahu will be Israel’s next PM, so we could use someone in the White House who can restrain him a bit. And finally, there is the Syrian front, where the Bush administration actually prevented the negotiations between Olmerts government and Assad after the war in Lebanon. It’s hard to see Obama taking the same approach.

So I support Obama, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high. No American president will save the Israelis from themselves.


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