An Obama Effect?

Posted: November 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Most Israelis were just waking up when John McCain conceded and Barack Obama was officially declared the next president of the United States. On Monday you could still find articles predicting [in Hebrew] that in the end “The Real America” will have the last word and McCain will win. On election day there was an ugly article on Ynet by Naomi Ragan, the right-wing religious novelist, who quoted most of the rumors about Obama as if they were facts (for example: Obama’s campaign was funded mostly by rich Arabs, some of them from Gaza). Reading this article again this morning was particularly fun.

As for myself, I guessed a 318-220 victory for Obama and 52-48 on popular vote, which was not that far-off.

We will have to wait for tomorrow’s papers to see what the pundits have to say about the outcomes effect on Israel and the middle east. Meanwhile, here are some of my thoughts.

The US support of Israel– both diplomatically and financially –will remain the same. Assuming Israel will continue asking the US for permission to use military force (like it probably did before the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria) we will not see major change in security issues. The million dollar question is what will happen if Israel wishes to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. My guess is that for as long as the US is in Iraq, nobody in Washington will care to open a third front (this goes for W as well on his two remaining months in the White House).

So what difference does the presidential election make? Well, the US has direct influence on two key issues here: the peace negotiations and the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem.

In his eight years in office, George W. Bush didn’t do much to reignite the peace process. Instead, he supported unilateral steps taken by Israel, such as reoccupying the West Bank cities and the withdrawal from Gaza. The result was an increase in the power of all extremist groups in the region, most of all the Hamas. Lately, there have been signs of a change in policy, the result of Condoleezza Rice’s efforts. As I wrote before, there is a learning period for any new administration, so it will take some time before we can evaluate if there is a real change in policy.

During this time, Israel will build settlements. We have been doing it for more then 40 years, regardless of the identity of the guy in the oval office – or in the PM office in Jerusalem for that matter.

All settlements are harmful, but some are worst than others. Even the neo-cons and neo-Zionists around Bush didn’t allow Israel to build in the area called E1, east of Jerusalem. The Israeli plan is to build there a Jewish neighborhood, an industrail park and even a few hotels, that will eventually be part of Jerusalem, thus diminishing the last option to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian capitals. And if Bush didn’t allow it, nobody else will. Hopefully, Obama’s people will also keep a closer eye on other construction project in the West Bank, which only serve to to prevent the two states solution.

Finally, there has been some talk on the influence of an Obama victory on Israeli politics, and especially on the results of the general election in February. Some people, both here [Hebrew] and in the US, think that the “Change” massage coming from America will help those candidates who are perceived as “fresh” (aka Tzipi Livni). It has also been speculated that Netanyahu will be considered as someone who will find it harder to deal with the new president, given his hawkish stands. However, one might also claim that some voters will move to the right, in hope of a government that will stand up to American and international pressure towards concessions. But most importantly – in order to have an Obama-like spirit of change, you must have an Obama-like candidate. We don’t.