Israel, Adjusting to the New America
by Arik Elman
Call it a sign of the new times. A few minutes after the Likud MK Danny Danon reacted to the re-election of President Obama by calling him “naÃ¯ve” and suggesting that the choice made by the American people means that Israel is left to take care of her interests on her own, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Likud spokesperson sent down a gag order – no minister or Knesset member may speak on the subject of American elections without Netanyahu’s say-so. The incumbent president shall not be disturbed or provoked by any criticism from Israel – at least not until Netanyahu’s own elections are over next January 22nd.
While Netanyahu’s involvement in the presidential contest in the US was never as intrusive as claimed by local and American liberals, his preference for a Mitt Romney win was indisputable. Besides personal acquaintance and ideological proximity, it is quite understandable – after all, it was Obama who, during the first two years of his presidency (until the midterms) picked useless fights with Netanyahu and made them very public. Apparently unmoved by considerations of propriety, Obama’s aides discussed with eager Israeli journalists their preference for the reshuffle of Netanyahu’s coalition for the benefit of Kadima. After the midterms, the personal became political – Obama kept trying to foist on Israel his own extreme ideas of final settlement with Palestinians, his White House discounted Netanyahu’s warnings on the development of the “Arab Spring” into an Islamist triumph (which were spot-on) and, as a cherry on top, the Obama administration did all it could, short of drone attack to stop Israel from acting against the Iranian nuclear program. Is it really that strange if Netanyahu chose to believe his American friends and pollsters who were convinced that Obama was history?
Without doubt, among Israeli politicians, Netanyahu is the most knowledgeable about America. But this time, his experience failed him. From Israel, Obama’s victory looks like a vindication for an America that is content with its diminishing stature in the world and especially in the Middle East and ready to grasp the President’s promise that its wars “are coming to an end” – regardless of the intent of America’s enemies who started them and have no intention to quit. While there’s not much fear that Obama will try “to solve” the Palestinian problem, Israelis are coming to understand that the chance of American military intervention against Iranian nukes is almost nil. With such “leverage”, nothing good is expected to come out of the bilateral negotiations with Iran that Obama is going to launch – in the end, Iran will get American approval for a “bomb in the basement” and Israel will either have to agree to live on with a credible threat of annihilation or to act alone and face the wrath of a world addicted to “peaceful solutions”.
Beyond the accusations from former Prime Minister Olmert that Netanyahu took Romney’s side to appease “a certain American billionaire”, the redistributionist forces in Israel are hoping that Obama’s reelection will hurt Netanyahu in the battle of economic ideology as well. It was quite ironic that the most heartfelt congratulations for the most liberal American President came from SHAS – the ultraorthodox Sephardic faction, backward, xenophobic and quite unfriendly to women and gays. Being inveterate moochers of the public veal, SHAS leaders happily declared that Obama’s victory means that “the weak demand that the government must not abandon them”. In the worsening economic climate, those expectations of largesse can prove even more destructive for Israel than any other consequences of Obama’s return to the White House.