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Analysis - U.S.-Israel Relations After Congressional Elections

Experts speak at Bar-Ilan University on how the relationship between Israel and the United States will be affected by the midterm elections.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 11/8/2010, 12:16 AM / Last Update: 11/8/2010, 4:15 AM

As part of the "After the 2010 Congressional Elections" conference which was hosted Sunday by Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, experts spoke about U.S.-Israel Relations, particularly in light of last week’s midterm elections which saw the Republicans gain a majority in the House of Representatives and leave a slim Democratic majority in the  Senate.

Dan Halperin, Former Israeli Economic Minister in Washington, said that under the new situation, both the Administration and Congress have the power to neutralize the other, which he believes may be “a bad omen for the future because if you cannot reach an understanding between the Congress and the Administration on issues like Israel or the economy of the United States, it means that the U.S. government may be paralyzed, and if it’s paralyzed that’s not great for Israel.”

MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), on the other hand, said that he does not see any immediate change and that he believes that the U.S. and Israel will continue to cooperate on many issues, most important which is Iran. “I also expect Israel to show some flexibility when it comes to the negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” added Shai, who said that he believes that Israel should not be involved in any way in American elections. “For us whoever is in government in America should and will appreciate our important strategic role in the Middle East, especially Israel’s democracy and the values that we cherish here and vice versa. Fundamentally there’s not much of a difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to Israel and we should keep this bipartisan support.”

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, Former Israeli Embassy Liaison with Congress, explained that the new stronger Congress will be more confrontational against President Obama, even Democrats who wish to be re-elected next term. “The new Congress is going to be much more pro-Israel than the already pro-Israel current Congress,” said Ettinger. “More House members and even more senators will be driven by tradition, religion, and national security, more anti-UN, more anti-terrorism. Those congressmen are going to have higher respect towards Israel and therefore the capability of the President to pressure Israel is going to be dramatically curtailed pending an Israeli decision to shift its attention back to Congress.”

Ettinger advised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to speak to members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. He advised Netanyahu to emphasize collaborative ventures between the U.S. and Israel, and added that a focus should be made on trade, and that joint interests should be highlighted. Ettinger believes that threats to the U.S. from a future Palestinian state should be emphasized as well.

Regarding the Jewish vote in the elections, Halperin said that the Jews continue to vote for the Democrats, despite evidence of a slimmer majority, which he attributed to a trend among women to vote less for Democrats which affected the Jewish vote as well. He explained that historically Jews have not favored Republicans even when a Republican administration is great for Israel as was the Bush Administration.

Ettinger added that “Jews have been on the Democratic side since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nothing has changed since then.” He emphasized that the American commitment to Israel is not based on the Jewish vote but rather “on intrinsic U.S. values and U.S. strategic interests which do accept Israel not as a classic foreign policy issue but rather as an issue which is part and parcel of the moral foundation and strategic foundation of the U.S.A.”