Will President Barack H. Obama continue his recent pro-Israel stance after the November elections. “We'll have to wait and see,” says Professor Robert Friedman of Johns Hopkins University. There are reasons to believe that he will not – and the possibility that he will.
Friedman was in Israel participating in the 28th annual meeting of the Association for Israel Studies, an international scholarly society devoted to the academic and professional study of Israel. The Association's membership is composed of scholars from all disciplines in the social sciences and many in the humanities. The theme of this year's meeting, which runs through June 27th, is “Multicultural Israel in a Global Perspective: Between One Society and Many Societies.”
Friedman believes that Obama has actually moved closer to Israel in the past two years, perhaps against his will – and that it isn't all due to his trying to win the next election. According to Friedman, Obama is aware that his policies regarding the Middle East conflict have not been successful. Unlike what Obama expected, the PA has not compromised at all from the positions it took when he took office, despite the generous pro-Palestinian tact he took in his first year in office. Obama, disappointed that his policy did not work out, has tended to be more open to Israel's ideas on the peace process.
Despite this, Obama has not come over to Israel's side on all issues. Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria is still something the U.S. rejects. “The United States still sees ending the settlements as a necessary step. I don't think Obama will be happy with the compromise achieved in the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, where several buildings will be taken down, to be replaced by hundreds of apartments elsewhere,” Friedman said.
Obama has, on the other hand, come much closer to Israel's stance on Iran. According to Friedman, Obama has largely adopted the position of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli defense establishment on the danger of a nuclear Iran, and the importance of stopping Tehran. However, the two countries are still in disagreement on what the “red line” is, where forceful action will need to be taken to stop Iran. Israel believes that nuclear capability is enough of a red line, while the U.S. is of the view that developing a nuclear missile would be Tehran's going too far. The fact that both countries agree on the essence of the danger of Iran has brought them closer, Friedman says.
Obama has been pressuring Netanyahu not to attack before the November elections, and Friedman believes that Netanyahu will comply. Regardless of his Israel policy, says Friedman, it's the economy that is likely to make or break Obama's reelection chances. “If the American economy is further damaged, then Obama's reelection chances will be further damaged.” Netanyahu, by holding off an attack on Iran until after the elections – if one is even planned – is helping Obama out, enabling him to deal with the issue that he must overcome if he hopes to be reelected.