Romney or Obama: Why the Israeli left (and the right) should care

For the left, the amount of pressure Obama applied to Israel wasn’t enough as he didn’t get a peace deal. The PA’s recalcitrance is almost irrelevant to them. But Obama was better than Romney’s expected carte blanche for Israel. I agree with his conclusions. Ted Belman

By Dov Waxman, +972

The general sentiment among many of my left-wing Israeli friends about Romney’s visit to Israel is a mix of cynicism and apathy – cynicism because they see the visit as a transparent attempt to pander to American Jewish voters and donors, and apathy because they feel that whoever wins the U.S. presidential election in November, American policy to Israel will remain basically unchanged. While they’re right to be cynical, they are wrong to be apathetic. A Romney administration will be different for Israel than Obama’s administration has been. From a liberal or left-wing Israeli or Jewish perspective, it will almost certainly be worse.

Let’s face it, Obama has been a disappointment to those of us who hoped that he would be the President to finally broker Israeli-Palestinian peace after so many others had failed. After all, he seemed to possess a much more nuanced understanding of the conflict than his immediate predecessor George W. Bush, he expressed an obvious empathy for both sides, and he clearly recognized that resolving the conflict was an American national interest, not just an Israeli and Palestinian one. His popularity, especially among American Jews, also augured well. In short, not only did Obama “get it,” he could also “do it,” meaning that he was in a strong enough position to persuade and cajole both sides, Israel in particular, to make the necessary concessions for a peace agreement.

Needless to say, things have not turned out the way we hoped. Today, the Israelis and Palestinians are barely even talking to each other, and the prospects for peace seem more distant than ever. The viability of the two-state solution itself is now seriously in doubt, as the population of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues to inexorably rise (there are now around 350,000 settlers in the West Bank and 300,000 in East Jerusalem). The Obama Administration’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has undoubtedly been a dismal failure (although there are many reasons for this, not least Israeli and Palestinian recalcitrance).

But while Israeli leftists, not to mention Palestinians, have every reason to be disappointed with the lack of progress that has been made over the past four years and to be disillusioned with Obama personally, they should not let these feelings prevent them from acknowledging that Obama is still much better, or at least a lot less bad, than Romney when it comes to U.S. policy on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The crucial difference between Obama and Romney when it comes to Israel can be summed up in one word: restraint. While neither man may be willing to apply real pressure on Israel (although Obama initially tried to and may try again in a second term), Romney is much less likely to restrain Israel, more specifically a right-wing Israeli government.

It is, of course, impossible to really know how much the Obama administration has restrained Netanyahu and his government. Would Israel have built more settlements and allowed more outposts? Would it have fired more missiles into Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket attacks? Would it have already bombed Iran by now? We can only speculate about these possibilities. What is clear, however, is that the Netanyahu government knew that it had to deal with a U.S. Administration that opposed Israeli settlement construction and supported the Palestinian right to self-determination in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. To be sure, Prime Minister Netanyahu had a Republican-controlled Congress on his side, but he still could not risk the wrath of the White House. He therefore enjoyed less freedom of action.

Will Netanyahu, Lieberman and company feel the same way if Mitt Romney is sitting in the Oval Office? If Romney wins in November, it will be in no small part due to the largesse of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a longtime supporter of Netanyahu and a man who finds AIPAC too moderate. Many other extremely wealthy right-wing American Jews are also backing Romney. In addition to donations from right-wing Jews, the votes of staunchly pro-Israel evangelical Christians will also be necessary for Romney to win in November. With this kind of support behind him, it is highly unlikely that as president, Romney will risk any kind of confrontation or dispute with Israel. It would simply be political suicide for him.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that if Romney becomes the next U.S. president, Israel will attack Iran or annex parts of the West Bank, but it does mean that Israel will face less constraint than it does at present. While this is certainly good news for those on the right who want Israel to be completely free to do as it pleases — regardless of Palestinian rights, human rights, or pretty much anything else — it’s bad news for those of us who have yet to give up hope for an end to the occupation, for peace, and for a viable Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. A Romney Administration could be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

Dov Waxman is an associate professor of political science at Baruch College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the co-author of Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and the author of The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). He is currently a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

August 2, 2012 | 14 Comments »

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14 Comments / 14 Comments

  1. And yet again we hear the braying of a third-rate academic, who detaches himself from reality because naturally, he is so much smarter than us folks who just want to live peacefully in our own land. We can only hope that this guy’s nightmare comes true.

    Mr. Waxman is another brainiac who reminds us of the Jews who stayed behind in Egypt…

  2. “There is no reconciliation between Zionism and Islam in the cards. Any one who indulges in that fantasy hasn’t been following the developments of the past century very closely.”

    Well said, Norman F. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  3. This is a super no-brainer. Anyone who thinks Obama’s term is good for Israel is either Muslim, Leftist or both. Any Jew who votes for Obama
    for a second term is enabling serious damage to the Jewish State. Without reelection worries BHO will be free to pursue his hidden agendas
    that his handlers have prepared for him. Woe to Israel and woe to the USA.

  4. @ NormanF:
    Exactly. Islam cannot coexist with freedom or with non-muslims. It is a supremacist and imperialist ideology. Everywhere islam has taken control of, non-muslim populations have been wiped out. Liberals refuse to ackowledge this historical reality.

  5. @ Alan:
    Emanuel has no problem aligning with farrakhan, but the CEO of Chik-fil-a is beyond the pale as far as he’s concerned. This is the twisted world of liberalism.

  6. He fails to mention Obama is an anti-Semite, pretending to be a Christian who embraces Islam is no friend of Israel. He has an agenda. He bows to Saudi prince.

    When will the world understand the Palestinians don’t want peace with Israel.

    The Pals under the control of Hamas will not even recognize Israel as a sovereign nation.

    but it does mean that Israel will face less constraint than it does at present. While this is certainly good news for those on the right who want Israel to be completely free to do as it pleases

    I’ll buy that, so should it be.

    the manchurian mystery candidate no one knows where he was born where he went
    to school or what he ever did before the democratic party nominated a known fraud
    as presidential candidate !
    it is more important for israel to be supported politically than militarily
    boobama has failed to do the former in office

  8. Dov Waxman and his friends need to move – PERMANENTLY – to Gaza.

    That is where they, and the Chick-Fil-A haters like Rahmie the Feigele Emanuel richly deserve to belong.

  9. There will never be peace between the Arabs and the Jews.

    Dov Waxman and other Israeli Leftists are delusional. They are running in circles and their last great idea was circa 1992 – we all know how well that worked out.

    There is no reconciliation between Zionism and Islam in the cards. Any one who indulges in that fantasy hasn’t been following the developments of the past century very closely.

  10. ” A Romney Administration could be the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”

  11. Not much of a statement to say “Romney is pandering for votes”. Obama doesn’t pander for votes? Pandering can be OK when sincere and when honest effort is made to achieve communication and good, open dialog. When some windbag comes through your town and shows an obvious insincerity, indeed, a tendency toward lying, is pandering not the only way to attract the votes of indiscriminate, unalytical voters? It is no stretch to admit that folks on our side of the aisle pander from time to time. It is called “fund raising”. It is called putting our dollars into a candidate so he votes our way.This is not pandering? What is it then? Clearly, it is not some more honest way to sway votes. After all, why are we so lavish in putting money behind a candidate like Obama in his last election? We want, we buy what we want and we, of all people, are only too willing to criticize and chide when some candidate comes and lies to us? So how do we arrive at that monumental faux pas anyway? Our history includes putting our votes behind our shekels and demanding cooperation and favors to better us and our needs. We are not without guile, are we? We have many protections we have bought and paid for and so what is wrong with pandering anyway? We can call it something else, for sure, but the spirit of our progress includes making good investments in US candidates that we can, shall we say put the finger to, when we need to? It should come as no surprise to any of us that our progress continues to be dependent on our wise usage of money to lubricate the voting tendencies of Americans. Romney, henceforth, is not guilty of this negative epithet called “pandering”, he is merely starting to see things our way,this is a bad thing?

  12. Lefties like Dov Waxman see through such a distorted lens. I cannot understand their way of thinking at all. The Jewish state has never been the obstacle to peace. It is solely the Arab-muslim refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state. The “Palestinians” do not seek statehood, but the obliteration of Israel. That is why all efforts at peacemaking by American administrations have failed. It is that black and white. It makes no difference how much pressure Obama or any other president puts on Israel because there is no willingness to make concessions on the other side. Why is this so difficult for people like Dov Waxman and his ilk to grasp?