Reasons for Israeli misgivings about Obama AND Romney
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM — Elections instill panic. What should we do in order to solve the problems?
Wrong strategy. There are not any solutions for the stickiest of the problems.
The point is to select a candidate with the greatest chance of making things a little bit better, or only a little bit worse.
Avoid the choice most likely to produce disaster, or to make things a lot worse.
Face it: both candidates are problematic.
Barack Obama has been far from ideal for Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
His Cairo speech was a well balanced and articulate disaster.
It won him a Nobel Prize of doubtful legitimacy, contributed to Muslim and Israeli suspicions, Arab Spring, and what came next. Only dreamers see the onset of democracy in what is closer to instability in the best cases, and unrelieved slaughter in the worse case.
His insistence on no construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and starting negotiations with the lines of 1967 were infantile. His gesture to the Palestinians destroyed whatever confidence he enjoyed among the Israelis who would have to make concessions. Obama pushed an elusive peace process into deep sleep or absolute death.
However, we must remind ourselves that “ideal” has no place in a discussion of political alternatives.
Obama’s relative silence on Israel-Palestine in the last year, along with some electioneering good words for Israel, provides hope that he learns, and may only have made things for Israel a little bit worse.
Or maybe not worse at all, if we accept the idea that there was never much hope for a peace process. It is reasonable to conclude that the Palestinian leadership (moderates as well as extremists) have not brought themselves to accept Israel’s existence within any borders.
We’re still here and the economy is functioning as well as any in Europe and North America.
Given what is happening around us, those are comforting indicators.
Palestine won an arguably deserved boost from the comics who run UNESCO with the recognition that Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site, but they also got a damning report from the World Bank. Those financial wizards departed from political correctness and reported that the aid-dependent economy is not something that should be associated with statehood. Add to that Palestinians who complain about rampant corruption, and we see what we have long known. North American and European government donations to Palestine may make the donors feel good, but have harmed Palestine by retarding self-reliance.
If you accept the epigram that it is better to teach a person to fish than to provide fish, it’s time to teach the Palestinians how to fish.
Jewish Republicans, along with disaffected Jewish Democrats, are mounting a campaign to persuade fellow Jews to vote against Obama. Among the themes are “What will they be saying after another four years of Obama?” and “He’s going to place Israel in a position where they’re in danger.”
Despite Sheldon Adelson’s millions, it is hard to imagine that campaigns will reduce Jewish voting for a Democratic candidate below 65 percent. Even in closely matched swing states, that may not be enough to give Mitt Romney the election.
Romney is no more ideal than Obama. His chances in the election are tainted with “vulture capitalism” and tax returns that anybody can envy. He is packaged with the Tea Party and practitioners from the administration of George W. Bush. Remember Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps more than a million deaths associated with naive aspirations to fix those countries. The Romney cluster also has problematic views on health insurance and a number of social issues.
Despite his often repeated support for Israel, Romney is largely an unknown quantity on foreign policy. If he is elected, Israel and other countries may have to tolerate surprises from another freshman president
Israel enthusiasts have some hot button demands. Frequent expressions of undying support, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital, and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv have wide appeal. However, they have nothing more than symbolic weight. They are not crucial–or even important–to the country’s survival and well-being. Legitimizing settlements throughout the West Bank and freeing Jonathan Pollard attract those wanting even more, but are also below the threshold of real importance.
Politics are multi-dimensional. One-issue activists (e.g., Americans who think only about optimising all that they desire for Israel) isolate themselves from other desires, and alliances with antagonists as well as the like-minded Call it log-rolling or horse trading. The labels are not attractive, insofar as they involve compromise of important principals.
If “ideal” outcomes have no place in this discussion, “important principles” have only limited roles.
I remain optimistic about Israel’s fate, no matter which imperfect candidate wins America’s election. The country is strong militarily. Perhaps not strong enough to withstand an all-out onslaught from a great power, but that is unlikely. The economy is healthier than most in Europe or North America. Historic enemies are mired in economic and political problems that will take years to fix. The cloud of Iran is serious, but Israel has several kinds of leverage.
Those fearful of any president turning against Israel after the election should remember our friends in Congress.
There are moments when I aspire to having been born to a family of Swiss farmers, spending my life tending cows and making cheese.
Then I recall visits to lush valleys protected by beautiful mountains, and conclude that I would have died from boredom at an early age.
If I have learned anything from practicing my profession in a pressured place, the essence of wise voting is low expectations.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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