“Special relationship” with one side

by The Palimpsest Staff on January 12, 2009

(Jae C. Hong/AFP-Getty Images) In Search of the High Ground: In July, Obama got a birds-eye view of the Holy Land with Livni, right, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak

(Jae C. Hong/AFP-Getty Images) In Search of the High Ground: In July, Obama got a bird's-eye view of the Holy Land with Livni, right, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Newsweek

If Obama Is Serious He should get tough with Israel by Aaron David Miller, NEWSWEEK, from the magazine issue dated Jan 12, 2009

Jews worry for a living; their tragic history compels them to do so. In the next few years, there will be plenty to worry about, particularly when it comes to Israel. The current operation in Gaza won’t do much to ease these worries or to address Israel’s longer-term security needs. The potential for a nuclear Iran, combined with the growing accuracy and lethality of Hamas and Hizbullah rockets, will create tremendous concern. Anxiety may also be provoked by something else: an Obama administration determined to repair America’s image and credibility and to reach a deal in the Middle East.

Don’t get me wrong. Barack Obama—as every other U.S. president before him—will protect the special relationship with Israel. But the days of America’s exclusive ties to Israel may be coming to an end. Despite efforts to sound reassuring during the campaign, the new administration will have to be tough, much tougher than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush were, if it’s serious about Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

The departure point for a viable peace deal—either with Syria or the Palestinians—must not be based purely on what the political traffic in Israel will bear, but on the requirements of all sides. The new president seems tougher and more focused than his predecessors; he’s unlikely to become enthralled by either of Israel’s two leading candidates for prime minister—centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or Likudnik Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, if it’s the latter, he may well find himself (like Clinton) privately frustrated with Netanyahu’s tough policies. Unlike Clinton, if Israeli behavior crosses the line, he should allow those frustrations to surface publicly in the service of American national interests.

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