Don’t expect a second term Obama to take on Israel

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 17 Comments

Barack Obama’s victory in the US presidential election last week was greeted with general unease in Israel.

netanyahu obama
Netanyahu and Obama

Surveys conducted outside the US shortly before polling day showed Obama was the preferred candidate in every country but two – Pakistan and Israel. But unlike Pakistan, where the two candidates were equally unpopular, he scored just 22 per cent in Israel against a commanding 57 per cent for Mitt Romney.

Given these figures, it is unsurprising that Israel’s rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made little effort to conceal his political sympathies, laying on a hero’s welcome for Romney when he visited Jerusalem in the summer and starring in several of his TV campaign ads.

Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister, accused Netanyahu of “spitting” in the president’s face, warning that Israel would now be exposed to Obama’s second-term wrath.

The general wisdom is that the president, freed of worries about being re-elected, will seek his revenge, both for Netanyahu’s long-term intransigence in the peace process and for interfering in the US campaign.

Newspaper cartoons summed up the mood last week. The liberal Haaretz showed a sweating Netanyahu gingerly putting his head into the mouth of an Obama-faced lion, while the rightwing Jerusalem Post had Netanyahu exclaiming “Oh bummer!” as he read the headlines.

The speculation among Israelis and many observers is that an Obama second term will see much greater pressure on Israel both to make major concessions on Palestinian statehood and to end its aggressive posturing towards Iran over its supposed ambition to build a nuclear warhead.

Such thinking, however, is fanciful. The White House’s approach towards Netanyahu and Israel is unlikely to alter significantly.

Netanyahu’s bullish mood was certainly on display as voting in the US election was under way: his government announced plans to build more than 1,200 homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, the presumed capital of a future Palestinian state.

The reality, as Netanyahu understands well, is that Obama’s hands are now tied as firmly in the Middle East as they were during his first term.

Obama got burnt previously when he tried to impose a settlement freeze. There are no grounds for believing that Israel’s far-right lobbyists in Washington, led by AIPAC, will give the president an easier ride this time.

And as Ron Ben Yishai, a veteran Israeli commentator, noted, Obama will face the same US Congress, one that has “traditionally been a stronghold of near-unconditional support for Israel”.

Obama may not have to worry about re-election but he will not want to hand a poisoned legacy to the next Democratic presidential candidate, nor will want to mire his own final term in damaging confrontations with Israel. Memories are still raw of Bill Clinton’s failed gamble to push through a peace deal – one that, in truth, was a far-more generous to Israel than the Palestinians – at Camp David in the dying days of his second term.

And whatever his personal antipathy towards the Israeli prime minister, Obama also knows that, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aside, his policies in the Middle East are either aligned with Israel’s or dependent on Netanyahu’s cooperation to work.

Both want the Israel-Egypt peace agreement to hold. Both need to ensure the civil war in Syria does not spiral out of control, as the cross-border salvos in the Golan Heights have indicated in the past few days. Both prefer repressive West-friendly dictators in the region over Islamist gains.

And, of course, both want to box in Iran on its nuclear ambitions. So far Netanyahu has reluctantly toed the US line on “giving sanctions a chance”, toning down his rhetoric about launching an attack. The last thing the White House needs is a sulking Israeli premier priming his cohorts in Washington to undermine US policy.

A sliver of hope for Netanyahu’s opponents is that a disgruntled US president might still take limited revenge, turning the tables by interfering in the Israeli elections due in January. He could back more moderate challengers such as Olmert or Tzipi Livni, if they choose to run and start to look credible.

But even that would be a big gamble.

The evidence shows that, whatever the makeup of the next Israeli governing coalition, it will espouse policies little different from the current one. That simply reflects the lurch rightwards among Israeli voters, as indicated in a poll this month showing that 80 per cent now believe it is impossible to make peace with the Palestinians.

In fact, given the mood in Israel, an obvious attempt by Obama to side with one of Netanyahu’s opponents might actually harm their prospects for success. Netanyahu has already demonstrated to Israelis that he can defeat the US president in a staring contest. Many Israelis are likely to conclude that no one is better placed to keep an unsympathetic Obama in check in his second term.

Faced with a popular consensus in Israel and political backing in the US Congress for a hard line with the Palestinians, Obama is an unlikely champion of the peace process – and even of the Palestinians’ current lowly ambition to win observer status at the United Nations.

A vote on this matter is currently threatened for November 29, with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas apparently hoping that the anniversary of the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine will provide emotional resonance.

Meanwhile, all Israel’s main parties are battling for the large pool of rightwing votes. Shelley Yacimovich, leader of the opposition Labor party, last week denied her party was “left-wing”, in a sign of how dirty that word has become in Israel. She has studiously avoided mentioning the Palestinians or diplomatic issues.

And the great new hope of Israeli politics, former TV star Yair Lapid, has rapidly come to sound like a Netanyahu-lite. Last week he publicly opposed giving up even the Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem, arguing that the Palestinians could be browbeaten into surrendering their putative capital.

The reality is that the White House is stuck with an Israeli government, with or without Netanyahu, that rejects an agreement with the Palestinians. As tensions flare again on the Israel-Gaza border – threatening an Israeli attack, just as occurred in the run-up to the last Israeli election – it looks disturbingly like four more years of the same.

A version of this article originally appeared in the National (Abu Dhabi).

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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17 Responses

  1. ckg
    November 14, 2012, 10:50 am

    From Haaretz:

    The October 2012 results of the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University’s monthly Peace Index reveal that a clear majority of Jewish Israelis prefer Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney (57 percent) over incumbent President Barack Obama (22 percent).

    Support for Romney includes 70 percent of self-defined right-wingers, 54 percent of centrists, and 30 percent of left-wingers. However, a plurality of Arab Israelis prefers Obama (45 percent) over Romney (15 percent).

    Julian Pecquet in The Hill reported the results incorrectly, which led to some confusion:

    Israelis prefer Mitt Romney over President Obama by a wide margin, according to the latest polling from the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University.

    The Republican candidate leads Obama 57 percent to 22 percent, the organizations’ Peace Index for October found in its October survey.

  2. pabelmont
    November 14, 2012, 10:54 am

    If Obama would only EDUCATE the American people, he could do wonders!

    Imagine talking about MONEY IN POLITICS and pointing to the recent votes (Montana, Colorado, maybe others) where the voters have said, “Corporations are not people”, etc.

    Imagine his talking about international law, about the absolute cruelty of the settlement regime, etc., and asking the American people to contact their representatives asking them to demand an end of Israeli settlements, with removal of all settlers.

    Imagine him talking about GLOBAL WARMING as if he meant it! As if the on-rushing catastrophes due to present (still early, mind) effects of GW were worth avoiding (if still possible) by EXTRAORDINARY efforts and changes in how Americans live. I think Americans would listen. (They’ve seen “Sandy” and its wreckage, they’ve seen the droughts and the forest fires, and there are many other signs.

    If Obama will not do these things, then WE must.

    • RudyM
      November 14, 2012, 12:00 pm

      Obama is not going to do any of that. He spent the last four years supporting corporatist policies and not really confronting Zionism (beyond the right-wing push for an all out attack on Iran).

  3. Theo
    November 14, 2012, 12:21 pm

    Oh, Obama did talk a lot about many subjects, including fairness in the ME, and he never followed up on those beautifully phrased speeches.
    By the way, he really started to stutter when he did not have a written speech in front of him, proving that he is a good actor who can deliver textes written by others, but a shallow man inside.

    He was only the lesser evil to choose and if anyone expects from him great deeds during his second term, he fools himself.
    He will have an opportunity in this days, Israel is starting another war with the wrenched people in Gaza, killing more and more every day.
    Let´s see what our liberal president will do to stop it. With a single massage to Netanyahu he can let the israelis know that they will not be supported by the USA by any means and they better stop their offensive.
    One must be naive to expect such a brave act from him, the man who killed more people in Pakistan and expelled more illegals, (1.2 million) during his first term, than Bush did during his full eight years!!

  4. radii
    November 14, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Obama could do it this time and the U.S. public would support him – there is public longing here to put israel in its place that was greatly stoked by Netanyahu’s disrespectful and bullying in the run-up to the election … Obama should demand a total settlement freeze and say he’ll stop all flows of money first, and military cooperation second if israel does not comply

    • Theo
      November 15, 2012, 8:28 am


      …”there is a public longing……”

      Really? Then where is an outcry of a magnitude that can be heard all the way to Washington and Tel Aviv?
      In the USA talking about politics have been killed by a stupid custom of “do not talk about politics or religion in a gathering”. Where else, with yourself in your bathroom? There are a few blogs, like the MW, that try to educate the masses, however how many americans are even aware of its existance?
      The MSM and TV make it sure the public will not be bothered with such miniscule problems like Israel breaking a ceasefire, they killing innocent women and children, coniving in our elections and cyber attacks on Iran. The american empire is very sick and the doctors don´t have the courage to inform it of the severity of illness.

  5. Dan Crowther
    November 14, 2012, 1:22 pm

    The only people Obama is going to “take on” in his second term are the people who voted for him; the one thing i feel good about is that I didn’t voluntarily sign my proverbial death warrant by voting for the guy. Cheers to Cook for not writing yet another “Barack Obama should do (x)” or “Moving Obama in “our” direction” article. Honesty is in short supply in the inter-left dialogue.

    • Chu
      November 14, 2012, 1:56 pm

      Obama can say what he wants, but the reality is that he has no one who is really going to back him that is a has major capitol and political clout.

      Have we seen any Hollywood actors that came to his side against Netanyahu? Politicians, or business magnates? Why don’t we just call it a day and say
      ‘We Love Israel!’? Or like my man Chuck Schumer spits it ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’
      It’s what 95 percent of american politicians do.

    • Mooser
      November 14, 2012, 2:53 pm

      Wait a minute, Dan, what about the times you deliberately fostered a wave of acute dyspepsia by declaring Romney would win? Was that nice? I recall at least two such incidents.

      • Dan Crowther
        November 14, 2012, 7:19 pm


        You got me. I just couldn’t believe going into it that Obama would get that turnout, especially from latinos – he’s deported more people than anyone in history; I have to say, I was wrong.

        But we both know he’s about to gut the safety net.

    • seafoid
      November 14, 2012, 4:43 pm

      Far easier to give the bots enough rope, more than they need, to hang themselves . They think it’s all going to end well.

      There is zero point in taking on the settlers now. History is a long record of unintended consequences its victims never meant to produce.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    November 14, 2012, 4:26 pm

    ● RE: “The White House’s approach towards Netanyahu and Israel is unlikely to alter significantly.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    ● MY COMMENT: During the next four years, the Israeli-Arab conflict will be Obama’s “Chinatown”. Expect to see a heavily camouflaged policy of “benign neglect”.


    Evelyn Mulwray: “Tell me, Mr. Gittes: Does this often happen to you?”
    Jake Gittes: “Actually, this hasn’t happened to me for a long time.”
    Evelyn Mulwray: “When was the last time?”
    Jake Gittes: “Why?”
    Evelyn Mulwray: “It’s an innocent question.”
    Jake Gittes: “In Chinatown.”
    Evelyn Mulwray: “What were you doing there?”
    Jake Gittes: “Working for the District Attorney.”
    Evelyn Mulwray: “Doing what?”
    Jake Gittes: “As little as possible.”
    Evelyn Mulwray: “The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?”
    Jake Gittes: “They do in Chinatown.”

    SOURCE –


  7. DICKERSON3870
    November 14, 2012, 4:39 pm

    RE: “Netanyahu’s bullish mood was certainly on display as voting in the US election was under way: his government announced plans to build more than 1,200 homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, the presumed capital of a future Palestinian state.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    MY COMMENT: This is Netanyahu’s way of letting (the recently reelected) Obama know who is boss; lest Obama think his reelection was some kind of a mandate for him to seek peace in the Middle East! ! !
    In other words, Netanyahu is “marking his territory”*.
    Expect a lot more of the same in this period leading up to the Israeli elections on January 22nd of 2013 (while Washington D.C. is preoccupied with the “fiscal cliff” and otherwise pretty much oblivious/asleep/dormant/hibernating until Obama’s inauguration on January 21st of 2013).

    * Territory (animal) –

  8. DICKERSON3870
    November 14, 2012, 5:02 pm

    ● RE: “In fact, given the mood in Israel, an obvious attempt by Obama to side with one of Netanyahu’s opponents might actually harm their prospects for success.” ~ Jonathan Cook

    ● MY COMMENT: Take my word for it, Netanyahu will only gain popularity in Israel by “standing up” to Obama. After all, our president is not at all popular with Israelis (less than 10% favorable), partly (I suspect) because he is not “white” and they therefore do not see him as being “one of them”. Instead, I believe they tend to associate Obama with Israel’s black “infiltrators” (refugees, asylum seekers, etc.) from Africa who are currently being herded into Israel’s huge, new detention facility in the Negev.

    ● SEE, FROM The Daily Telegraph, 8/16/08:

    [EXCERPT] . . . In the 1996 election in Israel, Arthur Finkelstein, the American consultant who had turned ‘liberal’ into a swear word, used polling data to pinpoint precisely the issue over which Israelis would reject a deal with the Palestinians—the division of Jerusalem—and propel Benjamin Netanyahu to a victory based on exemplary scare-mongering. . .

    SOURCE –


  9. Citizen
    November 14, 2012, 5:28 pm

    Whatever; Obama will not dilute Israel First power in USA by speaking truth on the pulpit to Dick n Jane. He likes his material life style and wants to be loved, and he knows few Americans know anything about ME foreign policy.

  10. Citizen
    November 15, 2012, 2:54 pm

    Citizens in all 50 US states are signing petitions to secede from the Union in huge numbers. Imagine if the average American additionally got objective reports about what our blank financial and diplomatic check to Israel has wrought for us at home, and around the world.

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