Elias Harfoush
Dar Al-Hayat
November 9, 2010 - 1:00am

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu had Washington “to himself”. The climate in the American capital could not have been better for the prime minister of Israel. His defeated rival, Barack Obama, was outside the capital, on an Asian trip that American commentators described as the best possible opportunity for him to catch his breath after his historic defeat in the mid-term elections. Britain’s Sunday Times called it a “tsunami” and reminded us that it was the biggest defeat for the president’s party in 62 years in congressional and gubernatorial races, as the Democrats retained a slim majority in the Senate.

Like the opportunity offered by Obama’s Asian trip, the Jewish Federations of North America, convening in New Orleans, was an opportunity for the Israeli prime minister to exploit the “victory” he achieved in Washington over Obama, and benefit his hard-line position in negotiations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s “victory” would not have happened without the return of the American right, relying on the votes of Tea Party supporters and the rising right-wing tide, which reaped the votes of all the moderates and centrists, which were Obama’s base when he reached the White House two years ago.

This upending of the American political situation has domestic reasons, related to the huge promises that Obama made, and the size of the disappointment felt by American voters. Moreover, most of the conservative currents in the Republican Party organized a campaign against him. Thus, Netanyahu did not harvest, in the American elections, something that he had planted with his own hands; it was the harvest of the Obama administration’s confusion in managing its policies. We have seen some of this in the Middle East, which led to a bitter disappointment for all of the hopes placed on this administration.

Obama began his “confrontation” with Netanyahu by placing the Middle East at the top of his priority list, asking the Israeli government to halt settlements completely as a condition for the success of peace negotiations. There are no exceptions due to the natural growth of residents and no permissions to create some of the settlments. Halting settlements means halting settlements,” as Hillary Clinton used to threaten. From this position, which was confronted by Netanyahu, Obama began to retreat: the formal role that George Mitchell played as a mediator gave way to a more important role, played today by former negotiator Dennis Ross, known for sympathizing with the Israelis since the days of Bill Clinton. Dennis Ross’ slogan for the negotiations, as quoted by Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian: “We need to ask Israel only do the most it can agree to do.” Obama added a number of other retreats, such as offering Israel F-35 fighters, which no other ally of the US has, not to mention agreeing to an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River for a period that can extend to thirty years. This was an acceptance of Avigdor Lieberman’s demand that Israel’s security be given priority in negotiating over the borders of the Palestinian state.

Thus, from Obama’s hard-line stance on Israel during his first year to the series of retreats and generous offers during his second, It is not difficult to conclude who is the winner and the loser in the rounds of fighting between the two sides. Besides, it is not difficult to anticipate the future of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, with an American sponsorship, in light of the latest result of the American mid-term elections, that is if the negotiations ever resume.

The “credit” for Obama’s defeat does not go only to American voters or Netanyahu. All of the stances in the Arab and Islamic world, which responded to offers of dialogue and “open hand” made by the American president with unconcern and disdain, and therefore prevented him from reaping the benefits of these offers to achieve security for the Americans internally and more moderate policies in the outside world, all of them contributed to Obama’s defeat. The parties taking these stances may have now to await Sarah Palin’s arrival to the White House, in two years, to respond to her demands!


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017