Israelis see ramifications for their own country in U.S. presidential vote

November 6, 2012

An Israeli man watches TV screens in a Jerusalem mall. (Menahem Kahana -- AFP/Getty Images)

In Israel, the U.S. election is being watched closely as a contest that could have critical impact on the response to Iran’s nuclear program, peace efforts with the Palestinians, and Israel’s own election in January.

A Romney victory is widely seen as having the potential of emboldening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose thinly disguised preference for the Republican candidate is common knowledge. The reelection of Obama, who has had cool relations with the Israeli leader, could herald more tensions with an administration led by a second-term president less wary of alienating pro-Israeli voters, analysts say.

The result could also influence alignments in the Israeli election campaign, which is beginning to gather steam. An Obama victory, perceived as weakening Netanyahu, could encourage the prime minister’s political adversaries and speed the formation of a centrist political bloc to take him on. That bloc, possibly led by former prime minister Ehud Olmert or former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, would likely present Netanyahu’s reelection as a recipe for further confrontation with Washington and a threat to relations with Israel’s staunchest ally.

In several street interviews, people said that while they thought Obama would promote better domestic policies in the United States, they were concerned about what his reelection would mean for Israel. There seemed to be a shared sense that Obama -- who Netanyahu has sparred with over policy toward Iran and negotiations with the Palestinians -- would be less friendly to Israel than Romney.

“It seems to me that Romney would support us more if there’s an attack on Iran,” said Daniel Yaakov, who works as a chef in Jerusalem.

Emmanuel Levy, a financial consultant, said that though political continuity in Washington would be better for business, he feared Obama’s reelection could bring “pressure on the (Israeli) government to reach an accord with the Palestinians even if it was not good for Israel. A second-term president would have nothing to lose.”

But Dori Mish’ali, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, said she was “actually happy that Obama is not Bibi’s puppet.”

“If he would say yes to everything, there could be a war,” she added. “He wants to help Israel in less violent ways, by reaching compromises.”

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Max Fisher · November 6, 2012