Described as “a Republican” as early as 2009, in the midst of the rocky relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Barack Obama, Netanyahu now faces criticism for placing his bets on Mitt Romney and embracing him in Jerusalem in the beginning of August.
Following Obama’s election victory, Netanyahu congratulated the president in a phone conversation, saying that his re-election was “a vote of confidence” by the American people in his leadership. A few months ago, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, said — behind closed doors — that if re-elected, Obama would settle accounts with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Fresh off a victorious win, the political world is still wondering whether the personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu would deteriorate or rather improve. “Whether he will settle accounts with Bibi or just operate according to his cold logic, our situation will be difficult,” a source from the prime minister’s inner circle told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert , who is seeking to return to politics in an effort to unseat PM Netanyahu, and is set to make a decision within days whether he should run as head of a new political party or as Kadima’s candidate for prime minister, brought up President Obama’s re-election while talking to the Jewish Federation of New York. Finding an opening to criticize the prime minister for damaging Israel’s relations by secretly supporting Romney, Olmert said, “Obama was a friend of Israel before he was elected and will remain so now… After what Netanyahu has done in the past few months – it needs to be asked whether the prime minister has a friend in the White House. I’m not sure.”
“Netanyahu is vulnerable on national security and foreign policy, because the opposition will argue that given his bad relationship with Obama and given the need to make critical decisions about Iran in the spring or the summer, he should be replaced,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israeli relations at Bar-Ilan University told the Washington Post.
Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s head of the opposition and leader of the centrist Kadima party, told the Israeli television station Channel 2 that Netanyahu had “definitely caused damage” by seeming to bet on a Romney victory. “I think that a prime minister in Israel doesn’t do two things,” Mofaz said. “He doesn’t interfere in the elections in the U.S. and he doesn’t gamble on one of the candidates.”
“America has changed since the young Bibi studied in a high school in a Philadelphian suburb and was member of the debate club. He continues to talk ‘Republicanese’ at a time that American demography has changed drastically, and minorities lead the growth in the new continent,” Eli Bardenstein wrote in Ma’aariv.
Israeli commentators have speculated since Obama’s victory that he might repay Netanyahu in kind by indirectly endorsing his opponents in the Israeli election or take a tough line on advancing peace efforts with the Palestinians, something Netanyahu cannot afford now that he has merged with Lieberman.
“The American commitment to Israel’s security and continued existence will not change,” Sima Kadmon, a columnist for the Yediot Achronot daily wrote. “But regarding anything beyond that — there will be a cold shoulder.”
On the other hand, Netanyahu’s concern about diplomatic pressure in Obama’s second term is reflected in the Israeli public’s response immediately after President Obama was announced the winner. A Channel 10 survey conducted following Obama’s win indicated that most Israelis are disappointed (37%) or indifferent (37%) to the reelection of Obama as President of the United States, while only 25% expressed satisfaction.
On the question of whether Obama’s reelection will have any impact on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection bid and his influence on Israeli politics, Israelis are confused or rather embattled. While the Channel 10 survey conducted by Chamil Fuchs shows only 22% think it weakens Netanyahu in their eyes, while 68% say it won’t change their attitude towards Netanyahu, a Maagar Mohot poll aired on Channel 2 indicated that 56% of Israelis believe that the election of Obama weakens the power of Netanyahu as prime minister.
Thus, whatever the case may be, these two leaders have to work together over the next four years, and one can only hope that Israel’s best interests would not be harmed in any manner.