(This piece appeared in The Times of Israel on November 9, 2012)
I am one of the few American residents of Israel (estimated at 15% of Americans voting from Israel) who supported Barack Obama’s reelection. Some Israeli friends gape incredulously when I admit my support for Obama. For a common Israeli perspective is that President Obama has undermined Israeli interests by abetting the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in Arab lands, by allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons, by insulting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and by promoting surrender of land vital for Israeli security.
For starters in my defense, I point out that I am not a one-issue voter. While Israel is near and dear to my heart, as my residence in Tel Aviv attests, the candidates’ respective positions on American economic and social policy shaped my vote. I heard Governor Romney make grandiose promises to create jobs without specifying any program ideas. I heard Republicans understandably pushing to close budget deficits, but refusing to increase taxes for the wealthy. And I saw the Democrats’ salutary program for expanded health insurance coverage savaged by Republicans’ utterly false claim that consultation on long-term health planning entailed “death squads” preying on vulnerable patients. In short, my conviction that Obama better promoted American domestic well being was determinative of my vote.
Yet even if I were a one-issue voter I would not have voted against Obama. For I am by no means convinced that the President’s conduct has jeopardized Israel’s ultimate well being. His Israeli critics point to Obama’s abandonment of the Mubarak regime and his early Cairo speech reaching out to the Muslim world as facilitating the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of fundamentalism in the Muslim world. Yet it is dubious to me that Obama could or should have tried to save Mubarak in the face of the massive protests sweeping Egypt in 2011. Nor was it irresponsible for an American president to suggest to the Arab world that America would be responsive to democratic change. None of that contradicts Obama’s willingness to assist Israel’s defense, including pressure on the Moslem Brotherhood to preserve its peace treaty with Israel.
If President Obama were indifferent to Iran’s development of nuclear arms, I would be alarmed enough to vote against him. But in fact Obama has expressed determination to prevent that development and has engineered extensive sanctions shown to have a severe impact on Iran. No, he is not on the brink of attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. But as former Mideast advisor Dennis Ross recently noted with regard to this issue: “No American president will mobilize forces before showing the American people and the world that he has done everything in his power to prevent war.” That admonition would apply equally to Mitt Romney.
Israelis perceive that Obama has insulted Netanyahu both by refusing to meet the latter during recent visits to America and by sotto voce derogatory comments at an international meeting. From my perspective, Prime Minister Netanyahu has earned that disdain. While mouthing endorsement of a 2-state solution, Netanyahu has done precious little to advance that possible course. His administration regularly announces building projects in East Jerusalem and elsewhere that erode any prospect of peaceful resolution of the dispute with the Palestinians. And just weeks before the American election, Netanyahu announced a new political alliance with Yisrael Beitenu, a party dedicated to never yielding an inch of territory captured by Israel in 1967. It is not surprising that Obama has not embraced Netanyahu with any warmth.
President Obama’s promotion of a 2-state solution aggravates mostly those extreme Israelis who claim Jewish entitlement (grounded mainly on biblical injunction) to all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Yet their special hostility toward Obama is misplaced. No American administration has ever been willing to let Israel permanently govern and control the roughly one and ½ million Arab residents of the West Bank who adamantly oppose Israeli sovereignty. Mitt Romney could not have deviated from that consistent American position; nor would the world acquiesce in Israeli annexation of Arab populated territory without accompanying provision of full citizenship. From my perspective, Israel’s preservation as a democratic Jewish state depends on ultimately renouncing control of the Arab residents of most of the West Bank.
Of course, Mr. Obama must maintain a realistic perspective in advancing the 2-state solution to the current conflict. There is a history of Palestinian rejectionism starting with Yasser Arafat’s walking away from then Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal of a similar offer from then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian Authority today in its public forums and educational institutions demonizes Israelis in terms incompatible with peaceful coexistence as neighboring states. Moreover, Abbas individually, and the Palestinian Authority collectively, currently have only a shaky political status. They have zero control of Gaza, where Hamas’ determination to destroy Israel governs policy. And there is significant question whether Fatah’s control of the West Bank would endure a Hamas challenge. I am confident that President Obama (along with his former key advisor Dennis Ross) is aware of these considerable obstacles to a 2-state solution. That awareness of Palestinian hurdles is why he continues to proclaim unwavering support for Israel and to block unbalanced U.N. security council resolutions. In short, when I voted for Obama, I was confident that I was supporting Israel’s long-term survival and well being as well as the welfare of all American citizens.