The election of Barack Obama to be the 44th President of the United States is good news for Israel.
After eight years of failed American policy in the Middle East, President Obama has the chance to reassert constructive American leadership in one of the most complex geopolitical regions of the world.
To his credit, President George W. Bush has been a steadfast ally of Israel throughout his two terms in the White House. He made no effort to conceal his commitment to the Jewish state, which is no small favor. Israel, a regular scapegoat for the world's woes, usually cannot pride itself on its numerous friends among the nations or at the United Nations, where Israel-bashing a blood sport. Under President Bush, the United States consistently vetoed cynical resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.
But American sympathy, as important as it may be, is not enough. In international relations as in personal relations, genuine affection can blind one's eyes to what is really needed. And what is needed for Israel is an American administration willing to engage fully in the work of brokering a deal between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinians.
And that's what Barack Obama needs to do from day one.
Everybody knows what a peace treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians would look like. The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert of the centrist party Kadima disclosed in an interview that an agreement would include Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 border with some land swaps on 1:1 ratio, with the dismantling of most settlements. Even with regard to Jerusalem, the hottest potato in the meal, Olmert admits there would be some sort of a compromise.
The realization of the common expectation has proved a tricky matter. Weak leadership in Israel and among the Palestinians, coupled with mutual suspicion, has made the most plausible compromise a political impossibility. Only America can provide the collateral needed for such an agreement.
President Obama begins his term with vast international popularity, which can translate into extremely strong leverage. His exalted status around the world, notably in the European Union and to a lesser extent the Arab world, is antithesis of his predecessor's.
Given the landscape of the Presidential race, where the American Jewish vote was a force in several key states, Obama also made clear he would defend Israel's interests. And though his willingness to talk to Iran was viewed with suspicion by some Jewish Americans, Obama curried enough favor with the liberal American Jewish electorate through his liberal domestic proposals. In the end, he won 75 percent of the Jewish American vote.
Thus Obama has a better political leverage on all sides to succeed where his predecessor failed. For starters, no other U.S. President could possibly be in a better position to build an international coalition against Iran.
Obama can channel the overwhelming support he received during his short campaign visit to Berlin, bringing Germany on board as a key player. And that's especially important. Germany is Iran's number one trading partner; it is the country that can make economic sanctions hurt the most in Tehran. So far Germany's rhetoric has been soothing to Israeli ears, but its economic interests in Iran prevented it from acting.
Obama is also in a favorable position to bring together the United Nations, the European Community and the rest of international community to establish an effective response to Iran. His ability to promote sanctions is strengthened because he defended the principle of talking to your enemies, not just to friends.
Reports of an ailing President Ahmadinejad combined with the plummeting price of oil - well below the level Iran needs to balance its budget - is ravaging Iran's economy and shaking up its political system. Now more than at any other time in recent years, Iran is vulnerable to outside pressure, including diplomacy.
The longer the world waits for Iran to develop nuclear weapons fully, the more Israel is in danger. But this much is also true: A lasting peace is a necessary condition for the continuation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The longer we wait, the worse for Israel.
President Barack Obama understands precisely that.
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