Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dangers Worse than Clinton's

HILLEL HALKIN | July 22, 2008

Senator Obama's visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which began yesterday and ends tomorrow, is unlikely to have any surprises. Mr. Obama is at that stage of a presidential campaign where every word is carefully scripted. When it comes to Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs, his main concern right now is to offend no one, whether in Jerusalem, Ramallah, or the American Jewish and Arab communities. His coaches and speech writers can be counted on to paddle him safely through the rapids of these three days. Still, it is already possible to form some idea of what an Obama presidency would mean for the Middle East. From an Israeli point of view, it need not necessarily be a catastrophe. Mr. Obama never was and is not the anti-Israel figure that some right-wing Jewish circles nastily attempted to portray him as during his primary campaign. He will support Israel on many issues just as nearly all American presidents have done before him.

But an Obama presidency will not be a great boon to Israel, either. Essentially, it will mean a return to the Clinton years, with their quite literal even-handedness that was expressed as one arm hugging Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn and the other hugging Yasser Arafat. President Bush, it will be recalled, not only did not put any arms around Arafat, he refused to let him tread on a blade of White House grass. Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of talking to one's adversaries, will be, like Mr. Clinton, less finicky.

This will not work to Israel's advantage. In a world in which the geo-strategic scales weigh heavily against Israel to begin with, American even-handedness does nothing to improve the balance. An Israel that continues to receive American support at the same time that America woos the Palestinian Authority and Syria, and possibly even Hamas and Hezbollah, will have a harder time defending its vital interests.

No comments: