Bibi's backing for Romney could cause him trouble now

By Jonathan Cummings, November 8, 2012
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Until Monday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu’s election guru Arthur Finkelstein was reassuring the Prime Minister’s inner circle that he would be writing a congratulatory note to President Romney. While not a fatal miscalculation, Mr Netanyahu’s strong backing for the losing candidate in the US elections could cause him some trouble in the coming months.

The trouble is unlikely to come from Washington, though. Talk of “retribution” or “payback” from the White House is overstated. With Congress split, the President would battle to cut aid to Israel, for example. Talk of recasting the world in Mr Obama’s image is, in any case, a distant memory from 2008. This election was not fought on foreign policy. In perhaps the most focused campaign in American political history, it was largely fought in nine “battleground” states, and mainly on economic issues.

In fact, the initial exchanges have been predictably conciliatory. Mr Netanyahu congratulated Mr Obama on his victory, assuring that “the strategic union between Israel and the US is stronger than ever” and that he will “continue working with President Obama to ensure Israel’s vital national security issues”. US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro dangled the possibility of a presidential visit to Israel, a glaring omission from the first term.

On the issues that do matter to Israelis, it is likely to be more of the same. Mr Obama will intensify diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and, while Israel will watch anxiously, Mr Netanyahu has already conceded that military action is now unlikely before next summer. If talks fail, Israelis would far rather see any military action co-ordinated with — and preferably led by — the United States, rather than going it alone.

Mr Obama spent a good deal of political capital on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during his first term, with disappointing results. His new Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton is likely to be succeeded by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry) will advise the President whether the administration will be able to achieve better results in his second term. As a start, he will probably want to see a map, at least in private, of how Mr Netanyahu envisages the final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.

In Mr Kerry, at least, Israel appears to have a firm ally. In 1999, he signed a letter taking President Bill Clinton to task for not moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. And, in the 1990s, he fought President Bush senior when his administration restricted aid to Israel through the loan guarantees programme.

In the wake of the flotilla to Gaza in 2010, Mr Kerry told a journalist: “Israel has every right in the world to make certain that weapons are not being smuggled in.”

Last updated: 7:45pm, November 8 2012