Obama and Livni are cast as saviours

Press admirers are endowing the front-runners in the election with star qualities.

By Alex Brummer, October 30, 2008

As the American presidential election reaches its climax, US politics dominate the media. The only other foreign story to get much of a look-in has been the failure of the Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni to forge a governing coalition in Israel after boldly refusing to give in to what The Times called the "blackmail" of the small, strictly Orthodox parties.

The Israeli political stalemate means that the new incumbent in the White House will not know until his presidency is well under way whom he will have to deal with in Jerusalem. The latest polls, according to Ha'aretz, point to a close-fought campaign with Livni having a narrow lead over Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud.

Despite his polished American accent and popularity on America's chicken-soup circuit, Netanyahu is unlikely to be welcomed with great enthusiasm in Washington. In the past, he has proved stubborn in the face of American peace initiatives. As Middle East editor Ian Black observed in The Guardian, Netanyahu "does not believe in the sort of peace with the Palestinians that Kadima and its Labour party ally are prepared, in principle at least, to agree to".

Netanyahu is not the only charismatic politician seen by some in the US as a divisive figure. Barack Obama does not enjoy unbridled approval among the nation's Jews. And his "Jewish" rating may not be helped by Palestinian Media Watch reports of Gaza Strip activists cold calling Americans to get them to vote for Obama.

But a report in the Jerusalem Post suggests that American Jews should not be unduly concerned about an Obama presidency. Jews in his home town of Chicago who have employed him, raised funds for him, and voted for him are seeking to reassure the doubters that they have nothing to fear from the Democrat's perceived softness on national security.

"He has developed very close relations with the Jewish community in Chicago. If you look at fundraising etc, the people who primarily support him are Jewish," wealthy businessman Lester Crown assured the Post.

On the campaign trail, Obama made it clear that, as President, he would prioritise talks to resolve what Black describes as "the world's most intractable conflict". In this regard, it might be more helpful if Livni were to be the peace partner. The Times noted that she is determined to push ahead with peace talks and has even mooted dividing Jerusalem - a no-no for the Israeli right. Netanyahu, The Times reminded us, is an implacable hawk who opposed the Annapolis process begun by President Bush last year and fears Palestinian independence could offer Iran a foothold in the West Bank.

A Daily Telegraph leading article explored the downside of Israel's lively democracy: "Government is beholden to interest groups turned political parties, which have fragmented the legislative process." What Israel needs out of the elections, in the face of the existential threat from Iran and the Palestinian conflict, the paper argues, is resolute government. But then, politics is about special interests, as Barack Obama is acutely aware. He surprised even his own staff when he talked of an undivided Jerusalem while addressing the lobby group Aipac earlier this year.

In much the same way as Obama is seen in the UK press as a man who can transform American politics, Livni is viewed through similarly rose-tinted spectacles.

Whether either leader is capable of resolving the Middle East conflict will depend on how resolute they are in addressing special interests - oh, and the small matter of winning the elections.

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail

Last updated: 12:03pm, October 30 2008