To the eternal question as to which U.S. presidential candidate is better for the Jews, there is a Jewish answer. In other words, a question. Two questions actually. The first: "What's good for the Jews?" and the second: "For which Jews?"
For example, this weekend the New York Times reported that at next month's Arab League conference in Damascus, the offer of Arab normalization with Israel in exchange for an end to the occupation will be reevaluated. Is this a good or a bad thing? It depends which Jews you ask.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that the most important and urgent issue for Jews is the establishment of a Palestinian state over most of the territories. He argues that if we do not find a way to divide the land into two states, as soon as possible, it will become a binational state. In other words, according to Olmert, an American president who is opposed to a final settlement agreement with the Palestinians is a threat to Zionism.
On the other hand, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu claims that a president who pushes for a Palestinian state is supporting the creation of a "terrorist entity" that would threaten the existence of the Jewish state. Netanyahu feels at home with American politicians from the camp of evangelist Pat Robertson, who said on a television program a few hours after Ariel Sharon collapsed, that this was Sharon's punishment for "dividing the holy land which belongs to God."
Olmert has come to be the senior representative of the viewpoint that the settlements are an obstacle to the future success of Zionism. As such, President Bush Sr. was better for the Jews than his son, the incumbent. The father withheld U.S. loan guarantees for immigrant absorption as punishment for prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's refusal to freeze settlement activity during peace negotiations. On the other hand, Bush Jr. is making do with recycled Olmert promises to respect the commitments of his predecessor, Sharon, and to remove the illegal outposts.
Notwithstanding Bush's vision of two states from June 2002 and his April 2004 letter to Sharon, which never got off the paper, these documents have great significance. They sealed the debate among the mainstream in the U.S. as to the preferable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The principles guiding Bush are not substantively different from the formula his predecessor, Bill Clinton, laid out toward the end of his term.
Between the carefully crafted statements of the three presidential candidates it is possible to discern that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain also lack a more successful solution than the establishment of two states along the 1967 borders, with agreed changes to their precise location, and a fair and realistic solution to the refugee problem.
Commitment to Israel's security has remained the litmus test for the title "friend of Israel." The Arabists in the American establishment, those who doubted Israel's right to exist securely, threw in the towel a long time ago. The three candidates surrounded themselves with advisers who consider peace with the Arabs to be the key to safeguarding Israel's security. They believe that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict will bolster the pragmatists among the Arabs in their struggle with extremist Islam.
According to the current Israeli government, the title "friend of Israel" is reserved for an American president who will not make do with paying lip service to a "political horizon" and who will place the Zionist challenge of two states at the top of his daily agenda.
However, according to the Jewish establishment, the element that liaises between Israel and the decision makers in the U.S., a "friend of Israel" is an American who allows Israelis and Arabs to spill their blood on the way to a solution of one state or apartheid rule. People, for example, like the evangelist Gary Bauer, who ran eight years ago in the Republican primaries.
The powerful pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC, does not really bother to rally in favor of a two-state solution. AIPAC invited Bauer to speak during one of its annual conferences. The guest of honor reminded the applauding audience, "God granted the Land of Israel to the Jewish people and there is an absolute ban on giving it away to another people."
Bauer is considered by Jewish politicos (who, according to polls, are far from representative of the majority in the Jewish community) to be a "friend of Israel." On the other hand, Obama lost his title in their eyes because Robert Malley, who was one of President Clinton's advisers on the Middle East and dedicated to promoting peace - was seen at his campaign headquarters.
The prime minister has said that without a two-state solution, "Israel is finished." Jewish organizations say that they support the government of Israel, whatever its policy may be. So, who is a good Jew? The person who supports the candidate who calls for a Palestinian state, or the one who voted for the one who is opposed to it?
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