OPINION / Israel won't top the agenda for Obama or McCain
Both candidates want the Jewish vote, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won't top their list.
Not everyone understands Ehud Barak with his seemingly bizarre demands and responses. But all sarcasm aside, the guy has a point. He wants to be an equal partner to the prime minister. Something like Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, with their rotation government, who decided between themselves not to reach any decision without mutual consent. Even though the right back then (in 1988) was stronger than the left, Shamir went along with it and upheld the agreement.
Barak does not want to find himself back in the olden days, when Ehud Olmert made moves without informing the cabinet or letting him in on the deal (like secret talks with the Syrians in Turkey, for example). Barak is right in his demand for an equal partnership with Tzipi Livni, and in demanding an end to Friedmannism, for starters.
As the chairman of a party without which Livni can forget about being prime minister, he insists on being fully involved in running the country. Livni is not overly worried about Barak and his demands. She has been meeting with him to talk about a future partnership. He has conditions, and that is legitimate. For example, not to change the basic policies of the current administration she now heads.
Ideologically, they are also very close. Both are striving for negotiations with the Palestinians, and neither sees the Syrian initiative as realistic. Both are battling for the same electoral public - the political center plus the moderate left. Neither wants elections. Both seek a stable government that will last two years.
Most Knesset members today are not anxious to go to the polls. On top of that, Livni has never run for office, and the surveys predict that rushing headlong into early elections could whittle Labor down to 12 seats and catapult Benjamin Netanyahu into power. So there is a good chance the new government will work hard to hang in there until the 18th Knesset elections roll around in 2010.
While the business of putting together a coalition goes on, it is customary to enumerate the complex problems facing the next government. The list is long, but there is nothing on it particularly new. In every one of these lists over the years, the spirit of the United States has starred in the background - as initiator, backer of the peace process, and supporter of the war on terror.
Do you remember the Annapolis summit last November, where President Bush laid the foundations for a speedy resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008? What a lot of hot air that has turned out to be. Bush is winding up his pathetic career as the butt of jokes on television. The only one in the U.S. administration who hasn't given up is Condoleezza Rice. If she could turn her frequent flyer points into money, she would be a millionaire. So much has been invested for so little.
Israel has always put its trust in American backing and support. As long as America was around, we knew we had something to rely on. Not just arms supplies, but political backing for Israel's interests, including support for peace initiatives. Even though Olmert's government did not dismantle a single illegal settlement, we had this friendly superpower to lean on, forever supportive, forgiving and generous.
With the approach of the U.S. presidential elections next month, America's order of priorities is liable to change. A senior adviser to the Republican candidate, John McCain, has already said there are 30 global crises more urgent than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Obama camp is projecting the same idea. On his staff of advisers, Obama may have some Jews we remember from past administrations, but in this department, he is no different than his competitor. His camp lists 42 international crises that need attention before Israel.
It is not clear what U.S. policy changes we will be seeing in the fight against the axis of evil. On Iran, for example, former secretaries of state, including Henry Kissinger, agreed at a conference in Washington that no matter how poisonous the rhetoric emanating from that country, the problem needs to be solved through diplomacy, not force. An Obama associate declared that Iran was not that close to building an A-bomb and dialogue was the way to go.
The next man in the White House will devote himself first and foremost to the economic crisis and its repercussions. Another matter high on the new president's agenda will be making good on promises to pull American soldiers out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And now, as the government of nuclear Pakistan totters and a hotel belonging to the American Marriott chain was blown sky high, even Obama has made it clear that the U.S. Army will fight the Taliban on the Pakistani border if necessary.
The two presidential candidates want the Jewish vote, but forget about them putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of their list. That makes it doubly important for us to have a stable government capable of putting forward a serious peace plan. What we don't do, nobody is going to do for us. We must get ready for a year without America.