The U.S. presidential elections being held today are far from just a local American event. The American diplomatic and economic agenda affects the entire world, and the election of a new president to head the greatest power in the world gives rise to hopes and anxieties everywhere.
Israel has a special interest in the president's character and policy. The United States is perhaps Israel's most important ally, and the two countries have a long-standing tradition of support, aid, and shared values and policy. America's role in this diplomatic tradition is the most essential guarantee of Israel's existence.
The U.S. also holds the key to resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict, and only the U.S. can serve as a defensive shield against the strategic threats on Israel's doorstep. However, this supportive alliance, and Israel's dependence on American policy, limit Israel's freedom of diplomatic and military action. During the term of George W. Bush, the most obvious example of this was the American cold shoulder for Israel's indirect negotiations with Syria. No less crucial has been the outgoing administration's sloth-like approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Regionally, the Bush policy has helped create a hostile climate, which makes finding diplomatic solutions more difficult. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, initially perceived as justified wars targeting cruel regimes and extremist Islamic terror groups, have developed into permanent wars that nourish terror organizations, and have made the U.S. the enemy of the Arabs and Islam. Washington has lost its status as a fair mediator, which could serve as a diplomatic lever, and is now perceived as an unbridled sheriff.
Israel, which says it is looking for a partner on the Arab side, must also examine the nature of the new American partner, because without him, it will have trouble finding an Arab partner who will agree to serious negotiations. Will the new president be a prisoner of Bush's policy? Will he continue the "permanent war," without trying to find other solutions? Or will he advance existing diplomatic processes and press for an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict?
The two presidential candidates, Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, have made a point of demonstrating their commitment to Israel's security. Neither, it may be believed, would deviate from the brave alliance between the two countries. However, after eight years of a conservative Republican president, the question arises: Has the time come for a new American policy in the region? A policy that will afford diplomacy a major role, that will back serious negotiations with Iran, that will assist the negotiations between Israel and Syria and will extend practical support to the Arab initiative and to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
This kind of new policy needs a new leader to conduct it, a leader who is not committed to his predecessor's ideological fetters and is prepared to listen seriously to new ideas. Israel should hope for this kind of leader.
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