U.S. Elections |

Romney’s Visit to Israel Might Be a Minefield for Netanyahu

Given his perceived predisposition against Barack Obama, Netanyahu will inevitably be seen as playing U.S. politics.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

You can already imagine the fists that will be clenched and the teeth that will be gnashed in the White House in Washington when Israel rolls out the red carpet for Mitt Romney, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s preferred candidate for president in everything but explicit endorsement.

But given that President Obama himself set a binding precedent by going to Israel at about the same time during the 2008 campaign, his advisers will have to grin and bear it while wishing the worst for their Republican rival.

While Romney polishes his foreign policy credentials and appeals to wavering Jewish voters and suspicious Evangelicals, the Democrats will pray that he stumbles on diplomatic nuances or contravenes the conventional taboo on criticizing a sitting president while overseas. “Obama threw Israel under a bus,” for example, probably plays well in the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington but might appear “un-presidential” to American voters if Romney says it in a press conference in Tel Aviv.

But the political obstacle course that awaits Romney during the visit - curiously announced by Netanyahu’s adviser Ron Dermer in an interview with the New York Times - is actually child’s play, compared to the minefield that Netanyahu himself will be entering. Hosting an American presidential candidate at the height of an election campaign is a delicate task at the best of times, but when the host is a prime minister who not only gets along infamously with Obama but is also thought to be a great friend of his rival Romney, Netanyahu will be hard pressed to convince anyone that his statements are benign and his intentions only honorable.

Each innocuous cliché uttered by Netanyahu and every routine accolade bestowed on his guest is bound to be viewed with deep suspicion both by the American media and the Democrats in Washington. What is Netanyahu trying to imply when he says that Romney is “a great friend of Israel”? What is he insinuating when his office portrays the Republican candidate as “committed to Israel’s security”? And how obvious can the Israeli prime minister be if he stands next to Romney and nods his head emphatically when the Republican candidate proclaims that as President, he “will never allow a nuclear Iran”?

If Romney goes on to win the elections, of course, Netanyahu’s gamble will pay handsome dividends, especially in a close contest in which Jewish voters in battleground states are perceived to have made all the difference. But if Obama wins – and the current odds are 50-50, no more and no less – Romney’s summer visit will add to the significant reservoirs of ill will that have already accumulated on both sides of the Israeli-American divide. Of course, people in Jerusalem might believe that things can’t get any worse, but in such situations, they usually do.

But all of these considerations might be superseded in the next few days by an Israeli coalition that seems to be spinning out of control over the issue of enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox, and by the time Romney arrives, early elections might be in the offing. In that case, in a flight of fantasy, the two BFFs from their youthful days in the Boston Consulting Group might create a dynamic duo that campaigns together, from Eilat to Atlanta, from Des Moines to Dimona. Netanyahu can’t be a candidate for vice president, but who knows, maybe Romney will make both of their dreams come true by asking Netanyahu to stand in for him in the presidential debates in October.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Mitt RomneyCredit: AP

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