Israel Factor: Panel Doesn't Worry About Obama on Israel-Palestine

Presumptive Democratic nominee spent months pledging not to 'pressure' Israel on peace talks.

This last Israel Factor survey for Haaretz compares the two near-certain nominees - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama - on a number of issues that are all important to Israelis to some extent.

But a word of caution is due before the numbers: what you see in the table is the average mark given by eight panelists. This, as I will explain later, hardly tells the whole story of the survey. While McCain has the edge - as the numbers clearly show - it is not as clear-cut as one might think without factoring in other information.

However, let's start with the average scores. The marks range from 1-5 - the higher the number the better the panel believes the candidate to be (for Israel) on a specific topic.

So, McCain has the edge, but is it by consensus?

Looking at the data more closely (I can do that, you can't, because we promised the panelists we would not reveal the specific marks given by each panelist), one learns that the picture is more nuanced.

This is not the case for every topic. Iran is one issue on which the panel always agreed, quite harmoniously. that McCain is the right candidate as far as Israel is concerned. This hasn't changed much. Even panelists more receptive to Obama's candidacy still mostly prefer McCain when it comes to Iran.

But this advantage becomes more nuanced when dealing with other issues. Case in point: Iraq. Three panelists think that Obama is the one with a better plan for Iraq. Similarly, three panelists believe that Obama will strive no less than McCain to maintain the good relations between the U.S. and Israel.

But on U.S.-UN relations - a thorny topic for Israelis as they rely on American support at the UN - the panel is basically split. Four experts want McCain to take on the problematic world body, but four believe that Obama is either as good as (two panelists) or better than (another two) McCain. This can hardly be viewed as the total support for McCain that one might surmise from the (average) results of the survey - 3 for Obama, 3.5 for McCain.

However, the most interesting case is the one dealing with the president as peace-maker, both on the Israel-Palestine and the Israel-Syria fronts.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular is an issue with which Obama has been struggling for many months now, explaining, calming, and promising not to be the candidate of "pressure."

His success with the panel is remarkable. Three panelists believe he will deal with this issue as well as McCain, another two think he would actually be better. This means that only three panelists, a minority, prefer McCain due to fears that an Obama administration would be problematic for Israel vis-a-vis the conflict with the Palestinians. With Syria it's a little different: three panelists prefer Obama while five prefer McCain.

And of course, the panelists have different motives for such assessments. Some think that neither Obama nor McCain will be able to achieve anything, and believe that Obama is smart enough not to try when failure is guaranteed. That's why they see no reason for real worry.

Others, however, favor Obama because they think it is in Israel's best interests to feel some American pressure, and think that Obama might try to nudge Israel in areas in which it has difficulties making its own decisions.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is clear, at least on the more troublesome Palestinian front: the panel does not fear Obama, and does not see him as someone ready to make Israel make unacceptable concessions.

For a candidate that is still under constant attack and suspicion regarding this issue, this is something to highlight. Most Israeli experts on this panel do not see any reason to fear any "pro-Palestinian" tendency on the part of Barack Obama.