Israel Holds the Key to Its Relations With the U.S.

The new government that will be sworn in in Jerusalem after the January 22 Israeli election will affect the quality of this relationship more than either Obama or Romney.

As these words are being written, a few days before one of the closest election campaigns in U.S. history reaches its climax, it is already possible to conclude that whoever is elected president will not make any dramatic changes in U.S. relations with Israel. The October 23 television debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney proved that both candidates are playing the game in front of the cameras, but that there are no real differences between them about Israel. Obama has no intention of taking revenge on Israel if he is reelected, and Romney will be in no hurry to give the green light for an Israeli operation that will jeopardize American interests in the region.

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The key to the future of U.S.-Israeli relations is held by Israel. The new government that will be sworn in in Jerusalem after the January 22 Israeli election will affect the quality of this relationship more than either Obama or Romney, and it will also set the tone of the personal relationship between the prime minister and whoever sits in the White House. The best example of this is the relationship between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Bill Clinton.

From their meeting in March 1993 until Rabin's assassination in November 1995 the two men had a warm, close relationship and friendship that was based on trust, and in the case of Clinton on admiration for Rabin. I was a witness to an event in which they were both present, when Rabin struggled with his tie. The president of the United States walked past all his aides and advisers and personally fixed Rabin's tie. This was a human and emotional gesture that symbolized how close the relations between the two countries were at that time.

The reason for the successful relationship between Rabin and Clinton was the hopeful vision that the Israeli government offered, which the American administration could unreservedly support. Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992 on the basis of his promise to change priorities, reduce unemployment, and reach an agreement with the Palestinians within nine months. These values - social justice, democracy and peace - laid the groundwork for the relationship of complete trust between the two countries.

And it proved itself. For example, when Rabin unexpectedly signed the Oslo Accords without involving the United States, Clinton supported him without hesitation. When Clinton met with Syrian President Hafez Assad, Rabin fully supported him to promote the peace process between Israel and Syria while protecting Israel's interests.

Seventeen years after Rabin's assassination, the return of such close relations seems almost impossible. In the Israel of 2012, the fundamentalism that allowed Rabin's assassination is growing and winning legitimacy, and with it are increasingly worrying phenomena such as legislation against human rights organizations, incitement against refugee seekers and support for discrimination against Arabs in Israel and Palestinians in the territories. The damage to Israeli democracy is devastating not only for Israeli society, but also for Israel's relations with the United States.

Nonetheless, there are grounds for optimism. Every Israeli government, whether from the left or the right, that will take upon itself to foster the democratic values that are common to Israel and the United States will find partners in Americans. How relations between Washington and Jerusalem will look depend on this - not on whether it is Obama or Romney who is sitting in the Oval Office.

The writer is president of the New Israel Fund.