July 29th, 2012
05:12 PM ET

The ups and downs of the Israel-U.S. relationship

By Bishara Zaher, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bishara Zaher recently graduated from the Law and Government course at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. This is the first in a new series looking at how the world sees the U.S. election and what the Obama presidency has meant for ties with other countries. The views expressed are the author's own.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush left many problems for Barack Obama, including a traumatized economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he also left behind a sense of uncertainty over the future of the Middle East and what might be in store for one of the United States’ key allies – Israel.

As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visits Israel, it’s fair to say that he does so during a period when the U.S.-Israel relationship has been swinging between ups and downs.

Soon after President Obama was elected, he started to exert pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promote and endorse the two states for two people solution with the Palestinians, pressing the Israeli leadership to enter serious negotiations. Obama’s tenacity surprised the Israeli government – and many Israelis generally – as it ran contrary to President Bush’s policy of seemingly unlimited and largely unquestioning support for Israel’s policies with regards to the Palestinians and the peace process.

Yet, despite Israeli frustration, Obama persisted in the view that Israel should halt settlement activity in the West Bank in order to facilitate the negotiation process. Such demands were in line with President Obama’s stated belief that settlement building is an impediment to the creation of much needed trust needed between Israel and the Palestinians, the kind of trust necessary to lay the groundwork for peace between the two peoples. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government only agreed to freeze construction for 10 months, creating further strains in the Israel-U.S. relationship – and between the two leaders.

The discord was compounded last year, when Obama made a foreign policy speech during which he called for peace based on a return to the pre-1967 Israeli borders with mutually agreed land swaps. The reaction of the Israeli government was to build more settlements, suggesting Netanyahu rejected this call.

There have been some ups as well as downs in the eyes of the Israeli public. A notable example was in 2009, when, according to a Newsweek investigation, the Obama administration armed Israel with bunker buster bombs, giving this country the capability to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the future. In addition, the Obama administration has regularly backed Israel at the United Nations, as well as helping fund the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

So, on balance, how have Israelis viewed ties between the two countries during Obama’s first few years in office?

Israeli public opinion has been split over the Obama presidency. Many argue that President Obama’s foreign policy generally, and his unrealistic vision and lack of understanding of the political dynamics of the Middle East specifically, mean ties have suffered significantly. Others, though, believe that despite the differences over the peace process, that the United States remains firmly in Israel’s corner.

Regardless, Obama clearly hasn’t achieved his big goals of securing peace in the Middle East while getting closer to the Muslim world, mainly because his policy goals and dreams weren’t in step with the desires and motivations of Israelis and Palestinians.

In my opinion, the hallmark of Obama’s first term as president and his relations with Israel has been his incessant efforts to bring about the message that to achieve peace, both parties need to make scarifies.

It’s unclear whether a Romney presidency would be any different for U.S.-Israel ties, and he will undoubtedly be distracted by daunting domestic economic considerations, including high unemployment and a soaring deficit. The question is whether the former Massachusetts governor has the charisma to transcend these challenges and shape an effective foreign policy.

To me, the Romney rhetoric and focus on tax cuts has echoes of the Bush era, and it’s hard not to worry that a Romney presidency would see the United States getting sucked into more of the sorts of dramas that Obama’s predecessor got drawn into.

Put simply, I don't think Romney is what Americans really need right now. Yes, from a purely Israeli point of view, Romney-Netanyahu relations might very well be warmer. But that does not and should not affect the way Americans cast their votes.

As U.S. voters head to the polls in November, their main focus will undoubtedly be on the economy. But for those interested in foreign policy, Barack Obama also has a genuine vision of peace for the Middle East. He should be given one more term to try to realize it.

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Topics: Israel

soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. krm1007 ©™

    It appears to me that Muslims are the fastest growing segment of world society today. As others are withering away the Muslims seem to be rising again with their contributions as was the case historically when they ruled India and Europe and left behind a legacy of science, art, architecture, culinary et al. One only needs to go to Spain and India to witness this. As immigrants, it is a good thing to be aware of your glorious heritage and be connected with it. The Italian immigrants do it as do the Germans, Polish, Jewish, Hispanic and many other cultures. What really pleasantly surprised me was what I witnessed in the Middle East. A tolerant society that has come so far in a few years. Most importantly providing job and economic opportunities to all, Hindus/Indians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Europeans, Americans, Africans, South Americans, Chinese, and Russians etc. Never have I witnessed such openness and equal opportunities unless you go back to the times of Muslim rule in India and Spain. My conclusion is that the Muslims get it. They are striving to once again take their leadership role in the world order and take this civilization to its next level of excellence. The climb to success and progress is not a linear curve but a stochastic one. Let us join in wishing our Muslim brethren well and much success in their endeavors. If we can't help them let's not pull the rug from under them.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
    • nina

      So funny, you have repeated the same thing for month. You obviously have it saved and you copy it as needed. This was most likely not even written by you.Some Muslims have accused non-Muslims of releasing false, low numbers in order to "marginalize" Islam. Estimates of the number of Muslims in North America range from a little over one million adults to four million adults and children. One cause of the disagreement appears to be related to the percentage of Muslim immigrants:
      1. Who have abandoned Islam since they arrived in the US, or
      2. Who still consider themselves to be Muslims, but who do not participate in mosque activities.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
      • NO INDIANS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD PLEASE

        "You will never reach your destination in time if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks at you"

        July 31, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
      • nina

        What is that? Something out of the Qu'ran?

        July 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
      • nina

        I can just see Moohamed way ahead of his people until he realizes that for the umpteenth time today, they have stopped to throw stones at a poor dog barking for food. So Mohammed takes a trip to the desert one night and comes back to his people with the rule of not throwing stones at dogs. ahahahahahahaha!

        July 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
      • NO INDIANS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD PLEASE

        ARE INDIANS UBER TERRORISTS OR WHAT???? Forget the GDP, focus on these murder statistics.
        In India, millions of girls are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash. Moreover, in India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died as such in India.
        SHAME ON INDIA AND ITS BARBARIC AND MEDIEVAL CULTURE !!!
        Indians have killed more human beings (girls particularly) than Al Qaeda and Talibans put together.

        July 31, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Barry

      Arabic population of the world: 300 million (this is what you worry about, an estimated 10 thousand is involved in extremist activities)
      Remaining Muslim population of the world: 1 billion 200 million (these are non-Arabic entirely peaceful nations)
      Indian Population: 1 billion 250 million
      Chinese Population: 1 billion 350 million

      Entire European population: 750 million
      United States population: 300 million

      Read and analyze. One needs to worry about Indians and Chinese more than anything else. There are more Asians in California today than Americans and Hispanics.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
      • nina

        Yeah, well go tell Marine 5484/Quigley/KRM1007 because he keeps repeating the same thing over and over and over again that islam is growing. Inevatably, some of these babies will become radicalized and innocent people will be killed in the name of allah the magnificent and his profiteer moorhamed.

        July 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
      • Mindy

        The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power. The Talibans brought them down in a few days with some BB guns. It is all over for India. Its demise is in process and should be completed with Afghanistan withdrawal.

        July 31, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Indra

    Israel is in violation of more UN mandates than any other country, including Iran.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
    • nina

      Mohammed had no idea what he was doing so he plagiarized from the best – the Jews. For example:
      In Arabic each of the twenty eight alphabets also have a numeric value based on the Hebrew letters. This system is called ABJAD horoof or letters. Thus for example ALIF or A in Arabic has the value of 1. In Hebrew the first letter is also alef. The second letter of Arabic is Baa or Bay, which corresponds with the Hebrew letter Bet with a value of 2. The third letter in the arabic language is Tey but in Hebrew is Gemal or Jeem as in Arabic which is the fourth letter in the arabic numbers. However, following the Hebrew letters Jeem has a value of 3. These numbers then move from 1 to 9, then the next digits are 10 through 90 and then from 100 to 1000, using up all the 28 letters of the Arabic language.
      ABJD hWZ Hti KLMN S'aFS QRShT ZaZZAGH are used to define the numeric value of each letter.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
      • NO INDIANS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD PLEASE

        INDIA: S E X WITH COWS
        In many Hindu temples there are sculptures depicting men having s e x not only with women but also cows. What is the meaning of this? Is not the cow sacred? If it is, then it should be worshipped not s e xually assaulted!

        July 31, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  3. krm1007 ©™

    PAKISTAN !!!!

    THANK YOU …. THANK YOU…. THANK YOU!!!!
    FOR MAKING USA SAFE FOR MAKING THE WORLD SAFE>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Since Sep 11, 2001, over 200,000 Pakistani civilians, armed forces personnel have either sacrificed their lives or wounded; more than 3.5 million have been displaced while the country has lost over
    US $ 1 Trillion due to terrorism.

    Despite sacrifices, Pakistan was still engaged in 'the war for world peace”.

    No other country has even come close to selflessly sacrificing so much.

    Pakistan, no one can ever repay you enough for your contributions.
    You deserve a permanent seat in the UN Security Council for your contributions to world peace and emergence of a new world order. We welcome your rise as the new regional military power. God Speed.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Guittierez

      Mucho Gracias !!! Vive le Pakistan !!

      July 31, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  4. voteemallout

    if it looks like a duck (ghetto), sounds like a duck, walks like a duck – its a duck. the palestinian peoples have been subjugated for 40+ years with the help of the good old usa. Israel has created its own version of the warsaw ghetto and have no shame about it. the greatest country of whiners in history.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:04 am | Reply
  5. deniz boro

    Drop me a mad line when it is intelligent to comment.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • nina

      So funny calling yourself "intelligent".

      August 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  6. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    It's amazing that CNN-GPS would NOT publish my comments............the exact same comments which was published on CNN today.

    Here's the link to my comment under the highest ranked comment.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/01/world/meast/israel-panetta-visit/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

    August 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply
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    August 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  8. Middle Eastern

    An interesting and well written article. Bishara's Point of view seems legit and most close to the middle eastern mind

    September 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
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