Sunday, November 09, 2008

Israel Braces for Obama's Engagement in Iran, Gaza

From, updated Nov 08, by Peter Hirschberg:

Israeli leaders have become accustomed to President George W. Bush's reticence to push them into making tough decisions. In Barack Obama, they are bracing for a president who may not be so accommodating.

Obama's plan to engage Iran in direct negotiations over the Shiite Muslim state's drive to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons could limit Israel's option to use military force to block the program. And his pledge to be actively involved in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead him to exert pressure against settlement-building and travel restrictions on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

"There could be more pressure on Israel to take more risks, like removing security checkpoints in the West Bank,'' said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "The Iranians will exploit Obama's willingness to talk to them to play for time.''

As Obama prepares his transition, Israeli politics are in a state of limbo brought on by Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's inability to form a governing coalition. The move sparked national elections, which will be held in February 2009.

Opinion polls show Livni and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in a tight race. A poll in the Haaretz newspaper on Oct. 31 showed Likud and Kadima winning 31 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.

...When Obama visited Israel in July, he said he would not wait "until a few years into my term or my second term'' to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process moving. He has also said that Israel will have to make concessions if it wants to reach an agreement with the Palestinians over the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the borders of an independent Palestinian state. "Israel will have some heavy stones to carry,'' Obama said in remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington in May.

In addition to Israel's political stalemate, Obama will have to decide how to deal with the Islamic Hamas movement, which seized control of Gaza in June last year, routing the forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which had won parliamentary elections in January 2006, refuses to recognize Israel and has said it will not abide by previous

...Up at Night
Obama has raised concerns in Israel that he will be more sympathetic to the Palestinians than was Bush. "To be honest, Obama doesn't make us sleep well at night,'' Eitan Haber, who was a senior aide and negotiator for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wrote in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper last month. "We are about to see a president who has nothing to do with Judaism, Jews, and the State of Israel.'' ...
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