August 22, 2019

The Israel Factor: Obama pretty bad for peace

What do nine Israeli scholars and ex-officials know about American politics? Why should we even consider it worthy of attention? These questions are often asked whenever a new survey of The Israel Project is being released – and such surveys have been taken since 2006, so it’s been quite a long while. Our most recent survey, published this week, revealed that the panel isn’t very enthusiastic about the prospect of a second term Obama presidency. From an Israeli viewpoint – our panel is all-Israeli – a Romney Presidency would be better (for Israel!) than a second term for President Obama. The panel also concluded that a Gingrich Presidency would be better for Israel than a second term for Obama. You can read more about these numbers and conclusions here.

Both leading GOP candidates were given higher marks than Obama’s in two separate questions: One required that they rate all candidates on a scale of 1-10 on whether they are “good for Israel”. A second question on the trio Obama-Romney-Gingrich forced the panelists – four of them are former Israeli officials and five are university professors, all experts on US-Israel relations – to look at two possible head to head races: One of Obama vs. Romney and the other one of Obama vs. Gingrich. In both races, the panel chose the Republican candidate over Obama (full statistics here).

What Israeli experts think about the candidates isn’t necessarily important to Americans – but it might be in some cases. There are Americans who put Israel high on their voting agenda. These voters might be tempted to look to Israeli expertise by way of assessing the complicated components of an administration’s policy toward Israel. Other voters might find this survey valuable as it gives one perspective of the way an essential ally is assessing America’s conduct of foreign affairs. Are you happy with the way the US is handling its current Middle East policies? – you might be, or you might be unhappy about it. And you may find it useful to discover that a group of Israeli experts ranked “over-all American policy toward the ME” as 4.78 out of a possible 10. Not disastrous, but also pretty far from being a positive assessment of the way the US is navigating through the Arab Spring (or winter).

The panel is much happier with the way the administration is handling its relations with Israel. Yes, the governments had their share of differences and more than a healthy share of mutual bickering, but all in all, the panel gives the Obama team a 7 out of 10 on “overall policy vis-à-vis Israel”. Not quite bad, but this grade too should be taken with a grain of salt. Our panel is not homogenous. We have experts from right and left, some who believe that little pressure on Israel might be good for all parties involved, others want the US to support Israeli policies as much as conceivably possible, and consider “pressure” to be a sign of bias or even hostility. Thus, the “7” – as all other marks in The Israel Factor survey – is the average. Not unanimously agreed by all members of the team.

One can find more sense of agreement in the question about the “Palestinian UN bid” where the panel gives the Obama administration a 7.33. For those who do not remember, the Obama team played the key role in blocking a unilateral Palestinian attempt to have a Palestinian State recognized by the UN. President Obama announced that he would veto any such Security Council resolution, and also spoke strongly against any attempt to circumvent the approach of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the panel shows its lack of unanimity again in the question about this long-forgotten “peace process”, where the administration get fairly low marks from right and left and is received only a meager 4 (out of 10). Right wing Israelis and panelists might look at the pressure applied, at statements made (including, recently, by Secretaries Clinton and Panetta), at policies at odds with those of the Netanyahu government – and remain unimpressed. Left wing Israelis and panelists might look at broken promises for a vigorous pursuit of peace, at its inadequate result, at stalled negotiations – and they too would not be impressed. Hence, the low grade of 4. Not real bottom but far from giving any credit to an administration with policies that either didn’t make sense or didn’t succeed or both.