Obama and Bibi's Rocky Road Ahead

Ali Gharib predicts tensions ahead between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran and the peace process.

With Barack Obama emerging victorious in yesterday's presidential election, perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu will feel some remorse about what many considered his attempted intervention in the race this fall. But perhaps not—the signals coming from Israel so far are mixed. Israel (though not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) featured heavily in the race, and politicians there reacted quickly to Obama's reelection.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a conciliatory statement. "The strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S. is stronger than ever," he said. "I will continue to work with President Obama in order to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel." While he might be right about the "strategic alliance" in terms of defending Israel, the two leaders differ on how to deal with Iran—or whether to deal, diplomatically speaking, at all. The issue exploded into a rift between the two leaders in September, compounding tensions built upon drummed-up controversies over Obama's light pushes for progress on a two-state peace. Centrist and liberal Netanyahu rivals Ehud Barak and Shelly Yachimovich, however, both made statements supporting Obama's failed efforts to push the moribund peace process—perhaps posturing for their own elections against Netanyahu in January.

From Netanyahu's right, Israeli politicians delivered some impolitic straight-shooting. “It’s not a good morning for Netanyahu,” said his Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Even from the right-flank of Netanyahu's own Likud Party, Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon, who's overtly sided with Republicans against Obama, said, "The state of Israel will not capitulate before Obama.” Echoing a common Mitt Romney attack against the President, he told the New York Times, "Now is the time for President Obama to return to the wise and time-honored policy of ‘zero daylight’ between our respective nations.”

One place there isn't any daylight is the space between the Israeli and American right, and Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, for one, doesn't think they'll reconsider their close ties in light of the Obama victory. "These relations are so deep and strong that they will survive such a hiccup," he wrote at +972 Magazine. "The GOP and the Likud—the Republikud party—share common values and an ideology which despises human rights, turns its back to the international community and approaches politics with a monolithic and often Islamophobic worldview." But at what cost? Sheizaf doubts Obama can impact Netanyahu's chances in the upcoming Israeli elections. That doesn't mean he won't try. Sheizaf notes that Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz this morning, “If Obama chooses to interfere with Israeli elections, nobody could blame him.”

Haaretz's Bradley Burston, though, saw it a different way: "Running hard for re-election, Netanyahu may have a world to gain, and nothing to lose, by continuing to thumb his nose at the president, and get away with it," he wrote. "Polls announced on Israeli television stations on Tuesday pointed the way to a possible Netanyahu strategy based on exploiting Israeli displeasure with, or distaste for, Obama."

Little noted in the U.S. or Israeli elections (thus far), the Palestinians for their part hope Obama will push the peace process forward and preside over the creation of a Palestinian state in his second term. If he does—especially with Netanyahu's apparent continued hawkish pressure on the U.S. over Iran—look for even more tension between the two leaders than we saw in their current terms. The road could be very rocky, and war with Iran and the continued viability of a two-state solution hang in the balance.