Israel spat no worry for Democrats

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The Obama administration’s spat with Israel over Jewish settlement activity in occupied East Jerusalem is unlikely to hurt Democrats politically in any major way, primarily because of voters’ preoccupation with domestic issues, such as health care and the economy, analysts say.

The administration’s actions, they say, also indicate that it is not very worried about domestic political consequences. Not only has it refused to back off its demands, but this week it again clashed publicly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about what is in Israel’s interests.

“They are not letting Netanyahu off the hook,” said Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They clearly see some utility in airing their disagreements with him in public.”

According to polls, President Obama is seen by many Americans as being tougher on Israel than his predecessors, but that is unlikely to become a major issue in this year’s midterm elections, said John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration.

Israel approves new east Jerusalem building

“Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming emphasis on domestic issues, and it’s difficult to break through the economic news — and when you add health care, this is one more problem many people don’t want to have,” Mr. Bolton said.

In fact, Ms. Dunne said, Mr. Obama may be more emboldened to maintain pressure on Israel now that he has had a domestic success in passing health care reform. The failure to do that last fall was one of the reasons the president “backed down from a confrontation” with Mr. Netanyahu at the time, she said.

At the same time, Mr. Obama is unlikely to escalate his dispute with the Israeli leader and “distract public attention from this week’s story line of success on social domestic legislation,” said Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation.

Mr. Levy, who was a special adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak — the current defense minister — in the late 1990s, said that a “vocal mobilized minority” of Jewish Americans most likely will try to make the dispute an election issue, but they will not be successful.

“The vast majority of American Jewish voters in November won’t be basing their vote on this spat,” he said. “A small minority for Jewish Democrats will raise it, and part of the Republican base will use it as one of many mobilizing vehicles, but those voters will be mobilized anyway — though, on margins, it could raise money for certain candidates.”

Members of Congress from both parties have urged the administration to end the dispute, which began with Israel’s announcement of 1,600 new housing units just as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in the Jewish state two weeks ago. Lawmakers have signaled that they care more than the administration about domestic perceptions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who was one of several members to meet with Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday, said, “We in Congress stand by Israel. In Congress, we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there “can be no space between our governments.”

“While the Jerusalem housing announcement was ill-timed, there was no justification for the administration’s public condemnation of Israel over matters related to the Jewish state’s undivided capital,” she said.

Mr. Netanyahu also met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Biden on Monday, and with Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

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About the Author
Nicholas  Kralev

Nicholas Kralev

Nicholas Kralev is The Washington Times’ diplomatic correspondent. His travels around the world with four secretaries of state — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — as well as his other reporting overseas trips inspired his new weekly column, “On the Fly.” He is a former writer for the weekend edition of the Financial Times and ...

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