- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009




Speaking anonymously, senior Obama administration officials have been complaining about the prospect of working with a newly elected center-right government in Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The whispering campaign is getting louder in reports in leading newspapers.

First of all, the conventional wisdom is foolish. Democratic nations shouldn’t tell other free societies whom they should elect. Barack Obama and his supporters might be blind to this because he was openly favored by most Western European leaders and media, but such meddling is disrespectful of the democracies of other peoples.

And the conventional wisdom is wrong. The view that Mr. Netanyahu would make it harder for America to deal with Iran, forge a new Middle Eastern peace process or even work with Israel is simply reflexive bias masquerading as serious analysis. Let’s consider each argument in turn.

Not only does Mr. Obama have better odds of a peace process that yields results with a Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he will also find much greater success in thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat.

Despite general agreement among most serious Westerners that Iran is close to achieving nuclear capability, preventing this threat has not been on the front burner. This was the case even before the global economic meltdown. With Mr. Netanyahu on the world stage, it would be impossible to ignore the issue. Even those who disagree with Mr. Netanyahu would be forced to respond to him, meaning the mullahs’ nuclear program would finally receive the attention it deserves.

Rhetoric and posturing aside, Mr. Obama’s early approach to Iran, as noted recently by former State Department official John Bolton, has largely continued along the path paved during George W. Bush’s second term. And over the last four years, Iran has moved ever closer to attaining nuclear weapons. Soft diplomacy has not worked.

The Obama administration has maintained the long-held American position toward Iran that no option - meaning a military strike - is off the table. This is supposed to be the stick to entice Iran to accept the carrot, or incentive offered to abandon its nuclear ambitions. But correctly or not, the mullahs, at least initially, do not seem afraid that Mr. Obama would take military action.

With a Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, Iran would almost certainly believe there is a very real prospect of military action. To the extent it is even possible, Iran would only walk away from its pursuit if it believed it had no other option.

Should diplomacy fail, the Israeli leader most likely to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities would be Mr. Netanyahu. Assuming he does, and does so successfully, he would prevent Mr. Obama from becoming the president who allowed a nuclear Iran.

While Mr. Netanyahu is the leader most likely to use military force against Iran, he is also the one best positioned to make meaningful gains in the direction of peace with the Palestinians. It would not be because of the oft-stated theory that it takes someone from the right to make peace but rather because Mr. Netanyahu is the only figure offering new ideas.

“Netanyahu does believe in the peace process,” says Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to the Netanyahu campaign. “What he has said is that the top-down approach has not worked, and he wants to try building Palestinian society from the bottom-up.” This would entail finally addressing the indoctrination of Palestinian society in the media and in the textbooks, as well as helping the Palestinians create a better daily life through a stronger economy. And Mr. Netanyahu wants a peace process that engages the region by actively involving Jordan and Egypt.

In the decade and a half since the Oslo Accords, it would be hard to argue that the existing paradigm of land-for-peace has worked. If anything, there has been regression away from peace, and the Palestinians have suffered greatly over that time.

What most seem to remember about Mr. Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister is his political missteps and domestic political scandals. A dispassionate look, though, at the record shows Israel was hit with just three successful suicide bombing attacks in his three years as prime minister - compared with four attacks in the three months before his 1996 election.

Just as important, Mr. Netanyahu achieved this security while opening Israeli society to economic cooperation with Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were working in Israel or doing business with Israelis, and the Palestinian economy was prospering. Proving wrong the conventional wisdom, Israeli security and the Palestinian economy were simultaneously strong.

Freshly sworn in as president, Mr. Obama has made a number of rookie mistakes. He should not add to that list by criticizing the Israeli people for their democratic preferences.

Mr. Obama might even come to realize it is the best outcome for which he could have hoped.

Joel Mowbray is an adjunct fellow with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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