Friday, November 07, 2008

President Obama and the Jewish State

In what has been heralded as a historic moment for his country, Senator Barack Hussein Obama was elected November 4 as the 44th President of the U.S.A. by a more than 2 to 1 Electoral vote margin and by more than 7 million popular votes. Obama defeated Senator John McCain, whom many people living in Israel believed would be the better choice for carry on the close relationship between their country and the U.S.A. Now that the election is over, the big question is how the new president will act towards the Jewish State; as well as towards Israel's neighbors, including the Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, and other Arab entities who are still in either a state of conflict or war against Israel.

President-elect Obama has visited Israel twice: once in early 2004 after becoming a U.S. Senator, and last June while still a presidential candidate. During Obama's three day whirlwind last summer, he met with Israel government officials and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as well as the Western Wall. He also toured briefly in the southern town of Sderot, which at that time was under siege from Palestinian launched Kassam rockets from neighboring Gaza. During this visit, he pledged that if elected president his administration would continue its close relationship with its Israeli ally, a pledge that he has continued to reiterate on to this day.

Now that Barack Obama is going to be the next American president, only time will tell if he will honor this pledge which includes assurances that his country will help Israel maintain its qualitative strategic edge over its enemies, including Iran. This pledge will undoubtedly be tested, possibly not long after the new president is inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Towards the end of the presidential campaign, Senator Joe Biden, Obama's running-mate for Vice President, was quoted as saying that he believed that during the first six months of the new president's term he will be tested by adversaries in order to see how he will stand up against a threat to his country. This statement was taken seriously by many, an even used by his opponent in campaign ads to say that Obama might not be able to meet the challenge of this kind of threat.

That the forewarned threat might involve Israel, is something that concerns many people, including Israel's political and military leaders. Israel is itself scheduling parliamentary elections for January, 2009, after Kadima Party leader Zippy Livni could not form a coalition government following her winning the recent primary elections in her party. The outcome of these scheduled elections will determine who will be working with the new president, who himself will just beginning his term of office. Obviously, a right winged Israeli government led by Likud Party leader Binyamin Natanyahu will not be as flexible as one led by Ms. Livni. But we will only know this after the elections take place. Obama has shown that he can be a good listener. The big question now is how well he will be able to "listen" to what is needed to solve the problems dealing with Israel and her adversaries.

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