Four years ago I wrote a dreamy opinion piece hoping that Barack Obama’s election would fundamentally change America’s approach to Israel and Palestine. And, for a while, things looked pretty good. There was Obama's prize-winning Cairo speech followed by a few innings of Washington hardball on the issue of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory. It was mostly talk, but it was talk that suggested the Administration was willing to make smart, difficult decisions in the Middle East.
Then the approach fell apart. At home the economy refused to improve, allowing Republicans to add a sense of populism to a Congressional strategy otherwise aimed at delegitimising the President through rejection after rejections. In the Middle East, long-time American allies were exposed for their questionable virtue, forcing Obama to publicly negotiate the fallout from decades of US policy.
Suddenly a stable --- if unjust and ultimately untenable --- relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority didn’t seem so bad. It certainly seem worthwhile provoking America’s broad-based pro-Israel coalition.
After Election Day 2012, has anything changed? Those of us clinging to the belief that the US can play a role in the creation of a two-state solution have been fooled before. Should we risk having our hopes dashed once more by a President who reverted to coddling Israel’s right-wing government when things got tough?
Probably not. But if there’s going to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will not come from an obvious place --- there is no "obvious place". Given the circumstances, what’s the case for hope?
During this election cycle, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Right did everything to convince voters that the President was an enemy of Israel. Netanyahu dressed down Obama with public lectures, made a show of being denied an impromptu meeting in the heart of the election season, and kept no secret about preferring Mitt Romney. Ideologues like Dinesh D’Souza painted Obama as a rabidly anti-Zionist “anti-colonial” terrorist sympathiser.
The vitriol did not work. Jews voted for Obama at a level comparable to 2008. The state of Florida, where being a “friend of Israel” is supposed to mean the most, tipped to the President. Although the Romney campaign attempted to paint Obama’s fleeting moments of tough love as anti-Israel, the subsection of the electorate who cares seems to have known better. And, perhaps more importantly, the single-issue Israel voter is a dying breed, perhaps due to demographics, perhaps because there are bigger issues on the American agenda.
Being tough yet reasonable with Israel does not appear likely to cost a President a general election in the near-future. Pandering to the whims of the Israeli government of the moment certainly will not win one.
And this is the opening. Obama has four years to craft a legacy, and there is reason to suspect he wants to include a Nobel Peace Prize with no accomplishment justifying it.
Taking another crack at a tenable two-state solution is as daunting as ever, but the cost is lower than once thought. Furthermore, after this past Tuesday, perhaps Republicans will realize that being superficially “pro-Israel” is irrelevant to the voters they most need to reach. The GOP will not help, but perhaps it will not stand in the way.
The President’s re-election has proven that he knows how to play the percentages. So here’s hoping, yet again, that my 2016 post-election piece can be less cautious in its optimism.