The Israel-Gaza conflict: Proof that President Obama is a true friend to Israel?

The Week's Editorial Staff
The Week
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet on May 20: During the latest flare-up of violence in the Mideast, Obama has staunchly proclaimed Israel's right to defend itself.

Mitt Romney spent months accusing Obama of throwing Israel "under the bus." Obama's stance on Gaza might finally put such accusations to rest

During the presidential campaign, the near-constant refrain from Republicans was that President Obama had been a poor friend to Israel — in the words of Mitt Romney, he had thrown America's closest ally "under the bus." Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's hawkish prime minister, did next to nothing to correct that impression, all but campaigning for Romney in the apparent hopes that a GOP presidency would free Israel from the obligation to earnestly pursue peace talks. However, the characterization of Obama as an unreliable Israeli ally may soon join his alleged apology tour around the world in the growing collection of Romney's completely fictional accusations. In the week since fighting exploded between Israel and the militant group Hamas (which could soon halt with the announcement on Wednesday of a tentative cease-fire), Obama has staunchly stood by Israel's right to defend itself, pinning the blame for the violence squarely on Hamas. Indeed, doubts about Obama's commitment to Israel should finally stop, says Matthew Duss at Canada's The Globe and Mail:

One of the most visible illustrations of Mr. Obama’s record on Israel was starkly visible this weekend: His funding for the Israeli-developed Iron Dome rocket-defense system. In 2010, the president asked Congress to provide Israel with $205 million for production and deployment of Iron Dome, and then followed up with another $70 million earlier this year.

The charge that Obama is anti-Israel never had much basis in reality. Following the script set by American presidents before him, Obama has affirmed over and over that Israel has a right to defend itself. He has continued to use the U.S.'s veto power on the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from international recriminations. And, yes, he has tried — unsuccessfully — to pursue an Arab-Israeli peace, just like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him. Still, Republicans had expected Obama to begin his second term by dropping the supposed charade of his support of Israel, says Zeke Miller at BuzzFeed:

Obama’s re-election was preceded by fears and warnings from some of Israel’s conservative supporters and hopes from more liberal Middle Eastern voices: Obama would show his true pro-Palestinian colors, and he would come down hard on an Israeli Prime Minister who had obviously favored his Republican opponent.

The test came fast, when Israeli reacted to a drumbeat of missile strikes by turning its firepower on the Gaza Strip within days of the election. And the American reaction has, so far, surprised those who expected a post-election pivot.

Indeed, now that Obama is safely re-elected, he could have easily chosen to turn the screws on Netanyahu, who has been blasted by his political rivals at home for meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Instead, Obama's response may give him enough leverage to finally jumpstart the moribund peace talks, say Helene Cooper at Mark Landler at The New York Times:

Mr. Obama may have buttressed his own standing with the Israeli public, and is now in a far better position to start pressing Mr. Netanyahu on issues from the Israeli siege of Gaza to Iran to the dormant Middle East peace process, where he has had little leverage…

“Bibi backed the wrong horse,” [historian Martin S.] Indyk said. “Now the Israeli public is appreciating Obama’s support in a way that they never have before. So Bibi cannot position himself as saying no to the president of the United States.”

So will Republicans quit harassing Obama over his support for Israel? Probably not. Some still insist that Obama could turn on Israel any day now. "It's impossible to judge if people's concerns about Obama's second term treatment of Israel were misguided until the second term is over," Matt Brooks, the leader of the Republican Jewish Coalition, tells BuzzFeed.

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