Friday August 29, 2014
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29.08.2014
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Abraham Ben-Zvi

A new beginning?

There was an incredibly short window between events. Less than a day after U.S. President Barack Obama's swearing in to his second term in office, the American hegemon's Israeli ally went to the polls.

As Israelis voted, Obama's inauguration speech still echoed in the background. In it, the president sent a clear message about his administration's new priorities regarding the need to give higher priority to the ensemble of economic, budgetary, social, ethical and environmental issues rather than strategic issues and foreign diplomacy.

The content and spirit of Obama's speech left no room for doubt. The era of American military intervention in conflict zones like Afghanistan is near its end, and the majority of the administration's resources and efforts will henceforth be focused on the domestic arena and its challenges.

On the foreign front, in contrast, America will try working in conjunction with other players under an expansive international umbrella, in order to advance the goal of regional and global stability by leveraging soft (economic and diplomatic) power, not its military strength, to influence events.

This approach, completely devoid of any pretentions to mold a new world order, strives, therefore, to ensure the necessary conditions (at the center of which is the promise of minimal stability) to allow the U.S. to turn inward and focus unimpeded on its domestic problems. The intention is to advance issues (for example, immigration reform and gun control) that will allow Obama's presidency to leave a legacy.

On the basis of this hierarchy of priorities we can understand the White House's hope that the Israeli elections will lead to the formation of a broad and pluralistic coalition comprising influential left-centrist elements, and that its internal balance will ensure that Israel acts in a controlled and cautious manner. This is especially the case with respect to the location and scope of construction in Judea and Samaria.

For President Obama, this behavior would reduce the risk of conflagration and escalation, thereby freeing Uncle Sam from the annoying and expensive burden of crisis management and putting out fires that could easily spread to the wider pan-Arab arena and jeopardize the dearly held aspiration of unilateral American disengagement from the forefront of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Additionally, as far as Obama is concerned, the materialization of a broad Israeli coalition could also mean a kick-start to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (whether toward a temporary interim deal or agreements on some of the core issues). The realization of this scenario — even without a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough, will make it easier for him to preserve an international coalition that would prevent Tehran from crossing the nuclear threshold on the way to a bomb.

Amid the expectations set forth by the new U.S. administration, which has already signaled its adamant and uncompromising commitment to promoting domestic goals, despite the Republican's contrarian stance, one can identify — at least from the exit polls — a window of opportunity to form a broad coalition if indeed a left-center faction capable of influence is included.

In light of Yair Lapid's meteoric rise and the alleged obstacles blocking the formation of a narrow right-wing government, the seed has been planted to form a pluralistic government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, comprised at its core by a moderate centrist bloc in terms of its diplomatic policy.

In this regard, at least, a smoother four years could be paved for Obama when it comes to Israel, which could ease the sting of lingering resentment s from the not-so-distant past, thereby further strengthening the bonds which form the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Now we can wait and see if the American and Israeli electorates have provided the catalyst to turn over a new leaf, building a relationship that is more harmonious and conciliatory, and whether it will lead to the vision, according to Obama's school of thought, of greater regional stability.

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