x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Obama and Netanyahu

If he becomes Israel's next prime minister, the right-wing Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, may be on a collision course with the next US president, but that has not stopped him from trying to capitalise on Barack Obama's campaign success. While Washington formulates a new approach to Afghanistan through a regional strategy, casualties from the war are roaming the streets of America.

"The election of Barack Obama as president is a political event in more than one country," wrote Amir Oren in Haaretz. "Three weeks after Obama is sworn into office, Israel will choose a new Knesset, which will then attempt to create from within it a new cabinet, headed by either Tzipi Livni or Benjamin Netanyahu. "Obama will be forced to wait until the end of the internal struggle and the establishment of a new government before he knows the identity of his new partner; but it is critical for Israeli voters to know now, as part of the information with which they calculate how to vote, whether the candidates for prime minister are on a course for collision or discussion with Obama. "The traffic reports say Livni is driving alongside Obama, and Netanyahu is approaching him head-on.... "Can Netanyahu avoid a confrontation with Obama? Not if he remains faithful to his present platform, which disagrees with negotiating with the Palestinians on the core issues of the conflict. This may be a good platform for convincing Benny Begin to return to the Likud, but if Netanyahu is courting Obama, then it is like sending a bouquet of thorns." The columnist, Elyakim Haetzni, noted that Mr Obama's: "designated chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, while serving under president Clinton on the eve of the 1996 elections, threatened Netanyahu with a harsh response by the US Administration should Bibi not change his policy after being elected." But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it would appear that Benjamin Netanyahu is an admirer of Barack Obama - at least when it comes to one of the instruments of Mr Obama's electoral success. The Neocon Express blog was among the first to note that the Likud leader's campaign web site bears a striking resemblance to that of the Obama-Biden campaign. Sources for the same blog said that President Bush's former political adviser, Karl Rove, was consulting for the Netanyahu campaign. Ynet reported: "Despite the obvious similarities between the sites, Netanyahu's Spokesman Yossi Levi claimed that the design of Bibi's website was not copied from Obama's site. " 'We view the comparison as a compliment,' Levi said. 'The guideline of the Likud's online campaign is openness and maximal transparency to the public, with maximal public participation in the election process.' " Lebanon's Daily Star reported that on Tuesday, Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah: "cautioned his supporters against expecting a change in US foreign policy with the election of President-elect Barack Obama. " 'Our Arab world, our Third World and our African world can empathise with Obama because of his past or the colour of his skin, but politics and interests are a different story,' he said. 'Don't exaggerate hopes nor give people high expectations so that no one is disappointed or makes miscalculations,' he added. 'I don't want to anticipate events, but logic dictates that we not bet on changes in injustice or believe that he will be more lenient or less unfair than his predecessor.' " Meanwhile, an editorial in Haaretz said that national reconciliation among Palestinians would support Israel's political interests. "Even in the absence of a peace agreement, Israel has great interest in normal life on the Palestinian side and the possibility of conducting a practical dialogue and engaging in genuine cooperation with the Palestinian leadership on economic and security issues. Even right-wing leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Begin speak about an 'economic peace' as a bypass road to political peace. But for such cooperation to work, Palestinian leadership is needed that represents all the Palestinian people and enjoys widespread legitimacy and authority. "To achieve this, the Palestinians must have a national reconciliation, and Israel must recognise any government established with Palestinian approval - even if its members belong to Hamas or other factions. The Israeli illusion that the West Bank will be able to continue to be calm while Gaza is blockaded and shelled will end up being shattered. "None of this is an alternative to political negotiations or concessions that Israel and the Palestinians must make to reach a final-status agreement. But Israeli recognition of any Palestinian government that is established is liable to lay a practical and stable foundation for cooperation, and perhaps even for deeper confidence that will advance the political process. Israel must therefore turn an attentive ear to the statements coming out of Gaza, and reexamine its policy." An editorial in Arab News said: "If there is anything Hamas and Fatah agree on, it is that Israel cannot be persuaded to concede anything significant without effective resistance. The Israelis are not slovenly when it comes to spotting and furthering Palestinian weakness. The historical record, Israel's relentless territorial advance, as well as analyses of Israeli political forces and mindset, tell us that the Jewish state, in the absence of a countervailing force, will continue to expand and consolidate its colonial presence. If it were to offer the Palestinians anything, it would be at best a small, shredded and feeble entity. "Hamas and Fatah may not agree on the forms that resistance should assume but their leaders need to push for consensual politics. It is a demanding task, but this is the hour of statesmanship. Personal profit is a luxury we cannot afford when the Palestinian national resistance movement is falling apart. Palestinians may still be able to garner sufficient political will, and enable their leaders to emerge and see beyond their own or their factions' interests, and chart a new course. A vast majority of Palestinians are for reconciliation and for ending a feud detrimental to their political aspirations."

While Washington formulates a new approach to Afghanistan, some of the casualties from the war are roaming the streets of America

"On the three most urgent problems of US foreign policy Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran the nastiness of the reality means there is little room for change," wrote Bronwen Maddox for The Times. "On Afghanistan (or 'Af-Pak', as diplomatic slang now has it, to drive home that it and Pakistan are a joint problem), strategy will be shaped by the report from Lieutenant-General Douglas Lute around the end of this month (before the more-publicised report from General David Petraeus, the new head of Central Command, on Iraq and Afghanistan, next year). Obama has hinted that he wants to focus again on Osama bin Laden, to remind Americans, whose stamina for war is flagging, why their forces are there. He might, too, in a subtle but important shift, ask the European Union to do more on aid and trade to Pakistan. "The inevitable US request for more Nato help looks like being largely disappointed. No one wants to be the first to say no, but no one wants to say yes. Germany, in an election year, is not about to lift the 'caveats' that keep its forces back from fighting (and commanders might not want it to, officials add, given their combat inexperience). Britain, with more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, and half as many in Iraq, does not want to make a significant increase. If the US wants more combat troops and advisers, it will probably have to send many itself." In Eurasianet, Richard Weitz wrote: "Whatever the policy changes made by the Obama administration when it takes over in January, the challenges in Afghanistan will be daunting, according to participants in a panel discussion, held Nov 6 in Washington, DC, sponsored by the US Institute of Peace. "One of the panelists, Maj Gen Peter Gilchrist - now the British defense attache in Washington, but who previously served as deputy commander of Combined Forces command Afghanistan - urged the Obama administration, along with all other coalition governments, to 'get out of the "short-termism" brought about by the election cycles.' "Despite the importance of combating the insurgency, the Afghan population should be recognised as the 'center of gravity,' Gilchrist asserted. The general public in the West needs to understand that 'this is not about killing our way to victory,' he said. 'At a tactical level, the Taliban can't win. But they can win at a strategic level if we don't get our act together' by strengthening the performance of Afghanistan's security, political, and economic institutions. "Gilchrist said the new US administration has 'a real chance for changing some of the dynamics, and to persuade the international community to pull in behind a comprehensive approach'. Even so, he urged the Obama administration not to berate American allies in public for failing to supply more troops to the cause. Instead, the new White House team should more realistically encourage other governments to provide more non-military assistance." Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the plight of some American soldiers once they return home. "Ethan Kreutzer joined the Army at the age of 17 and fought with the 19th Airborne in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. When he returned home, he had no money, no education and no civilian job experience. He soon became homeless. He slept in an alley off Haight Street [in San Francisco], behind two trash cans. "June Moss drove from Kuwait to Iraq as an Army engineer in a truck convoy. When she returned to the United States, she lost her home, and drove her two young children from hotel to hotel across Northern California. "Sean McKeen, a hardy, broad-shouldered 21-year-old with a wide smile, went to Iraq to clear land mines, and to get money for college. When he returned home, he became homeless in less than a week. He found himself sleeping in a cot in a crowded homeless shelter in San Francisco. "They are all part of a growing trend of homelessness among returning war on terrorism veterans. "More than 2,000 military personnel return home to California each month. Most have no specialised job experience, education or an easy familiarity with civilian life. And many have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making it difficult to get along with friends and family, and almost impossible to hold down a job. " 'You feel like the whole world is against you when you get home,' said Kreutzer. 'I was sleeping on the sidewalk, whereas I had been wearing a uniform less than a year before.' Soft-spoken and restless, Kreutzer was recruited in a 7-Eleven [convenience store] while still in high school. After five months in Afghanistan, he had a mental breakdown, diagnosed as PTSD. When he returned to the United States, he spent almost four years living on the streets."

pwoodward@thenational.ae