As America’s first black president was sworn in Tuesday congratulations came from across the globe, including Israel.
Support for Israel was a divisive issue during the campaign, largely because of Obama’s inexperience. Can we expect the same level of support from him that marked the Bush years? While Bush was unabashedly supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself – for which we thank him – his hands-off policy throughout most of his presidency likely contributed to the current situation.
Obama has promised greater involvement in the Middle East early in his presidency but we urge him not to dive in too far, too quickly. He needs to take his time to better inform himself about the region and the issues involved. He’s made a good beginning in his choice of – some, but not all – advisers. A major shift in American policy is close to impossible, thanks to Israel’s wide support in Congress. But many still fear that Obama will pressure Israel to sign a disadvantageous peace deal. Obama likes to please everyone, but that’s clearly impossible. This is the Middle East, as the scorpion said to the frog.
Last week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed an agreement with outgoing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice guaranteeing that the United States would lead efforts to prevent smuggling on the Gaza-Egypt border. As of Wednesday, Obama had announced his commitment to preventing arms smuggling, but how exactly remains to be seen.
We trust that Obama will make good on his word and continue the strong support of Israel demonstrated by his predecessors. We applaud his desire to be more involved but at the same time we caution him to remember that Israel has made sacrifices for peace before and been answered with blood.