As long as the United States remains the lone superpower in the world, no country can be indifferent to the implications of the upcoming American presidential elections. The identity and policies of the next U.S. president will be critical to the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
Despite the fact that the American-initiated war in Iraq has contributed to regional instability, increased the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and until the Annapolis conference was convened, the administration wasted seven years doing nothing of substance to promote a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the outgoing George Bush is considered a good friend of Israel.
One of the unwelcome by-products of the current administration's foreign policy was the historic visit to Iraq by the anti-Semitic Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was welcomed by the president, Jalal Talabani, and his prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. (For all Saddam Hussein's renowned flaws, during his reign such a visit would have been unthinkable).
Now attention is focused on the 2008 elections and on the likely candidates for president. The Republican candidate Senator John McCain offers more of the same. He is an unwavering supporter of the current administration's war in Iraq and tends to look at the world through gunsights rather than through diplomatic glasses. He is ready to keep American troops in Iraq "for a hundred years" if necessary.
One of his primary advisers on Jewish affairs is Mark Broxmeyer, a former head of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a neo-con think tank that actively supports a policy of unilateral regime change and opposes any peace process that could lead to the creation of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.
And now McCain has made a campaign visit to Israel, but did not finding the time to make a parallel visit to the Palestinian Authority.
And what message did he bring with him? He told Reuters that the reason he would focus on the Middle East is because of "the level of tensions, the exchange of fire across Israel's border aimed at innocent people.”
"There's Hamas, a terrorist organization, now governing Gaza ... considerable unrest in southern Lebanon. There are very big issues that need to be addressed ..."
The conflict involving Israel is "all part of this struggle that we're in," said the candidate.
Not a word about the need for an American commitment to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that could end the mutual violence and provide security for all Israelis and Palestinians.
That leaves us with the two Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I will focus on Obama, the frontrunner, even though the race is too close to call.
Obama has been the victim of a vicious smear campaign denounced by almost all of the major Jewish organizations in the United States and by a group of prominent American Jews who were part of the Clinton administration's peace team: the former ambassadors Martin Indyk and Daniel C Kurtzer, special envoy Dennis Ross, peace team member Aaron David Miller and former national security advisor Sandy Berger.
Malcolm Honlein, who has served for over 20 years as executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was quoted in Ha'aretz as
expressing concern over where change may lead. But the American people are obviously yearning for it.
With the majority of the American public opposed to the war in Iraq and ongoing American presence there, with the decline of the economy, the dollar and threat of a recession, with the current lack of comprehensive health care and fears about the future of the social security program, the American people are longing for change.
The international community also longs for an American administration that will work with the rest of the world to help resolve conflict situations, will stand firm against terrorism and help to eliminate its root causes and will be a full partner in multilateral efforts to combat the dangers of global warming and other threats to the environment.
As for Israel, it is a given that all American presidents in the foreseeable future, whether Democratic or Republican, will be pro-Israel, continuing to provide political, military and economic support.
However, being pro-Israel also means helping to resolve Israel's number one existential problem, the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and comprehensive peace in the region. According to official Israeli government policy, comprehensive peace is the key to the creation of a Middle Eastern nuclear weapons-free zone, the ultimate solution to the concern about Iran's nuclear program.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are committed to such a policy, which is clearly in the best interests of Israel. Unfortunately, so far, the Republican candidate has made no similar commitment.
This article is an updating of an entry that originally appeared in The Guardian’s Commentisfree Blog on March 17, 2008.