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November 9, 2012
Barack Obama has secured a second term as President of the United States, defeating GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. The news of his re-election has been, for the most part, received with relief among many in the Middle East who feared that Romney’s more combative tone, especially vis-à-vis Iran, meant a more muscular U.S. foreign policy in the region, reminiscent of the Bush administration. That is not to say that everyone is excited at the prospect of a second Obama administration. In Israel, where Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was seen to clearly favor Romney, many wonder whether Obama will chill U.S.-Israeli relations in retaliation. Considering the many challenges at home as well as abroad, most observers wonder how President Obama will deal with slow economic growth, unemployment, Iran or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and whether he could possibly be successful in doing so.
Still smarting from the Bush administration’s policy in the region, the Khaleej Times editorial makes it clear what Obama’s win means: “In the Middle East, where many countries (including Iraq) have still to emerge from the devastation wrought by a previous Republican administration headed by George Bush, Obama’s return means four more years of hopefully stable U.S. policies. Ultimately, many leaders around the world expect Obama to continue with a gentler and more understanding relationship with the global community at large, especially now that the elections are over and he does not have to play to the domestic gallery. It’s good to see that in a battle that was fought so viciously, on the back of mega funding by the biggies of Wall Street who did their best to keep Obama out of the race, the best man still did win.”
Still, there are not many reveling in the kind of euphoria that marked the 2008 elections. Especially on the question of foreign policy, the Daily Star editorial board is convinced that “those countries and peoples around the globe who have been looking forward to a shift in foreign policy will be sorely disappointed. For while a new president, or a new presidential term, represents a new start, it does not necessarily represent a different approach....At home, the new president must contend with a battered economy and high unemployment as well as a raft of social problems. South and Central America still present foreign policy challenges, and further afield there is the raucous Middle East, Iran’s nuclear games and a eurozone seemingly on the brink of implosion.”
Still, as the National’s Adrian Probst notes, considering the economic challenges and choices the Obama administration faces in the coming weeks and months, many are hoping Obama will opt for a transformative presidency: “[H]e faces an uphill struggle to secure the U.S. economic recovery and heal the country's broken politics. What lies behind this twin challenge is the greater task of reviving the spirit of hope in a nation scarred by the crisis of capitalism and fearful of decline. How Mr. Obama responds to this test of leadership will in large part determine his legacy....The challenge for Mr. Obama is to turn his electoral victory into a larger popular mandate. To avoid deadlock, the president needs to make tough choices and exercise leadership through engagement with moderate Republicans. Four more years can't mean business as usual. Lofty rhetoric alone won't work. Mr. Obama needs to embrace transformative politics — otherwise he will betray the spirit of hope that first propelled him to the top and has now returned him to the White House.”
Others are looking at several specific challenges that lie ahead for President Obama in the foreign-policy arena. Wondering what the legacy of President Obama will be, Hurriyet Daily News’ Mustafa Aydin highlights a few of these opportunities and challenges: “Syria and Iran will be litmus tests for his polices....What could be the real legacy for Obama, however, is his stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is here that he failed — rather, avoided — to do anything in his first term. This is where, if successful, he would be remembered for his contribution to world peace and prove himself as a world leader rather than only an American president. This might win him a Nobel Peace Prize, too.”
In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (or lack thereof), AMIN’s Daoud Kuttab points out that with Obama’s reelection secured and the announcement of other regional leaders involved in the peace process no longer seeking re-election, delivering peace for the Palestinians should be at least within reach: “On the Palestinian side, the newly elected president can count on a Palestinian leader who, similarly, is not shackled by the need to run for office again....with the re-election of Obama, and with his strong foreign policy record and his tough policy against radical extremist forces around the world, he should be in a good position to push for a vigorous policy in the Middle East. Solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must rank high in Obama's second term. Obviously new blood and new ideas are needed to give this effort a serious push.”
But of course, there is always the fractious Israeli political system and seeming unwillingness or inability of Israel’s Prime Minister to satisfy several key Palestinian demands. Following Netanyahu’s embrace of the GOP’s Mitt Romney, some wonder whether President Obama might have the upper hand in the negotiations and might be willing to make Netanyahu pay: “The day after U.S. President Barack Obama's victory, the most widely asked question in Israel is whether and how Obama will settle the score with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu....the US has to formulate a comprehensive and realistic Middle East policy. Success in this effort requires Israel's cooperation. Although such cooperation could be obtained by arm twisting, it would be preferable to obtain it by agreement. Therein lies a challenge and an opportunity for the prime minister of Israel.”
This question is very much in the mind of Yedioth Ahronoth’s Shimon Shiffer, who however is confident “President Barack Obama will not ‘take his revenge’ on Netanyahu for supporting Romney during the election campaign, and during his second term America will stick to the principles that have been guiding its Mideast policy over the past decade. However, if Netanyahu is reelected, it appears that the Obama administration will seek to pressure him into jumpstarting the peace talks with the Palestinians....Netanyahu will be asked to publicly declare what concessions Israel would be willing to make vis-ŕ-vis the borders of a future Palestinian state.”
Unfortunately, judging by the Israeli government’s most recent decision to expand construction in East Jerusalem, there are few who harbor such hopes. As the Arab News editorial notes: “On the very day of his re-election, president Obama received a slap in the face from Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Even as the echo of the victory cheers of the president’s supporters were still dying away, the Israeli housing ministry announced that it had issued tenders for nearly 1300 new housing units, to be built illegally in East Jerusalem and the West Bank....The greatest achievement of Obama’s second term, arguably the greatest achievement of any recent U.S. president, would be achieving a just settlement for the Palestinians. With Netanyahu seemingly certain to hold on to power in next January’s Israeli general election, even agreeing on a resumption of negotiations, the precondition of which would be a halt to illegal settlement building, let alone finding a lasting end to the agony of all Palestinians, seems a tall order indeed.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.