After the elections in America

Date: 11-09-06

By Haaretz Editorial

The midterm elections held in the United States on Tuesday restored control of the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party, and it apparently achieved the same in the Senate. The Republican Party of President George W. Bush suffered a defeat, and its candidates for Congress paid the price of growing public anger at the failing war in Iraq. For his remaining two years in office Bush will be faced with an antagonistic Congress, and he will have to take into account the views of his political rivals. The upheaval in Congress will not damage the traditional American support for Israel, which is a policy shared by both parties, but it could have important repercussions on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and that will affect Israel strategically. Therefore, there is added importance to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington next week, where he will meet with Bush and the leaders of both houses of Congress.

The most important issue on the American agenda will be a solution to the Iraqi conundrum. Bush is waiting for the conclusions of the Baker-Hamilton commission, a bipartisan effort headed by former senior officials, which will propose a new strategy for dealing with the crisis in Iraq. Despite the difficulties inherent in efforts to maintain regional stability, the administration will study its steps carefully and will not rush to exit Iraq. Such a move may lead to the breakup of the Iraqi state, result in anarchy and civil war, which will in turn lead to the exporting of terrorism to all parts of the Middle East, and threaten Israel and Arab moderate regimes.

From Iraq to Iran: The Bush policy toward Iran has been characterized so far by hesitation and an attempt to keep all options open. The problem is that Iran has shown no hesitation and is energetically continuing the development of nuclear weapons. This will demand that Bush make a strategic decision on stopping an Iranian nuclear bomb. Political struggles between the administration and Congress should not be allowed to impede the handling of the existential threat to Israel, and the danger that the entire region will come under the influence of the radical Islamic regime in Tehran.

The Bush administration has, to date, avoided active involvement in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and has made do with external assistance in "managing the conflict." The Democrats support a more activist approach to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and the Baker-Hamilton commission is expected to recommend a return to the Syrian track. Bush has promised that by the time his tenure comes to an end, there will be a Palestinian state. He has two years left to keep his promise, and he can count on Congressional support as well as the backing of moderate Arab states who share, with Israel, concerns regarding Iran.

Bush has a chance to exhibit greater initiative and involvement and make demands on both sides, as Israel and the Palestinians are sinking deeper into another round of bloodshed, already under way in the Gaza Strip. The United States has shown leadership during times of crisis in the region, such as last summer in putting together the cease-fire in Lebanon. It is now time it makes further effort in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and thinks again about the possibility of mediating between Israel and Syria.


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