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Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has praised Obama more than Netanyahu, said he has “no doubt that the Obama administration will continue its policy – whereby Israel’s security is at its very foundations – as well as its efforts to tackle the challenges facing all of us in the region; all the while continuing to strive for further progress in the peace process.”
The Palestinian Authority’s official news service, Wafa, reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Obama and encouraged him to continue pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Political analysts, however, warned that there could be obstacles ahead for the two leaders. Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama has been rocky, with public spats over a freeze on West Bank settlement building and the fight against Iran’s nuclear program punctuating the last four years.
During the campaign, Netanyahu was seen as favoring Romney, and that could open up Netanyahu to attack in the Israeli campaign leading up to the Jan. 22 election.
“Left-wing parties will say Netanyahu committed himself to Romney, and now it’s going to deteriorate the relationship between Israel and the U.S.,” said Avraham Diskin, a Hebrew University political science professor.
But public pressure from Obama could strengthen Netanyahu’s hand in the Israeli contest, which the incumbent is predicted to win.
“If he’s too rough with Netanyahu, it will be counterproductive,” said Bar-Ilan University professor Shmuel Sandler. “It will make people rally around Netanyahu. People don’t like when someone from outside pressures us.”
In any case, Israeli analysts said Obama is unlikely to rock the boat of mostly positive U.S.-Israeli relations during his second term, both because he has been chastened by his failure to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and is likely to be preoccupied with domestic concerns.
“Obama at the beginning of the first term is not Obama now,” Diskin said. “Obama was a great believer in all kinds of solutions, and the reality was quite disappointing. Concerning Iran, the Muslim world, the Palestinian Authority, he’s much more sober today.”
Tensions could flare between the two countries should Obama attempt to pressure Israel to make concessions in return for U.S. action on Iran, Sandler said. But Sandler said that any U.S. pressure will come only next year or later, as Obama first must set up his new administration and deal with domestic battles.
“In the two months that remain for him, he’ll be too busy with confirmations, forming his government and the economy,” Sandler said. “He’s not a strong president who can do whatever he wants. He has a divided country.”