Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential election last
week was greeted with general unease in Israel.
Surveys conducted outside the US shortly before polling day showed Obama was the preferred candidate in every country but two -- Pakistan and Israel. But unlike Pakistan, where the two candidates were equally unpopular, he scored just 22 percent in Israel against a commanding 57 percent for Mitt Romney.
Given these figures, it is unsurprising that Israel's rightwing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made little effort to conceal his political sympathies, laying on a hero's welcome for Romney when he visited Jerusalem in the summer and starring in several of his TV campaign ads.
Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli prime minister, accused Netanyahu of "spitting" in the president's face, warning that Israel would now be exposed to Obama's second-term wrath.
The general wisdom is that the president, freed of worries about being re-elected, will seek his revenge, both for Netanyahu's long-term intransigence in the peace process and for interfering in the US campaign.
Newspaper cartoons summed up the mood last week. The liberal Haaretz showed a sweating Netanyahu gingerly putting his head into the mouth of an Obama-faced lion, while the rightwing Jerusalem Post had Netanyahu exclaiming "Oh bummer!" as he read the headlines.
The speculation among Israelis and many observers is that an Obama second term will see much greater pressure on Israel, both to make major concessions on Palestinian statehood and to end its aggressive posturing towards Iran over its supposed ambition to build a nuclear warhead.
Such thinking, however, is fanciful. The White House's approach towards Netanyahu and Israel is unlikely to alter significantly.
Netanyahu's bullish mood was certainly on display as voting in the US election was underway: his government announced plans to build more than 1,200 homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, the presumed capital of a future Palestinian state.
The reality, as Netanyahu understands well, is that Obama's hands are now tied as firmly in the Middle East as they were during his first term.
Obama got burnt previously when he tried to impose a settlement freeze. There are no grounds for believing that Israel's far-right lobbyists in Washington, led by AIPAC, will give the president an easier ride this time.
And as Ron Ben Yishai, a veteran Israeli commentator, noted, Obama will face the same US Congress, one that has "traditionally been a stronghold of near-unconditional support for Israel."
Obama may not have to worry about re-election but he will not want to hand a poisoned legacy to the next Democratic presidential candidate, nor will want to mire his own final term in damaging confrontations with Israel. Memories are still raw of Bill Clinton's failed gamble to push through a peace deal -- one that, in truth, was far-more generous to Israel than the Palestinians -- at Camp David in the dying days of his second term.
And whatever his personal antipathy towards the Israeli prime minister, Obama also knows that, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aside, his policies in the Middle East are either aligned with Israel's or dependent on Netanyahu's cooperation to work.
Both want the Israel-Egypt peace agreement to hold. Both need to ensure the civil war in Syria does not spiral out of control, as the cross-border salvos in the Golan Heights have indicated in the past few days. Both prefer repressive West-friendly dictators in the region over Islamist gains.
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