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Gary Rosenblatt: They’re all the same on Israel

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In his latest column, New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt tackles the question of which candidate in the current presidential race is best for Israel.

His answer? Don’t fool yourself – it’s a wash.

To make his case, he starts with a comparison between President Clinton and the current President Bush.

Two very different men, Clinton and Bush, and two very different approaches to the Mideast conflict. But they ended up in the very same place, pushing the Israelis and Palestinians for an unrealistic peace process. And you could make a case for either that what they did, with the best of intentions, ended up leaving Israel more vulnerable.

From there, Rosenblatt moves to 2008, and his conclusion that Israel is not the key factor separating the three leading candidates:

Which brings us, at last, to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. And while they each have their strengths and weaknesses on a range of domestic and foreign affairs issues, I would argue that they would be much the same on Israel — supporting what has become the Washington point of view toward Mideast peace. It calls for a continuation of the Clinton and now Bush approach of negotiations, concessions and compromises under the premise that a Palestinian state can be created that will live in peace with Israel.

Only Rudy Giuliani among the leading ’08 presidential candidates opposed that basic premise, writing in Foreign Affairs last fall that the Palestinians need good governance and an end to violence before negotiations could begin. But he’s no longer running.
With the remaining three, you can feel comfortable with each, focusing on their strong pledges for Israel at AIPAC conferences and other forums, their voting records and support for Israel in its war with Hezbollah in 2006, as well as their disdain for negotiating with Hamas.

Or if you prefer, you can note that Hilary once kissed Mrs. Arafat and never forgive that awkward moment; you can choose to believe that Obama would be too eager to champion diplomacy over military spine in dealing with Israel’s enemies; and you can focus on McCain suggesting in a May 2006 interview with Ha’aretz that he would send “the smartest person I know,” either James Baker or Brent Scowcroft — anathema to Israeli supporters on the right — as potential Mideast envoys, “though I know that you in Israel don’t like Baker.”

In the same vein, you can study each candidate’s list of two-dozen or so advisers on foreign policy and concentrate on the one or two with questionable support for Israel as proof that the candidate would choose either of them to be secretary of state.

My point is that it all depends on how much you want to convince yourself that the person you oppose for president would be a disaster for Israel. But the reality is that each of the three remaining frontrunners would approach the Mideast conflict with essentially the same outlook and intention, and with the premise that Israel-Palestinian negotiations should be encouraged and supported, much along the lines of the Clinton and now Bush efforts.

Upsetting? Comforting? That’s your call, but don’t come away believing one or the other will be dramatically different when it comes to Israel any more than you believe the long line of empty pledges to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

So base your choice on a host of other very real factors from personality to integrity to domestic issues to Iraq to a variety of foreign policy concerns, including acknowledging and identifying the very real threat of Islamic militancy.

But if you tell me you’re voting for one or the other based primarily on what he or she would do or not do for Israel, I’d say you’re only fooling yourself.

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