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The coming winter

What does the U.S. economic crisis mean for Israel? Mainly, that the government in Jerusalem won’t be able to bug a distracted Washington too much about threats to Israel’s security, writes Aluf Benn in Ha’aretz:

In the long run, a resilient America will be of greater help than anything else to Israel’s security-related and international standing. Obama will aspire to improve the status and image of the U.S. internationally, after the nadir reached under Bush’s eight years in office. That effort will oblige him to take an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, if only to placate those who supported him in his run for the presidency. Israel will have to be careful not to give the impression that it is hampering Obama’s foreign policy, like a kind of vestige from the Bush period. Accordingly, Jerusalem will have to shy away from moves that will look like provocations in the international arena, such as authorizing extensive building in the settlements, at least until it becomes clear who Obama is and how he is going about the business of being president.

Obama will not have time on his hands to mediate between Israel and the Arabs. He will have to decide whether to appoint a special presidential emissary to the region. Perhaps someone like Richard Holbrooke, who mediated between the factions in former Yugoslavia, with rich experience, a broad mandate and an open line to the White House. The Israelis and Palestinians have neutralized quite a few such mediators in the past, and can succeed in doing the same with the next emissary, but, as in the case of Rice, they will have to go about it very carefully, without offending the new president.

Livni will find it difficult to depend on the Jewish establishment in the U.S., which for the most part worked against Obama. She will need a close liaison with the president. Perhaps Lester Crown, the 82-year-old Chicago billionaire, who was one of Obama’s first Jewish supporters in the primaries against Hillary Clinton. Crown is closely connected to Israel, takes an interest in its strategic problems, and will undoubtedly be able to intervene at moments of crisis.

And crises there will be. Israel’s strategic arena is fraught with points of friction that are liable to erupt at any moment: Hezbollah’s threatened revenge for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the renewal of rocket fire from Gaza, a third intifada in the West Bank, settler violence against Palestinians and much more. How the new leaders here and in Washington handle these problems will determine their place in history.