Is Obama risking the Israeli/American relationship?

By Emma Brooks

It is hard to find fault with Obama’s friendliness towards Muslim countries around the world. Indeed, he is making a clean break from the past and trying to get rid of the negative image of the US George W. Bush managed to spread around the world. One can only give him credit for this and hope that he succeeds. Relations between the US and Muslim countries of the world have been particularly tense ever since 9/11, and for a country that aspires to hegemony this is not good news.

Obama’s speech in Cairo last week marked a turning point for the US and not only its relations with the Arab world, but also for its image abroad. Although the US has suffered from a bad image in Muslim countries, it has also suffered from the same bad image and bad reputation across the world, even within Europe. Therefore the speech Obama made in Cairo was a welcome one not just for the Muslims who were being addressed.

But it is important not to forget that this new desire to forge better links with Muslim countries could cause problems for Obama and the US. First of all, what about America’s special relationship with Israel? Of course this does not mark the end of that relationship, but it is important to realize how the Israelis could interpret this speech and policy as being potentially harmful to their interests. Obama has already stated that he is against the furthering of Jewish settlements, and now he wants to improve his relationship with Muslim states.

Israel is already very resentful of countries like France who they feel have a pro-Palestinian bias. They do not want any help from a country that they feel will not represent their interests. Although this is not the case of America, the way in which it will represent Israel’s interests remains unclear, and a rapprochement with Muslim countries may very well mean a compromise where Israel is concerned. Even though people may criticize the special relationship, it is also precisely for this reason that the US has such an influence on Israel and is seen as the most valuable peace broker in the region. If it loses that trust from Israel, then it could very well lose its negotiating ground. Obama has shown that he is keen to revive the peace process, in which case he must have all the assets on his side. That includes the Palestinians of course, but also means not having the Israelis mistrusting his intentions.

One must also not forget the skepticism that could come on behalf of the Muslim countries concerned. Obama is different, he represents change and a new era for American politics. But can he achieve it? He has yet to prove his intentions, and this will be his biggest challenge. It is natural for these countries to prove skeptical as to whether he will keep his word or not, for they, as well of the religion of Islam, have been the victims of bad press on behalf of America (and other countries are guilty too) for years. Who is to say that this is to suddenly change just because Obama shows good intentions?

In order to achieve this, he will have to withdraw from Iraq as he says he will, and he has to commit to his desire to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and not lose interest in it, as has happened so many times in the past. If he fails to achieve any of these goals he has set out for himself then the consequences will be devastating. Obama is trying very hard to create a clean slate for the US and a failure could just make it worse. It would mean a huge loss of credibility not only for the country but also for him. This is why his policy of rapprochement is dangerous, and he must not, at any time, forget what it implies.

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