GOP Tide In U.S. Stirs Hope, Concerns In Mideast

Palestinian men pass through an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bethlehem i i

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinians pass through an Israeli checkpoint on their way to pray in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan in September 2010. Many Israeli leaders view the results of U.S. midterm elections -- and Republican takeover of the House -- favorably. Palestinians are less pleased with the outcome. Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP
Palestinian men pass through an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank town of Bethlehem

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinians pass through an Israeli checkpoint on their way to pray in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan in September 2010. Many Israeli leaders view the results of U.S. midterm elections -- and Republican takeover of the House -- favorably. Palestinians are less pleased with the outcome.

Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP

They may be at odds, but Israeli and Palestinian leaders had one thing in common this week.

Both groups were following the U.S. midterm elections and trying to determine what the change in the congressional balance of power in Washington will mean for the Mideast peace process.

But that's as far as the similarities went.

In Israel, those on the right celebrated the Republican victory in taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We are very optimistic today because we have more supporters both in Congress and in the Senate," says Danny Danon, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida — a staunch supporter of Israel — is set to chair the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee. She could use her new role to stymie any attempt to put pressure on Netanyahu's government as the Obama administration shepherds the peace process.

Danon says he hopes that will happen.

"We have more people who understand that Israel is the closest ally of the U.S. and that the U.S. should support Israel and not to push Israel to sign a wishful peace plan," Danon says.

"And we know that if the time will come we have the support of the senators and congressmen who will tell the president, 'Pull your hands from Jerusalem, stop pushing the prime minister, the real enemy is Iran, focus on the main issue,'" Danon says.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Republican surge was noted by Palestinian leaders with some trepidation.

While foreign policy is the purview of the president, Congress has oversight on issues like foreign aid. It could, for example, decide in these financially challenging times to cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator, says he feels that even though the election result weakened Obama, it could push him to focus more on the peace process. Talks are currently at a standstill.

"The status quo is totally untenable. And I'm sorry to say that Mr. Obama's policy dealing with the Arab-Israeli struggle during the last year has been a total failure. A total failure," Shaath says.

The Palestinians want Israel to extend a freeze on Jewish building in the occupied West Bank before re-engaging in direct talks. The Arab League has issued a deadline of mid-November for that to happen.

"Will in these 10, 12 more days, will the president have somehow dealt with his election failure, absorbed the results, made the new decisions about how he's going to surge forward? I don't know," Shaath says. "The question is, is it enough time for him to make the crucial decision? Will he give more priority to the Palestinian-Israeli issue or not? That's the decision he has to make."

Reuven Hazan, a political analyst at Hebrew University, says Obama has a choice: Take stock of the election results and focus on domestic policy, or turn to his emphasis to foreign policy aims.

"Does he do what many presidents do who lose a midterm election and decide that there is very little they can set on the domestic agenda, but in foreign policy they have much bigger freedom of maneuver and we might find an overly active Obama in foreign policy?" Hazan says.

With the peace process stuck in limbo, Obama's role is critical, Hazan says.

"The only one that can move this along is the United States, but it has to be committed," Hazan says. "And it has to stay here and it has to seriously move."

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