Middle East


With Mideast peace talks on hold, Israeli and Palestinian leaders anxiously awaited the outcome of this week's U.S. midterm elections. And now, they're trying to figure out what the change in the congressional balance of power will mean for the peace process.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been sampling the analysis in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and she sent this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: They may be at odds but both Israeli and Palestinian leaders had one thing in common this week.

Mr. DANNY DANON (Likud Party, Knesset): Everybody here in the Knesset, they followed very closely the elections.

Mr. NABIL SHAATH (Senior Palestinian Negotiator): I follow thoroughly what goes on in your country because the American elections are important for everybody.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset Danny Danon speaking in Jerusalem and senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath speaking in Ramallah. But that's about as far as the similarities went. In Israel, the Republican victory in taking the House was celebrated by those on the right. Danny Danon is a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party.

Mr. DANON: We are very optimistic today because we have more supporters both in Congress and in the Senate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The powerful Foreign Affairs Committee will now be chaired by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a staunch supporter of Israel. She could use her new role to stymie any attempt to put pressure on Netanyahu's government. Danon says he hopes so.

Mr. DANON: We know that if the time will come, we will 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Ramallah, the Republican surge was noted 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 funding for the Palestinian Authority.

Nabil Shaath says he feels that even though the election result weakened Obama, it could push him to focus more on the peace process. Right now, talks are at a standstill.

Mr. SHAATH: Things are not going. The status quo is totally untenable. And I am 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Palestinians want Israel to extend a freeze on Jewish building in the occupied West Bank before reengaging in direct talks. The Arab League has given a deadline of mid-November for that to happen.

Mr. REUVEN HAZAN (Political Analyst, Hebrew University): 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. 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reuven Hazan is a political analyst at Hebrew University. He agrees that Mr. Obama has a choice.

Mr. HAZAN: Does Obama realize that this was an election that sent a clear message of you have to focus on domestic politics, or does he do what many presidents do who lose a midterm election and decide that there's 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?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With the peace process stuck in limbo, Hazan says Obama's role is critical here.

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

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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