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Middle East

Obama's win means status quo for Middle East

The US election was monitored closely in the Middle East but Obama's win is a blow for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the outcome may change very little for the Palestinians.

President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sideline of the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New York 21 September 2011 (EPA/AARON SHOWALTER / POOL).

Barack Obama und Benjamin Netanyahu

In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians have greeted Barack Obama's reelection with resignation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped for a Mitt Romney win while the Palestinians hoped Obama would win but still have little faith that his new term would bring much change to the region.

Following Obama's victory, Netanyahu gave it a positive spin and offered encouragement.

"The strategic alliance between Israel and the US is stronger than ever. I will continue to work with President Obama in order to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel."

But behind closed doors, his party supporters bemoaned the defeat of Mitt Romney, a longtime Netanyahu friend. Netanyahu's worldview of a hawkish foreign policy and a liberal approach to economics at home has far more common ground with US Republicans than with Democrats.

In addition, Netanyahu and Obama have clashed repeatedly over Obama's push to freeze settlement construction in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the heart of any future Palestinian state. They also publically disagreed over how to react to Iran's nuclear program. Iran claims its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes, but Israel and the West doubt that claim. Prime Minister Netanyahu has urged Obama to define red lines for when a military attack could be launched, while Obama favors giving sanctions a chance to work.

President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands, Sept. 22, 2009 (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Barack Obama will have his work cut out for him in his second term

Historic alliance

Hebrew University political scientist Gabriel Sheffer says that Obama will not jeopardize the historic alliance between the US and Israel.

"Obama might try to put more pressure on Israel, but he is a realist and he wouldn't cut the relationship between Israel and the US if Israel won't accept his view," Sheffer told DW. "He might put some limitation on the supply of missiles in order to continue and achieve his purposes."

The Obama reelection would also have only a limited impact on the Iran debate, according to Iran expert Ali Nader at the RAND Corporation.

"It is likely that the United States will continue its current policies for the next few months, at least," Nader told DW by e-mail. "This means pressuring Tehran through sanctions and pursuing diplomacy in order to resolve the nuclear crisis. There is very little appetite for a military conflict, and an Israeli military strike would be counter-productive at this point."

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, points to a red line he drew on a graphic of a bomb while discussing Iran during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images).

Netanyahu has called for military action against a nuclear Iran, but Obama prefers sanctions.

Palestinian pessimism

Palestinians view Obama's reelection with a mixture of relief and apathy. Obama was warmly welcomed in 2008, but four years later his luster has worn thin. Palestinians are disappointed with Obama's failure to curtail Israeli settlements and Obama's refusal to back a Palestinian statehood bid last year at the United Nations.

Palestinian political scientist Sameeh Hammoudeh of Birzeit University says Obama's first-term policies in the Middle East achieved very little. "He didn't do anything," Hammoudeh told DW. "He asked Israel to stop the settlements, they didn't, and he retreated. He said there would be a Palestinian state and he did not work for that."

An elderly Palestinian man walks by a section of Israel's separation barrier at the Kalandia checkpoint in the West Bank (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Obama and Israel disagree on West Bank policy. Here, the Israeli-built separation barrier.

Hammoudeh said he hoped now that Obama could focus on his policies without the pressure of reelection he might bring more pressure to bear on Israel. However, in his view the US would only do so if it faced significant criticism from the rest of the Arab world.

Leaders in Israel and Iran are also facing upcoming elections. Israelis go to the polls on January 22, and Iranians in June 2013.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested last week that Netanyahu's backing of Romney should give pause to voters in January. "Given what Netanyahu had done these recent months, the question is: Does our prime minister still have a friend in the White House?" Olmert said in New York. "I am not certain of this, and this might be very significant to us at critical points."

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