Stop overanalyzing &mdash all the candidates support Israel

What am I to say when people ask me, as they frequently do these days, which presidential candidate is best for Israel?

When I sometimes ask, in response, what they mean by “best for Israel,” they may think I’m being facetious or evasive, but I’m not.

Was Bill Clinton best for Israel when he spent so much time and energy trying to knock heads at Camp David in 2000 and bring about a peace agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat?

Or was George W. Bush best for Israel with his look-the-other-way attitude toward Israel’s forceful response to the second intifada, allowing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to send the army into Palestinian cities to root out the terrorists whose bombings were destroying Israeli lives and morale?

Two very different men, Clinton and Bush, and two very different approaches to the Mideast conflict. But they ended up in the very same place, pushing the Israelis and Palestinians for an unrealistic peace process. And you could make a case for either president that what they did ended up leaving Israel more vulnerable.

It seems clear to me that Clinton not only appreciated, admired and supported Israel, but that he genuinely wanted to bring Israel a new level of security and an end to violence.

When Bush came to power, he was determined not to make the same mistakes he believed Clinton made in pushing for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But in the last few months, Bush has come around to the Clinton administration approach, believing that Mideast stability begins with achieving an Israeli-Palestinian agreement along the same contours of the Camp David and Taba talks.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. And while they each have their strengths and weaknesses on a range of domestic and foreign affairs issues, I would argue that they would be much the same on Israel — supporting what has become the Washington point of view toward Mideast peace. It calls for a continuation of the Clinton and now Bush approach of negotiations, concessions and compromises under the premise that a Palestinian state can be created that will live in peace with Israel.

With the remaining three major candidates, you can feel comfortable with each, focusing on their strong pledges for Israel at AIPAC conferences and other forums, their voting records and support for Israel in its war with Hezbollah in 2006, as well as their disdain for negotiating with Hamas.

Or if you prefer, you can note that Hillary Clinton once kissed Suha Arafat and never forgive that awkward moment; you can choose to believe that Obama would be too eager to champion diplomacy over military might in dealing with Israel’s enemies; and you can focus on McCain suggesting in a May 2006 interview with Ha’aretz that he would send “the smartest person I know,” either James Baker or Brent Scowcroft — anathema to Israeli supporters on the right — as potential Mideast envoys, “though I know that you in Israel don’t like Baker.”

In the same vein, you can study each candidate’s list of foreign policy advisers and concentrate on the one or two with questionable support for Israel as proof that the candidate would choose either of them to be secretary of state.

My point is that it all depends on how much you want to convince yourself that the person you oppose for president would be a disaster for Israel. But the reality is that each of the three remaining frontrunners would approach the Mideast conflict with essentially the same outlook and intention, and with the premise that Israel-Palestinian negotiations should be encouraged and supported, much along the lines of the Clinton and now Bush efforts.

Upsetting? Comforting? That’s your call, but don’t come away believing one or the other will be dramatically different when it comes to Israel any more than you believe the long line of empty pledges to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

So base your choice on a host of other very real factors from personality to integrity to domestic issues to Iraq to a variety of foreign policy concerns, including acknowledging and identifying the very real threat of Islamic militancy.

But if you tell me you’re voting for one or the other based primarily on what he or she would do or not do for Israel, I’d say you’re only fooling yourself.

Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of New York Jewish Week, where this column previously appeared.

Which candidate is best for Israel?