Obama's re-election a test for Netanyahu

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JERUSALEM -- President Barack Obama's re-election has left Israel's prime minister in a bind.

Benjamin Netanyahu has clashed repeatedly with Obama and was widely seen as backing Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the American election. Yet, in the coming months, Netanyahu will need American support more than ever as the Palestinians seek upgraded recognition at the UN and the world grapples with the Iranian nuclear program.

"It seems like it is not such a good morning for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," cabinet minister Eli Yishai told reporters early Wednesday as news of Obama's victory emerged.

The concern reflected the widespread perception in Israel that poor personal chemistry between the two leaders could affect the broader relationship between their governments, particularly if Netanyahu is re-elected in upcoming parliamentary elections. He is the front-runner in the Jan. 22 race, according to opinion polls.

The chilly relations are a result of style and substance. The two men have vastly different world views -- Netanyahu's hawkish positions on security and support for free-market capitalism are much more in line with the Republicans -- and they have never appeared comfortable with one another.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres is playing down speculation that he might run for prime minister.

The 89-year-old Nobel peace laureate said yesterday he plans to complete the final two years of his term. The presidency is a respected but largely ceremonial post.

Aides to Peres said this week that political operatives from various centrist parties have asked him to return to politics as head of a dovish bloc. Peres is seen as one of the few figures capable of challenging Netanyahu in January.

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At a ceremony in Moscow where he received an honorary degree, Peres was asked whether he would run.

"I've enjoyed serving my country as president for the last five years and will continue to do so," he told reporters.

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