- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
It was inevitable that the world would eventually realize the unhappy fact that President-elect Barack Obama will not represent a complete break with the past 60 years of American diplomacy. By tapping Rahm Emanuel, a fierce partisan of Israel who volunteered as a mechanic in northern Israel during the first Gulf War, it is fair to say that process has already begun.
For example, what does Abu Jayab, the young Palestinian in Gaza who was cold-calling Americans, imploring them to vote for Obama, think about the fact that the president-elect’s first major appointment is a man who is being hailed by the Israeli press as “our man in the White House?”
Rahm’s father Benjamin Emanuel served in the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group that targeted British and Palestinian civilians — most famously with the King David Hotel bombing and the Deir Yassin massacre — to advance the goal of creating a Zionist state. This week, the elder Emanuel has not exactly assuaged doubts about his son’s pedigree. “Obviously, he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” he told the Israel daily Maariv, “Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab?”
But Rahm Emanuel has always combined hyper-partisan rhetoric with relatively centrist policy views, and that may hold true for his stance on Israel as well. During his work on the Oslo Accords under President Clinton, he developed his closest relationships with the aides to the dovish Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. If Emanuel is seen as sympathetic to Israel’s plight, but also unafraid to use his legendary toughness to pressure Israeli leaders during the inevitable foot-dragging over the removal of key settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, he could be a key player in the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
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