Israel Ignores Cheney?Lieberman Debate

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - When Vice President Al Gore chose Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate several months ago, many Israelis - while not taking sides - were pleased a Jew had for the first time been selected to campaign for such a high office.

But the day after the vice presidential debates, Israelis were completely focused on trouble in their region, and the debate passed without a mention.

Although the Joe Lieberman-Dick Cheney faceoff took place too late for Friday's newspaper editions, there was no report on the main English-language radio morning news bulletins, nor on the Hebrew news and talk programs.

Although Lieberman and Cheney differed on most issues, they did agree that the next administration would wind things up in the Middle East peace process. Both took credit for their parties' part in bringing about negotiations between Israel and the Arab world.

"We've been on a very constructive course in the Middle East, played an unusual, unique role," Lieberman said, indicating a Gore administration would continue on that path.

"I hope I might through my friendships in Israel and throughout the Arab world play a unique role in bringing peace to this ... sacred region of the world," he added.

Cheney gave George Bush, Sr. credit for having begun the Israeli-Arab negotiations process after the 1991 Gulf War, by having "joined together with Arab allies" and doing "enormous damage" to Iraqi armed forces, which had been a major threat to Israel.

"We were able to, I think, reassure both Arabs and Israelis [that we] would play a major role there," he said. "We would deploy forces if we had to engage in military operations to help our friends. We were able to convene them in a conference."

"I hope that we can get this resolved as soon as possible," Cheney said of the peace process. "My guess is the next administration is going to be the one that is going to have to come to grips with the current state of affairs there.

"I think it's very important that we have an administration where we have a president with firm leadership who has the kind of track record of dealing straight with people, of keeping his word so friends and allies both respect us and our adversaries fear us," he said.

A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Zalman Shoval, said in an interview several days ago that despite the involvement of the U.S. in the current Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations, Israel and the Middle East is not really an issue in the presidential campaign.

"The whole election campaigned [is based] on domestic and security issues," he said.

In the past, campaigns did touch on the region - for instance President Clinton promised when campaigning for the 1992 presidency to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Eight years later, despite Congress' overwhelmingly vote in 1995 to relocate the embassy, Clinton has yet to fulfill that pledge.)

"Whoever is elected in November [will be] good for Israel," Shoval said. Both parties had teams well versed in the delicate situation in the Middle East.

Besides which, he added, the "main decisions" regarding the peace process were made in Jerusalem, not Washington.