Monday, August 31, 2009

Will the Japanese Obama put pressure on Israel?

Haaretz, By Ben-Ami Shillony (31/8/2009) The immediate consequence of the opposition's sweeping victory in Japan's elections yesterday will be psychological - it will create an atmosphere of optimism that could strengthen the economy. Such optimism will be fleeting if it is not followed by concrete results. The victorious Democratic Party, headed by Yukio Hatoyama, has never before governed in Japan. It is seeking to be perceived as a center-left party... Withdrawing from American guardianship could also change Japanese policy toward Israel. Until now, Japan limited its support for the Palestinians to aiding economic projects, in keeping with American requests. The Hatoyama government is likely to take a more pro-Arab stance, such as by recognizing Hamas and making tougher demands of Israel, such as calling for an end to construction in the settlements. Such a position would be similar to the line taken by some European governments, and will not necessarily lead to a confrontation with the United States. The Obama administration may actually be pleased. This January, the Israeli ambassador in Tokyo, Nissim Ben-Shitrit, participated in a Democratic Party convention. At the end of the convention, he met with Hatoyama. The party's Web site stated that Hatoyama expressed his deep concern over the Palestinian victims of Israel's Cast Lead operation in the Gaza Strip, and added that he hoped Israel would change its policies toward the Arab world, like American foreign policy had changed with the election of Barack Obama. Hatoyama called himself the Japanese Obama in his election campaign, and said he would bring hoped-for change. When it comes to Israel, Obama and Hatoyama may coordinate efforts in ways Israel hasn't expected. Ben-Ami Shillony is an emeritus professor of East Asian studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem