The New Arab Pitch on Israel

At the annual US-Islamic World Forum, held last week in Doha, Qatar, some Arab participants made a pitch for the “reset” button to be pressed on the triangular relationship between the USA, Israel, and the Arab world. I think we will be hearing a lot more of this.

The pitch came in three parts.

First, an analysis. The Arab-Israeli dispute is the main obstacle to a better relationship between the Arab world and America. The main cause of last year’s Arab awakening was the people’s anger at their own leaders’ failure to be accountable to the people. On no issue was this lack of accountability plainer than their collusion with Israel in a fake “peace process.” When the US favors Israel, it does terrible damage to its reputation in the Arab world, as well as acting against its own interests. If the US could only focus upon its actual strategic interests (rather, it is implied, than passively remaining in thrall to the Israel lobby) then the US-Arab relations could go from strength to strength.

Second, a plea. To effect this change, the US needs a new mind-set. It should put aside the idea that the Islamist is an enemy, and accept that every people has a right to self-defense against oppression (a right the colonies exercised in the 18th century without becoming “terrorists,” it is noted). 

Third, a warning: the Arab awakening changes the terms of trade for everyone. No Arab leader can now ignore the will of the people. US presidents will henceforth pay a much higher price for applying a “double-standard” toward Israel. A risen Arab people will not adopt the same foreign policy positions as did pliant dictators. And if the US does not grasp all this, then “we will be at loggerheads,” as one Arab participant put it.

Friends of Israel are going to have to develop a powerful response. The beginning of wisdom is to realize two things. First, that this Arab pitch has resonance in the West, thanks to the mainstreaming of the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis about the phenomenal power of the “Israel lobby” to dictate US foreign policy. Second, that the pitch is being made by smart, calculating, well-resourced, and confident Arab actors who will soon occupy power, not by losers in caves. That is the difference the “Arab awakening” has made.

Rather than just shout “terrorism,” we are going to have to make our case in positive terms. An alternative starting point to Walt and Mearsheimer is Robert Lieber’s analysis of the true fundamentals of the US-Israel relationship. Anyway, game on.   

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