Israel Lacking Allies and Friends

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.

Oftentimes, Israelis and their supporters bury their heads in the sand, ignoring all that goes around them. Take the case, for one example, of a university professor who joyously lauded in a commentary in a leading American newspaper, The New York Times (which in turn was remiss in not checking) an "opinion poll" that claimed that 71 percent of Arab respondents have "no interest" in the Palestinian-Israeli "peace process." Probably sharing his enthusiasm, the paper headlined the column, "The Palestinians, Alone."

It turned out that the shady poll that was cited by Efraim Karsh, who teaches at King’s College, London and is author of "Palestine Betrayed," was nothing more than a tally of readers responding to another reader’s query on the website of an Arabic television network. Moreover, one would have thought that Karsh should have known better. His puerile analysis failed to differentiate between Arab views of the "peace process" a lackluster issue and their genuine concern toward the Palestinians, whose homeland was mostly usurped by Israel 63 years ago, while the remaining segment the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is still under Israeli control since 1967.  His punch line was that the Palestinians should abandon their dependency on the Arab world. "The sooner the Palestinians recognize their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace…."

But Karsh would have done better had he digested what two prominent American Jewish leaders, Jeremy Benami and Debra Lee, wrote recently: "Decades of telling and retelling a comfortable narrative in which Israel is always extending its hand in peace, only to have it rejected by the Palestinians, understandably makes it hard to accept when the facts show otherwise." They underlined that "facts don’t support the charge that the present Palestinian leadership is not a partner for peace."

Although there has been a noteworthy change in American public opinion toward the Palestinian position, Arab public opinion on the other hand has turned negative toward the Obama administration because of his perceived failure to deliver on the "new beginning" he had highlighted at his memorable Cairo conference upon taking office. This is clear in the results of the pace-setting poll conducted last July by the University of Maryland and Zogby International in six Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Only 15 percent of Arabs remain hopeful while 63 percent are discouraged about U.S. policies, reported Dr. Shibley Telhami, the principal investigator of the poll and the Anwar Sadat professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. This is a "dramatic change," Dr. Telhami emphasized, in the perception of President Obama, "whose disapproval rating jumped considerably, from 23 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2010."

But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remained "the single most disappointing issue for the Arab public, with 61 percent of those polled citing that issue as a major disappointment, followed by 27 percent citing Iraq."

Nevertheless, 86 percent of Arabs appeared prepared "in principle" to accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but the number of those who believe that Israel would never accept such a solution has increased from 45 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in 2010.  This may give some ammunition to those who are counting on a one-state settlement.

The confusion emanating from Israel’s dilly-dallying about peace with the Palestinians was best described in the lead paragraph of a recent Washington Post report by Janine Zacharia from the Occupied West Bank. It read: "While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington … to talk about peace gestures toward the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was planting a tree in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank an indication of permanence that few Palestinians would welcome."

Meanwhile, former U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman lambasted Israel for being "an extreme liability for the U.S. financially, strategically, politically." His sharp viewpoint came in a response to a seminar at the Nixon Center here that focused on the point of whether Israel is an "asset or liability" for the U.S.

"Clearly, Israel gets a great deal from us," he complained, "Yet it’s pretty taboo in the United States to ask what’s in it for Americans." He went on, "Israel does none of …what we generally expect allies and strategic partners to do for us … and shows no interest in doing them." His other sharp view: "(Israel) is therefore useless in terms of support for American power projection. It has no allies other than us. It has developed no friends."

One then should not be surprised that Turkey has dumped the Israeli regime, or what others may want to do in the future should Israel continue on this track.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to

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