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The American Public, Not the Realists, Understands the Middle East

The idea that America’s Middle East policy is purely the result of the machinations of a shadowy “Israel Lobby” was once again proven to be a canard with the release of a new poll that shows that an overwhelming majority of the American people sympathizes with the Jewish state. The Washington Post/ABC news poll published today on the eve of President Obama’s visit to the country shows that Americans sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinian Authority by a margin of 55 to 9 percent, with 35 saying they liked both or had no opinion. It also showed that a plurality of those polled thought the U.S. needed to pressure the Palestinians to make peace more than the Israelis. Most interestingly, an even more resounding majority thought the U.S. ought not to be the prime mover of the peace process, with fully 69 percent saying the decision should be left to the parties while only 26 percent thought it should play a leading role.

The results, especially with regard to support for Israel, are consistent with previous polls. But the number of those who want America to be running the peace negotiations has plummeted in the last decade as the futility of trying to coax the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and embrace a two-state solution has been amply demonstrated. This gives the lie to both the “Israel Lobby” theories as well as the notion that Americans want their president to be twisting the arm of the Israeli government to make concessions to revive a process that the Palestinians have shown no interest in.

The basic numbers illustrate why those who claim the across-the-board bipartisan support for the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress is bought and paid for by Jewish campaign finance donations (as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it) is a lie. Israel has the backing of every political and demographic group measured by the poll showing that backing Israel is simply a matter of political survival irrespective of how many Jews vote or donate money in a given district or state.

That said, the numbers do show a difference between the affection for Israel shown by Republicans and conservatives on the one hand and Democrats and liberals on the other. Republicans back Israel by a margin of 73-4 and conservatives do so by 72-5. However, Democrats back it by only a 49-11 and liberals by an even smaller margin of 39-16. Independents and moderates support Israel by margins of 51-10 and 55-10. Clearly, support on the left for the Jewish state is shaky. This is a trend that ought to worry those who believe that blind partisan loyalties for Democrats can trump principles and strengthening the arguments of those who believe Republicans are more reliable on the Middle East.

But the numbers about Americans not wanting the U.S. to take a leading role in peace talks ought not to be interpreted as indifference or neutrality about the conflict, as even the Post‘s headline on the story about the poll (“Public Wants U.S. Out of Middle East”) seems to say.

To the contrary, the poll reflects an accurate assessment of the two sides’ goals. The healthy majority that sympathizes with Israel understands that it has repeatedly shown its desire for peace by offering the Palestinians statehood in exchange for an end to the conflict and that neither the Palestinian Authority nor its Hamas rivals have ever accepted these deals or given up their dream of destroying Israel.

In this respect, ordinary Americans prove themselves to be far more sensible than many in the foreign policy establishment who call themselves “realists” while clinging to a view of the conflict rooted in the fantasy that Israeli concessions or territorial surrenders will bring peace.

For the moment at least, the Obama administration seems to have assimilated this wisdom. With the president heading to Jerusalem without seeking to impose a peace plan on the new Netanyahu government, but instead concentrating on coordinating policy on the Iranian nuclear threat, for once U.S. policy is in tune with both American public opinion and reality. We can only hope that it will stay that way.



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