US backing for Israel 'puts peace effort at risk'

The announcement yesterday that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Ehud Barak, will meet his US counterpart, Warren Christopher, in Washington tomorrow to discuss plans for an Israeli-America "defence alliance" will only reinforce Arab perceptions of American bias in the Middle East.

At the weekend the Egyptian Foreign Minister and other Arab leaders criticised the failure of both Democrats and Republicans to venture a shred of criticism of Israel's recent bombardment of Lebanon. The time had come, the Arab leaders said, for the European Union to play a more forthright part in restoring some international balance to the Middle East equation.

But, as yesterday's announcement indicates, the response in Washington to the Arab complaints is unlikely to be one of abject apology, much less a policy U-turn. Indeed, President Bill Clinton made it clear last week that his plan is to strengthen America's relations with its traditional Middle Eastern ally. The goal of the envisioned defence alliance with Israel would be "to meet common threats in the years to come", Mr Clinton said. "US-Israeli strategic co-operation," he promised, "will grow in importance."

Surprisingly, however, the novel idea is beginning to seep through Washington that Arab criticism of American bias towards Israel might not be entirely unjustified and could undermine efforts to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

An article in Sunday's New York Times pondered the notion that the US government might have misplayed its hand by leaning too heavily behind Israel during the conflagration that claimed 150 Lebanese lives last month.

"There is increasing concern among Middle East specialists that America is losing something crucial - its critical distance from Israel - and thereby damaging its ability to play the 'honest broker' for Israelis and Arabs," the newspaper said.

If the United States is the most influential international player in the Middle East, the New York Times is the newspaper with the most influence on US Middle East policy.

Thus the very consideration of the idea by the New York Times that the US might be losing its "critical distance" from Israel presents the possibility of a debate on the previously unutterable.

Or maybe not. In the view of one Middle Eastern specialist the notion that there had been any American "critical distance" from Israel in the first place was merely a bad joke. "It's like a woman who has been sleeping around a lot," he said, "and suddenly wakes up one morning worrying that people might be saying she is not a virgin any more."

The Clinton administration insists, however, that its motives are pure, driven by the belief that to achieve the paramount objective of peace it is imperative that Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, defeats his hard line Likud rivals in Israel's 29 May elections.

What many Middle East specialists suggested was that more even-handedness was required to prevent the Arab world from becoming calamitously antagonistic towards the US-brokered peace process.

Jim Zogby, the director of Washington's Arab American Institute, believes the US response to the Israeli offensive in Lebanon will have damaging and far-reaching consequences for the Middle East peace effort.

"It is a reminder that even when you have a disproportionate and illegal attack on Lebanon's people, the US cannot find its way to urge restraint on Israel," Mr Zogby said.

"And that reminder will have a permanent distorting effect on future US relations in the Middle East." But could the US cash in its chips with Israel at a later date and apply pressure when obstacles are encountered in the peace process? Mr Zogby had his doubts.

"We won't know until after the Israeli elections. We see what we get." And that is a US political establishment utterly beholden to the domestic pro-Israel lobby.

As Mr Zogby is not alone in observing, bipartisan US policy towards Israel is not so much a function of America's national interest as of the fear all elected officials in Washington have of incurring the wrath of the organised and influential pro-Israel forces inside the US.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?