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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave