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?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent