As discussed by Ali on Wednesday, attempts to deny a linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and broader U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East seem to be an ongoing theme of right-wing Israeli politicians and their supporters. But the “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll” released by the Brookings Institution and Zogby International on Thursday indicates that linkage is a very important concept in understanding Arab public opinion about the U.S.. The poll’s results would seem to remove any doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important factors determining Arab public opinion about the U.S.. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the poll found a direct link between Arab support for an Iranian nuclear program and the Obama administration’s failure to make progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jim Lobe wrote the poll up yesterday. He said:
Much of the disillusionment with Obama appears related to his failure to make progress in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Telhami, who has conducted eight previous surveys of Arab opinion since 2000.
Asked what policies pursued by the Obama administration they were most disappointed with, 61 percent of respondents in the new poll identified the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That was more than twice the percentage of the next-most-cited example, Washington’s Iraq policy (27 percent).
“This is the prism through which Arabs view the Untied States,” Telhami said, referring to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Iran appears to have benefited, at least indirectly, from Arab disillusionment with Obama, the poll results suggested.
While a majority of respondents (55 percent) said they believe Tehran’s nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons – a charge denied by Iran – nearly four out of five respondents (77 percent) said the country has the right to pursue the programme – a whopping increase of 24 percent since last year.
Of course none of this should come as any great surprise, and linkage has become an increasingly accepted way to view U.S.-policy in the Middle East after Gen. David Petraeus’s Senate testimony in March in which he stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “…foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” and, “[t]he conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”
Numerous pundits, academics and politicians have tried to deny that this linkage exists but, try as they might, facts on the ground make it very difficult to close the box which Petraeus, very publicly, opened this spring.
Eighty-six-percent of the poll’s respondents were “prepared for peace if Israel is willing to return all 1967 territories including East Jerusalem,” 39 percent held the belief that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved through negotiations, and only 16 percent believed it will end through war.
One has to wonder how U.S. interests are served by continuing to ratchet up tensions with Iran via “Sanctions Plus,” “Economic Warfare,” or chest-pounding threats of military strikes. As U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate and Iran, via its allies, exacerbates tensions between Israel and its neighbors, Arab public opinion will, if the trends in the poll have any predictive power, swing in Iran’s favor and make the Obama administration even less popular in the region. That isn’t good for Israel which, if Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s dire warnings are to be believed, might find itself in another war before the end of the summer, and it isn’t good for a U.S. administration which is trying to figure out a way to extract the country from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course all of this requires that you believe that there is a linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East. If you suspend your belief in that linkage, then anything goes.