Changing views on the Middle East raise questions for US politicians

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Changing views on the Middle East raise questions for US politicians

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepted a missile launched from Gaza earlier this year. (AFP / file)

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted last week to approve $ 1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, with few Democrats opposed to the law citing criticism of Israel’s human rights record. The vote, however, highlighted a shift within the Democratic Party, which now includes several vocal critics of Israel – a small number, but more than in recent decades.
Meanwhile, a survey of Middle East experts has also shown a significant shift in views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within academia. Earlier this month, the University of Maryland and George Washington University released a survey of 557 Middle East specialists, largely based on academic scholars, with 72 percent located in the US and the remainder outside the country.
The study found that 57 percent of respondents said a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no longer possible. The researchers found that this represents a 5 percent increase since the last survey in February. 40 percent stated that a result would remain “possible” in two countries, but “unlikely within the next 10 years”, while only 3 percent consider this to be possible and likely. This expert assessment contradicts the policy of the Biden government to support a two-state solution. However, senior Biden officials have expressed their pessimism that they will be making progress shortly.
A clear majority of 65 percent of the experts said that the Israeli-Palestinian situation today most closely reflects “a one-state reality similar to apartheid”. The next largest group at 27 percent said it reflected a “semi-permanent occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Only 1 percent compared it to two unequal states and 1 percent to a temporary occupation.
This finding is particularly timely as the recent House vote on Iron Dome sparked a public argument among Democrats over whether it was acceptable to compare the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid. MP Rashida Tlaib referred to Palestinians who live under a “violent apartheid system”. Along with other critics, MP Ted Deutch said he “cannot allow” a House of Representatives to refer to the “Jewish democratic state of Israel as an apartheid state” and said it was anti-Semitic.
While the comparison with apartheid remains highly controversial in Congress, the poll suggests that many academic experts accept it as accurate. The researchers found that the percentage of experts who see the situation as similar to apartheid rose from 59 percent in February to 65 percent.

While the comparison with apartheid remains highly controversial in Congress, the poll suggests that many academic experts accept it as accurate.

Kerry Boyd Anderson


The reason for the surge is unclear, but the researchers said the protests against the displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem and renewed fighting with Gaza may have drawn attention to the plight of the Palestinians. Important reports from human rights groups B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch may have played a role. It is also possible that the surge reflects willingness among senior members of Congress to use the term, as well as longer-term postponements in US discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The experts also looked at other regional issues, including the joint comprehensive action plan. A large majority, 69 percent, said a return to the nuclear deal with Iran in its current form would make it less likely that the Iranian regime could acquire “a nuclear weapon” in the next 10 years.
Likewise, 65 percent of respondents said it would be in the US interest to return to the JCPOA “immediately”. However, 30 percent of the experts suggested that the US should “negotiate a major deal” to allay other concerns about Iran‘s regional behavior. Only 4 percent called for a return to a “maximum pressure” campaign and only 1 percent for military action against the Iranian nuclear program.
While a majority of experts are in favor of a return to the JCPOA, 35 percent said it is less likely now than it was six months ago. This suggests some disappointment with how the Biden administration has handled the negotiations so far, especially as 46 percent of experts who think the likelihood has decreased blamed the US (compared to 33 percent who said the both parties accused and 18 percent who accused Iran). 39 percent of the experts see the prospects for the JCPOA hardly changed compared to six months ago and 25 percent see an improved probability.
The effects of the survey are controversial. While the Biden administration is more open to expertise than some previous administrations, there is a long history of Washington politicians who ignore Middle Eastern scholars. However, the project’s co-directors, Shibley Telhami and Marc Lynch, are well-known experts within Washington foreign policy and are well positioned to use the survey to educate policy makers about the region.
A wider range of expert opinions on Washington’s Middle East policy would be a positive change, whether or not one agrees with the survey results. The USA made massive mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq, partly due to a lack of know-how and by explicitly ignoring the existing know-how. Including a range of expert opinions in policy making could lead to better decisions in the future.

* Kerry Boyd Anderson is a political risk writer and consultant with more than 16 years of experience as a professional international security and political and business risk analyst in the Middle East.
Twitter: @KBAresearch

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News


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