A recent conversation on the The New York Times online forum Room for Debate focused on the question, "Has support for Israel hurt U.S. credibility?"
The paper's editorial board is not known for its pro-Israel views, particularly when there is a center-Right government in Jerusalem. This explains the wording of the question, which is hardly surprising. "In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?," the paper asks.
Seven different people, each with a different take on the Arab-Israeli conflict, were asked to weigh in on the matter. Perhaps owing either to frustration or to delight, not a single one of them sets out to debunk the inherent claim that support for Israel in the U.S. runs deep.
Rashid Khalidi, an Arab-American professor at Columbia University who was close to former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, says that the U.S. has always been biased toward Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. According to Khalidi, there has never been, and never will be, a U.S. administration that could rightly be described as an "honest broker."
Khalidi also says the U.S. has "subcontracted" its foreign policy to Israel, which he believes hurts the former's image in Arab and Islamic countries.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, a former professor of journalism at Princeton University, seems to be more concerned with averting war with Iran, and is less interested in the Palestinian issue.
Dylan J. Williams, the director of government affairs at J Street, repeats the false claim that the U.S.'s ability to "isolate and pressure the Iranian regime" would be enhanced if the administration adopted a more engaging policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But what is most interesting is the balanced and important views the other participants expressed. Aaron David Miller, formerly the U.S. State Department's senior adviser for Arab-Israeli negotiations, refutes the claim that Israel effectively wields veto power over U.S. foreign policy. According to Miller, support for Israel extends to many segments of American society and is unaffected by the actions of any particular lobbying group. Although Miller does call for a more active U.S. role in the peace process, he criticizes President Barack Obama's policies.
Michele Dunne, who runs the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, says the diplomatic stalemate in the region can be attributed to the U.S.'s decision to adopt a misguided policy toward Israel in the hopes of upgrading relations with the Muslim world.
Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says Israel is the U.S.'s "most reliable ally" in the Middle East. According to Land, support for Israel is not "blind," but rather "entrenched in the American body politic ever since President Harry S. Truman recognized the Jewish state in May 1948."
And finally, Daniel Gordis, who serves as a senior vice president at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, points out that both nations have shared values. He would like to see these values as front and center in American foreign policy.
All these opinions can foreshadow American policy down the road, for both Obama and his challenger, former Governor Mitt Romney. The first three believe that Washington must shy away from an attack on Iran, support the Palestinians' initiatives and unshackle itself from the Israeli bear hug.
Although the others would like to see the U.S. launch a new peacemaking effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they do not believe this should be interwoven with policy toward Iran. Israel has an alliance with the American people, not with a particular party; regardless of who wins in November, Israel will have an ally in the White House for the next four years.
What you say on the campaign trail does not necessarily reflect the policies you pursue once elected. How high on the agenda would the Palestinian/Iranian issue be in a Romney or Obama administration? That is the question that we must ask ourselves.