The Economist

Posted by The Economist on July 20, 2011 in News Clips

ONE disappointment of Barack Obama's presidency has been his failure to satisfy the expectations he raised in the Arab world. A recent poll by James Zogby's Arab American Institute shows that his favourability rating there is now 10% or less. In the various countries surveyed, "American interference" came top of a list of "obstacles to peace and stability". In Egypt, poster-child of the Arab spring, 65% single out American interference in Arab affairs as an obstacle to peace and security, whereas only 29% picked interference by Iran.

This is bad news not only for Mr Obama but also for America in general. Some American voices have nonetheless greeted the finding with what Mr Zogby, at a meeting yesterday of the New America Foundation, called "gloating". So Barack Hussein Obama is no more popular among Arabs than was George W. Bush? Serves him right for swallowing the illusion that he could buy Arab popularity by "betraying" Israel.

That response gets it all wrong. The moral of the Arab spring is not that Arabs don't care about Palestine. It remains, as Mr Zogby puts it, the "existential, defining issue" in the Arab world. Arab views of America slumped after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, began to rise somewhat when Mr Obama came into view in the 2008 election campaign, and spiked after his first three months, around the time he promised in Cairo in 2009 to help the Palestinians to statehood. It seems reasonable to infer that the subsequent slump has more to do with his failure to deliver than with having tried in the first place.

Having said that, Mr Zogby left me wondering. What exactly do the Arabs expect of America in relation to Israel? As it happens, a bit of the answer is to be found in another piece of polling referenced in an article for National Interest by Benny Morris, one of Israel's "new historians" (who in recent years has made a marked shift to the right). He quotes a new survey of Palestinian opinion, finding that

"About 80 percent of those polled agreed that it was the duty of all Muslims to participate in jihad to eradicate Israel. The poll also found that 61 percent of Palestinians rejected the American-Israeli formulation for a settlement of the conflict based on two states for two peoples, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. Only 34 percent of Palestinians questioned supported a "two-states-for-two-peoples" solution."

I'm sure there are plenty of ways to "contextualise" this finding to make it sound less disturbing. But it does rather knock on the head the idea that the conflict in the Middle East persists solely because of Israeli obduracy and America's failure to lean on Israel hard enough.

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