At a critical moment in the political transformation of the Middle East, America’s steadfast and unyielding support for Israel — underwritten by both parties in Congress — risks undermining America’s long-term interests in the region. Last year, Gen. David Petraeus commented in congressional testimony that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.
None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed — particularly as the United States will need to deal with a new government in Cairo that will likely be less supportive of Israel, a wave of unsteady democratic reforms spreading across the Mideast, and a U.N. General Assembly that appears ready to endorse Palestinian statehood this fall. These events will have serious repercussions not just for Israel but for U.S. policy in the region. Obama at least seems to realize this fact and has — albeit tepidly — challenged a recalcitrant Israel to get serious about peace. Yet Congress seems intent on restraining his leverage, effectively holding U.S. actions hostage to the whims of partisan politics — and in the process working in concert with a foreign leader to do it. At some point, it raises the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s.