IN SPITE OF THE OVERWHELMING ADVANTAGES of the U.S.-Israel alliance, the realists still insist that it stokes Muslim rage and renders Americans more vulnerable to terrorism. To substantiate their claim, the realists quote Osama bin Laden as well as the state-controlled Middle Eastern media. But bin Laden initially justified his attacks on America's profligacy and only later, after his setbacks in Afghanistan, linked them to Israel. An influential Saudi Wahhabi book published online describes the United States as "the source of evil, moral corruption, oppression, despotism, and aggression … in the world" and makes no mention of Israel. Neither do recently published diplomatic papers from the Middle East or most of the demonstrations that have convulsed the region.
The official U.S. documents released by WikiLeaks show that Arab rulers are not preoccupied with Israel but with the perils posed by Iran. One report recounted Saudi King Abdullah urging the United States to "cut off the head of the snake" -- Iran -- and to attack the country's nuclear facilities at once. Bahrain's king warned that "the danger of letting [the Iranian nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it." The word "Israel" does not appear.
Middle Eastern populations, meanwhile, have shown that they, too, are less concerned with Israel than with urgent issues at home. When able to express themselves freely, they have preferred to focus on political rights and economic opportunity. Conspicuously absent from the protests that swept the region in 2011 were burning Israeli -- or American -- flags or any reference to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Although emerging Arab governments might in the future -- as in the past -- seek to gain legitimacy by harnessing anti-Israeli sentiment, the claim that American support for the Jewish state axiomatically translates into anti-Americanism in the Middle East is no longer sustainable.
Israel is America's staunchest ally in the Middle East, but even the warmest friendships are never disagreement-free. This was certainly the case with the Anglo-American relationship during World War II, modern history's most celebrated alliance, but one that was riven by disputes over military planning and postwar arrangements.
The United States and Israel could not, therefore, realistically be expected to concur on all of the Middle East's labyrinthine issues. Ronald Reagan, for example, condemned Israel's attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and Israel objected to his sale of advanced jets to Saudi Arabia.
The realists say that the gaps between Israeli and American policies on the peace process are unbridgeable. The United States, they maintain, is committed to creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel allegedly opposes these goals and thwarts them by building in those areas.
But historically, progress in the peace process has been directly related to the strengthening of America's alliance with Israel. That bond convinced Arab rulers that they had no conventional military option against Israel and fortified Israelis to make the concessions necessary for peace. American security assurances -- including guarantees of continued oil supplies from Sinai and the replacement of evacuated air bases -- enabled Israel to withdraw from an area three times its size and to conclude the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
The realists ignore or dismiss this linkage, as they do Israel's record of seeking peace. In the euphoric aftermath of the Six-Day War, Israeli leaders offered to create a West Bank Palestinian state, but Palestinian leaders rejected the plan. Israel in 2000 offered the Palestinians sovereignty over virtually the entire West Bank, all of Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, but the Palestinians refused the deal and instead killed more than 1,000 Israelis in terrorist attacks. In 2005, Israel provided the Palestinians with the chance to create a peaceful prototype in Gaza, but it quickly devolved into a launching pad for thousands of rockets. In spite of these traumas, a significant majority of Israelis -- 66 percent, when recently asked by the Tel Aviv University Peace Index -- still favor the two-state solution, testifying to their commitment to peace.
Settlements, meanwhile, have never been the impediment to peace. They did not preclude the signing of the Egyptian and Jordanian treaties or 16 years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel uprooted all 21 settlements in Gaza and received war, not peace. Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze West Bank construction for an unprecedented 10 months, but the Palestinians still refused to negotiate. Internal Palestinian documents published recently by Al Jazeera reveal that Palestinian negotiators in 2008 were willing to concede the bulk of the Israeli communities in the West Bank, as well as most of the Jewish neighborhoods built over the 1967 line in Jerusalem, as part of a peace arrangement. Israeli leaders were ready to sign; the Palestinians again walked away.
Blind to Israel's record of peacemaking, the realists also overlook the broad confluence of American and Israeli policies toward the process. Both insist that there is no alternative to direct negotiations and no solution to the conflict other than two states for two peoples. They understand that the Palestinian state, situated opposite Israel's narrowest and most populous area, will have to be demilitarized and that Israel will require detailed security guarantees. And they agree that any peace treaty must provide for mutual recognition between the nation-states of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, signifying an end to all claims.
American and Israeli positions also dovetail on the most monumental -- and potentially divisive -- Middle Eastern issue: Iran. A nuclear-armed Iran, both countries hold, will imperil every pro-Western Middle Eastern state and ignite a nuclear arms race in an inherently unstable region. The United States and Israel have promoted international sanctions designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while keeping all options on the table. Americans know that, at a time of transformation in the Middle East balance of power, Israel remains the region's only credible foil to Iran.
Ultimately, the litmus test of any alliance is not whether the partners agree on every issue, but rather the ways they deal with discord. During World War II, the United States and Britain bridged their differences and achieved victory. America and Israel have similarly worked through their differences and are together striving for a different triumph -- peace.