Americans Simply Don't Care About Peace in the Middle East

Can we really blame the president for not putting the full weight of his office behind the collapsing peace talks?

No one said a Middle East peace deal was going to be easy. Brokering such an agreement has been a lost cause for what's now a long line of U.S. presidents. So when Secretary of State John Kerry embarked on yet another attempt to get Israelis and Palestinians to finally resolve their differences over land, Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, many skeptics wrote off the effort as a quixotic quest. Now that the talks appear to have irretrievably broken down, such skepticism about the seriousness of purpose of both the Israelis and Palestinians seems vindicated.

As always, Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans have begun to point fingers over who is to blame for the recent breakdown. Even as they do, it is useful to remember that the American people do not believe that Israeli-Palestinian tensions pose a danger to the United States, that they did not accord this peace initiative a high priority, that they never expected it to work, and that they were deeply divided in both their sympathies and support for President Barack Obama's efforts to achieve a Middle East accord.

The American public's now well-documented strategic disengagement  from the world will make the revival of any Middle East peace effort all the more difficult, even if the Israelis and Palestinians one day decide to reengage.

Americans simply do not believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constitutes a major threat to the United States. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October-November 2013, only 3 percent of the public expressed the view that the Middle East and Israel represented the greatest danger to America. China (16 percent) and Iran (16 percent) registered as much bigger concerns.

Even before the apparent breakdown in the Kerry initiative, Americans were divided over whether a way could be found to craft a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East; moreover, what support existed for this effort was rapidly waning. Overall, just 46 percent of respondents said an independent Palestinian state could coexist peacefully with Israel, while 44 percent expressed the view that they did not think this can happen, according to a late April Pew Research Center survey. A year earlier, 50 percent thought it was possible for an independent Palestinian state to exist peacefully alongside Israel, 41 percent did not.

In this regard, Americans weren't uniquely pessimistic -- they simply shared the skepticism of both Israelis and Palestinians: only 50 percent of Israelis and just 14 percent of Palestinians believed that a peaceful two-state solution was possible in a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2013.

And while successive U.S. administrations have attempted to portray themselves as a neutral arbiter between the Israelis and Palestinians, the American people have never hidden their sympathies. Roughly half the public (53 percent) say they sympathize more with Israel, 16 percent volunteer that they sympathize with neither side, and just 11 percent side with the Palestinians.

Support for Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians has been consistent over the nearly four-decade history of surveys asking about this measure. In polling by Pew Research and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs dating back to 1978, sympathy toward Israel has never been higher. A decade ago, four-in-ten (40 percent) sympathized more with Israel and just 13 percent sympathized more with the Palestinians. By the summer of 2006, sympathy with Israel had risen to 48 percent and has remained at or around 50 percent since that time.

U.S. diplomatic efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East are further complicated by sharp partisan differences on the issue among the American people. Roughly two-thirds (68 percent) of Republicans sympathize more with Israel compared with 46 percent of Democrats (just 15 percent of Democrats and 7 percent of Republicans sympathize more with the Palestinians). The opinion gap is especially large between the two party's ideological wings: 75 percent of conservative Republicans sympathize more with Israel, compared with only 41 percent of liberal Democrats.

Republicans have been particularly skeptical about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution. Just 34 percent thought a way could be found for this to happen in the late April 2014 survey. Independents (50 percent) and Democrats (52 percent) were more optimistic that a solution could be found. Liberal Democrats (59 percent) were more likely than the Democratic Party's conservatives and moderates (47 percent) to say an independent Palestinian state could coexist peacefully alongside Israel.

There is similarly partisan disagreement on how President Obama has conducted his administration's Middle East peace initiative. Less than half (45 percent) of the American public express the view that Obama is striking the right balance in the Middle East these days; 22 percent say he is favoring the Palestinians too much, and 9 percent say he is favoring Israel too much. About a quarter (24 percent) do not offer an opinion on the topic, another reflection of the low priority Americans place on the issue.

But about two-thirds (65 percent) of Democrats say Obama is striking the right balance in the Middle East; perhaps not surprisingly, thus, few Democrats think he is favoring Israel (10 percent) or the Palestinians (5 percent) too much. By contrast, 40 percent of Republicans say Obama is favoring the Palestinians too much, while a quarter (25 percent) say he is striking the right balance and just 8 percent think he is favoring Israel too much. This partisan divide is particularly evident on the right. Among Republicans and Republican sympathizers who agree with the Tea Party, fully 65 percent say Obama is favoring the Palestinians too much, just 11 percent say he is striking the right balance, and 3 percent say he is favoring Israel too much.

Diplomats never say never. And the Middle East peace process, while appearing to have stalled, will almost inevitably be revived, if not by the Obama administration, then by its successor. But the ongoing intransigence of both the Israelis and the Palestinians will be only one challenge such a revived initiative will face. Future U.S. peace efforts will also have to contend with the American public's disinterest in the Middle East, disbelief in the achievability of a lasting peace, lack of impartiality and long-standing sympathy for Israel, and a deep partisan divide on anything regarding these issues. Future presidents and secretaries of state are forewarned. 



The Holy City of the Living Dead

There's actually a lesson about Israel buried inside this horribly bad horror flick about Hezbollah zombies.

Just when you thought the Middle East had seen every possible combination of political, religious, and ethnic strife, there comes a deadly new war that threatens to engulf not just the region, but the entire world.

Israel is fighting Hezbollah zombies.

Foolish Israelis! Why did they waste all that money on expensive drones and anti-missile defenses? It isn't Iranian-made rockets crossing the Lebanese border, but hordes of the undead in the Israeli film Cannon Fodder, recently released on DVD in the United States under the title, Battle of the Undead.

A more accurate name would be Battle of the Brain Dead, and that doesn't refer to the zombies.

The story begins with Doron, an Israeli super-commando with one of those brooding faces that pairs well with homicidal tendencies. While on his honeymoon he's called away by the eye patch-wearing General Gideon, who looks less like Moshe Dayan and more like the creepy guy who hangs out at the porn shop.

Gideon informs Doron that Hezbollah has invaded northern Israel (for reasons unknown), and that Manzur, Hezbollah's number three leader, has developed biological weapons that might be unleashed against Israel. Doron is ordered to lead a crack four-man commando team into Lebanon to snatch Manzur and bring him back for interrogation.

No doubt you're thinking that in the 2006 War, 30,000 Israeli troops were not enough to defeat Hezbollah. So these four lone commandos, who are going to infiltrate Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, must be so awesome that they make U.S. Navy SEALs look like Girl Scouts.

Alas, these schmucks couldn't kidnap a frappuccino-wielding barista from Starbucks. They lack skill, coolness, discipline and even proper equipment such as night vision goggles to see the zombies in the dark. However, they are heavily laden with stereotypes. There is Avner, the religious kippah-wearing demolitions expert, a geeky, awkward soldier who looks like he has never stepped out of a yeshiva. Daniel is the shaven-headed (skin-headed is more like it) Russian immigrant with serious anger and racism issues. His target is fellow commando Moti, an Ethiopian immigrant whom Daniel taunts with epithets such as "Obama" and "Cosby."

Entering Hezbollah-land (which looks rather like an Israeli national park), the commandos quickly discover that their enemy isn't the Party of God but rather the legions of the damned, who have turned the area into an all-you-can-bite buffet.

(Warning: plot spoilers ahead.) When the Israeli team reaches Manzur's house, they discover his daughter hiding from the undead, one of which is actually her father. It turns out that Manzur was the one who created the zombie plague.

But actually the virus was created by Israel. You see, Hezbollah thought Manzur was too busy working in his lab to develop a biological weapon against Israel. But that's what Israel wanted them to think! Manzur was really working for General Gideon, out of concern that the organization's policies would lead to war. Manzur manufactured a virus given to him by Israel, which he would use to assassinate Hezbollah's leadership by poisoning their drinking water. When Manzur tested the virus on himself, the zombie disease began to spread...

Wait a minute. Israel gave a bioweapon to Hezbollah, because one of Nasrallah's henchmen promised he would use it to wipe out the organization? So if he had asked for a nuke to destroy Iran's atomic facilities, does that mean Israel would have handed him a...

Danger. Trying to fathom this plot is like having your brain scooped out by a zombie.

In any event, the commandos, aided by Manzur's daughter, survive the obligatory overnight assault on their house, during which they must dispatch numerous zombified Hezbollah fighters through the customary head shot. When they return to Israel, they discover that the country is being overrun by the undead. The Zionist Dream is being devoured.

And so has the audience's ability to suspend disbelief. Cannon Fodder has a ludicrous plot, the props are cheap, and the zombies look like a college drama class having fun with makeup. Like the undead feeding on flesh, this movie feeds off prior films such as Night of the Living Dead. The scenes of burning Israeli cities will look very familiar will look very familiar to those who have seen World War Z, albeit that the explosions and flames look really, really fake.

Nonetheless, this is a film from Israel, which has produced so many insightful movies on the Arab-Israeli conflict, from Waltzing with Bashir to Beaufort. Yes, Cannon Fodder is a horror film (the first Israeli horror film I've ever seen), but we would expect to find a few deep political and social metaphors.

Unfortunately, the metaphors must be hiding from the monsters, because no one else can find them. The Hezbollah zombies could have been North Korean zombies or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a taste for human flesh. Other than a little dialogue and some graffiti on the walls, there is little to suggest a connection with one of the most formidable militant groups in the world. The racial tensions between the Israeli soldiers, and the suggestion that military actions by aggressive Israeli leaders can spectacularly backfire, point to real issues and historical blunders (the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon spurred the rise of Hezbollah). But the movie handles these themes so clumsily that instead of illuminating social commentary, they become flimsy plot devices designed to create tension between the characters, or keep the audience guessing. They accomplish neither.

Ironically, the movie's only moments of genuine humor and insight occur when the credits roll. A leftist protester on a television talk show defends the rights of the undead ("And what makes them so different from us?"), while an ultra-Orthodox Jew complains that "It cannot be that these things walk among us in the land of the chosen Jewish people." The argument becomes moot when zombies invade the television studio and eat everyone.

Yet do not mistake the film for satire. It is meant to be a serious zombie movie, Israel's campy attempt to replicate the success of World War Z.

However, for all its flaws, Cannon Fodder does offer an important insight. Hezbollah has been Israel's most dangerous enemy for years. Now it has been reduced to a gimmick, in the same way that Russians and Chinese became generic villains in Cold War-era movies. Want to make the bad guys a little badder? Don't just make them zombies. Make them Hezbollah zombies. Followed by Hamas mutants, and giant lizards clad in burqas.

Sometimes villains can be instructive. Boris and Natasha -- those classic cartoon caricatures of Soviet spies -- were a clever means to get Americans to examine their own beliefs about the Cold War. There is nothing so sophisticated in Cannon Fodder. All that the movie teaches us is that the Arab-Israeli conflict has gone on for so long, and is so ingrained within the Israeli psyche, that it can now be used as a backdrop for bad movies.

But maybe this is asking too much of a B-grade horror flick. Should we really be looking for social commentary in the subtext of Plan 9 from Outer Space, or the never-ending stream of films depicting American axe-wielding maniacs stalking teenagers , such as Halloween and Friday the 13th.

In the end, Cannon Fodder offers one bit of cheer for Israelis who have longed to be part of the global community, to be more than just the epicenter of one international crisis after another.

Now Israelis can hold their heads up high and proclaim to the world: "We can make bad movies just like any other country."

White Beach Productions/YouTube