Voice

Goldberg's latest silly sally

Keeping up with Jeffrey Goldberg's errors is like trying to dam the Gulf Stream, and responding to his repeated smears is a mug's game. I suppose I could quote a bunch of snarky comments about him too, and we could have a nasty blogosopheric food fight for the entertainment of our readers. But I prefer to focus on the issues, instead of the name-calling that is J.G.'s stock-in-trade.

His latest silly sally is to chide me for my saying that there is no meaningful "Arab lobby" in Washington. As evidence, he points out that various Arab states have paid a lot of money to various public relations firms, in a rather transparent attempt to gain some influence in Washington. The question to ask is whether these activities produce "meaningful" influence on key foreign policy issues, especially when you compare them with the lobbying groups on the other side.

Once you ask that question, of course, his case collapses. Let's look at the vast influence that the "Arab lobby" has wielded in recent years.

1. It is undoubtedly the all-powerful Arab lobby that ensures that Israel gets $3-4 billion in economic and military aid each year, even when it does things that the United States opposes, like building settlements. And were it not for the Arab lobby, the United States would be putting a lot of pressure on Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and come clean about its nuclear arsenal.

2. It was the vaunted Arab lobby that convinced President Bush to delay a U.N. ceasefire resolution during the Lebanon War of 2006, so that Israel could try to finish off Hezbollah and continue bombing civilian areas in Lebanon. Pressure from the Arab lobby also convinced Congress to pass a resolution backing Israel to the hilt, and to remove language from the original draft that called for both sides to "protect civilian life and infrastructure."

3. When Ambassador Charles Freeman was nominated to chair the National Intelligence Council in 2009, the vast Arab lobby promptly launched a successful smear campaign to deny him the post, running roughshod over his outnumbered and powerless defenders at the New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, and Washington Post.

4. When Obama asked Israel to implement a settlement freeze in 2009, the Arab lobby promptly swung into action and drafted open letters warning the President not to put any pressure on Israel. These resolutions passed overwhelmingly in both Houses, another sign of the Arab lobby's political clout.

5. When Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008, the Arab lobby was there to prevent the U.S. from interfering. And when the Goldstone Report raised the issue of possible Israeli war crimes in that war, the Arab Lobby no doubt called the Obama administration and told it to condemn the report, which it promptly did.

6. Needless to say, the insidious power of the Arab lobby no doubt explains why we have a former employee of the "pro-Israel" Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and former head of the Jewish People's Policy Planning Institute) in a key role guiding U.S. Middle East policy. Aaron Miller was dead wrong when he said the United States acts as "Israel's lawyer"; the Arab lobby ensures that U.S. government officials constantly take the Arab side whenever disputes arise.

7. The long arm of the "Arab lobby" also shapes our public discourse, aided by the chorus of pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Muslim columnists and pundits at the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Republic, and Atlantic Monthly. And you'd better not say anything critical of an Arab country or of Islam, or the Anti-Defamation League will denounce you and you might even lose your job.

8. And don't forget to sign up for the Arab Lobby's annual "Policy Conference" in Washington, where you will see a bevy of politicians from both parties lining up to proclaim their commitment to the "unshakeable" alliance between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world.

Obviously, none of these things happened because of the "Arab lobby," but the Israel lobby played a key role in all of them. In short, Goldberg's latest assertions don't even pass the giggle test. And if he wants to talk about money, let's consider campaign contributions. According to The Economist, between 1990 and 2004 pro-Israel political action committees gave nearly $57 million dollars to candidates and parties, while Arab-American and Muslim PACs gave slightly less than $700,000. Wow: that's some "Arab lobby!" And that's just the PAC money, not contributions by individuals.

Or we could discuss the role of Haim Saban, an Israel-American businessman who has said that "I'm a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel." Saban has been the largest single contributor to the Democratic Party in recent years, and according to a profile by Connie Bruck in The New Yorker, Saban told a conference in Israel that there were "three ways to be influential in American politics … make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets." Gee, if I said something like that, Goldberg would probably say I was channeling the Protocols.

In short, despite the money that some Arab countries spend on PR firms, the "Arab lobby" is not a meaningful political force when it comes to the broad thrust of U.S. Middle East policy, and certainly not on issues affecting Israel. But you don't have to take my word for it. You could ask former President Bill Clinton, who said that AIPAC was "better than anyone at lobbying in this town," or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it "the most effective general-interest group … across the entire planet." Former Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) said upon his retirement that "you can't have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here," and former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) who served for 32 years, said "there's no lobby group that matches it ... they're in a class by themselves." Or consider the words of the late Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) who said "I was never put under greater pressure than by the Israeli lobby, nor has the Senate as a whole. It's the most influential crowd in Congress and America by far." Even a journalist named Jeffrey Goldberg once referred to AIPAC as a "leviathan among lobbies." The "Arab lobby" is Lilliputian by comparison.

And that's why the former head of AIPAC, Morris Amitay, once noted that "we rarely see [oil and corporate] interests lobbying on foreign policy issues. … in a sense, we have the field to ourselves." Or as AIPAC's former legislative director, Douglas Bloomfield, told the BBC in 2003: "AIPAC has one enormous advantage. It really doesn't have any opposition." Precisely.

Stephen M. Walt

What's Plan B in the Middle East? Or maybe it's Plan C ...

The good news is that the Obama administration has withdrawn its humiliating attempt to bribe Israel into accepting a 90-day extension of the (partial) settlement freeze. Not only was this negotiating ploy one of the more degrading moments in the annals of U.S. diplomacy, it also had scant chance of success. To their credit, Obama's Middle East teams finally figured this out -- a few weeks later than most observers -- and pulled the plug on the deal.

The bad news, however, is that it's not clear what their next move is. Everyone now realizes that the United States cannot play the role of a fair-minded mediator in this conflict, and the early hopes that Obama would adopt a smarter approach have been repeatedly dashed.  

This situation isn't good for anyone -- not the United States, not Israel, and not the Palestinians.  It is increasingly likely that a genuine two-state solution isn't going to be reached, and as I've noted before, the United States will be in a very awkward position once mainstream writers and politicians begin to recognize that fact. Once it becomes clear that "two states for two people" just ain't gonna happen, the United States will have to choose between backing a one-state, binational democracy, embracing ethnic cleansing, or supporting permanent apartheid. Those are the only alternatives to a two-state solution, and no future president will relish having to choose between them. But once the two-state solution is off the table, that is precisely the choice a future President would face.

This failure will further complicate our efforts elsewhere in the region. As former President Bill Clinton remarked a few weeks ago, solving the Israel-Palestine problem "will take about half the impetus in the whole world -- not just the region, the whole world -- for terror away. . . It would have more impact by far than anything else that could be done." It is also clear from the recent WikiLeaks releases that our Arab partners want the United States to do something about Iran, but they remain deeply concerned by the Palestinian issue and they recognize that progress on Israel-Palestine would go a long way to reducing Iran's regional influence. 

Unfortunately, there's little reason to expect any sort of breakthrough, which means that local forces and dynamics are going to be exerting greater weight. When others believe that the United States is in charge of the "peace process" and leading it in a positive direction, they sit back and let Uncle Sam do the work. But now that Obama's team has failed, local actors will take matters into their own hands and U.S. influence is likely to diminish further. Why wait for Washington to deliver a deal when it is obvious that it can't?

The silver lining, if there is one, is that the events of the past two years have done a lot to clarify both where we are and where we are headed. One can take no joy from that, because the current path is bound to produce more needless suffering in the short to medium term, and maybe beyond. But dispelling the myths and illusions that have obscured our vision is of some value, and in this case, one didn't even need WikiLeaks to figure out what's going on.

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