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Musa Keilani: US popularity declines
May 01, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Opinion polls conducted in recent years have shown that the US is not exactly very popular in the Arab World. The latest of such surveys was conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre, which found that  79 per cent of Egyptian had an unfavourable view of the United States, a marginal change from 82 per cent in a similar poll in 2010.

The result was roughly the same from surveys conducted in several other Arab countries in 2010 and 2009.

One of the key reasons for its unpopularity — and indeed hostility — that the US has acquired in the Arab World is Washington’s unreserved support for and alliance with Israel.

Even at the height of the uprising in Egypt that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the administration of US President Barack Obama was seen trying to ensure the survival of the Mubarak regime. Washington wanted Mubarak to remain in power and maintain the state of peace with Israel under the Camp David treaty as he did throughout the three decades of his reign. The US administration also wanted to use Mubarak-run Egypt as a key centre of influence in Arab affairs.

Many Arabs attribute Israel’s defiance and refusal to accept a fair and just solution to the Palestinian problem directly to the dedicated American commitment to its alliance with the Jewish state.

Records prove that the US has separate sets of rules for its dealings with Israel and the rest of the world. The rules for Israel mean only one thing: Unstinting political, diplomatic, military and economic support despite the Jewish state’s gross violations of international law.

Many around the world hold the US directly responsible not only for the deadlock in efforts for peace in the Middle East but also the ruthless Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in breach of all international conventions governing military occupation of foreign territory.

Washington offers generous military aid to Israel and an all-protective umbrella to protect it from being held accountable by the international community and this emboldens the Jewish state to do as it pleases with immunity.

This was further highlighted in the passage of US military aid worth $3 billion to Israel in the 2011 budget this month.

In addition, the Obama administration also gave Israel $415 million to fund joint missile defence projects, including $205 million to pay for Israel’s newly-deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

The deployment of the system, which shoots down incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, allows Israel to perpetuate its crippling blockade of the coastal enclave.

Unlike all other countries which buy American military equipment, Israel does not consider itself  bound by an end-use agreement under which it is not supposed to use US-supplied weapons against civilians. It regularly unleashes US-made weapons and aircraft against the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. It was mainly American weapons that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly women and children, during the 22-day 2008-2009 war that Israel waged against the Gaza Strip.

The Foreign Assistance Act of the US prohibits  foreign assistance to any country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognised human rights.”

Instead of halting all military assistance to Israel, the US appeared to cheer the Israeli actions and in fact supplied more weapons to the Jewish state.

With a per capita income of around $26,000, Israel, which was ranked as the 24th largest economy in the world in 2010  and 15th among 169 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, does not really need American assistance. 

Still, Israel remains  the largest recipient of US foreign assistance.

Direct American assistance to Israel, which totalled more than $105 billion from 1948 to 2009 — not including tens of billions of dollars for joint projects and generous contributions by Jewish organisations in the US — is definitely a disincentive for peace.

In 1997, when Benjamin Netanyahu served his first stint in office as prime minister, he had come under US pressure to make realistic moves towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians. At that time, he declared that one of his prime objectives was to stop receiving American money.

That was indeed a reflection of the reality that Israel could do well without American aid.  However, nothing further was heard about Netanyahu’s pledge. Ironically, it is the financial, military, political and diplomatic support that the US offered over the decades that has made Israel immune to American pressure of any kind. That is what Obama found out last year when he confronted Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has even made fun of the US, saying any American president would be better off accepting that Israel had more clout and influence in the corridors and legislative and administrative power in Washington.

That statement made then president George W Bush hold his tongue after calling on Israel to agree to  a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem. If anything, the Bush administration raised military assistance to Israel to a total of $30 billion from 2009 and 2018.

All concerned Israeli, regional and international organisations have been regularly exposing Israel’s gross violations of human rights of the Palestinians, but Washington has done little to hold its “strategic” ally accountable for its actions. Such measures and policies make the US an accessory or even a partner in Israeli actions and postures against peace in the Middle East.

As such, it should not be any surprise that the latest Pew Centre found that political change in Egypt has done little to improve the opinion that Egyptians have of the United States. That is indeed the case in  most other Arab and Muslim countries.

However, the US could not be expected in the short term to mend its pro-Israeli ways in order regain its stature and credibility because Israel and its supporters have their tentacles deep into the American financial and political establishments, which have always been very fertile for the Jewish state.

Obama is perfectly aware of this reality, but he finds himself bound by the same political imperatives as his predecessors at the White House and hence our realisation that the hopes that we had pinned on him for positive changes were in vain.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the Chief Editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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