Bad timing for ‘WSJ’ author who says Arab spring won’t leap the Sinai

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The theme of posts here the other day was attitudes of “denial” regarding the Palestine issue. Nothing could illustrate this more than an op-ed a couple of days ago  by a “scholar” with a comfortable job at a right-wing think tank. Josef Joffe, former publisher of the influential German newspaper Die Zeit and now ensconced as the Marc and Anita Abramowitz Fellow in International Relations at the Hoover Institution. Joffe wrote a piece in the April 26 Wall Street Journal on The Arab Spring and The Palestine Distraction. His theme was to debunk the idea that the upheavals around the Arab world had anything to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. (The subtitle was: Arab peoples aren’t obsessed with anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. It’s their rulers who are.)

Shoddy political theories—ideologies, really—never die because they are immune to the facts. The most glaring is this: These revolutions have unfolded without the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli screaming. It’s not that the demonstrators had run out of Stars and Stripes to trample, or were too concerned about the environment to burn Benjamin Netanyahu in effigy. It’s that their targets were Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben-Ali, Moammar Gadhafi and the others—no stooges of Zionism they. In Benghazi, the slogan was: “America is our friend!” . . .[Palestine] is not the core conflict that feeds the despotism; it is the despots who fan the conflict, even as they fondle their U.S.-made F-16s and quietly work with Israel. Their peoples are the victims of this power ploy, not its drivers. This is what the demonstrators of Tahrir Square and the rebels of Benghazi have told us with their silence on the Palestine issue.

Bad timing. The next day it was announced that the new Egyptian regime, spurred on by popular demand, had brokered a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas — against the clear wishes of the US and Israeli governments. Fatah may well have felt pressured to agree by the loss of their political patron with the fall of Hosni Mubarak. (It was a common complaint from Fatah supporters I met in the West Bank recently that the US made a big mistake in “letting Mubarak go” or that the Egyptian uprising was some kind of CIA-Al Jazeera plot.) Then there were a series of marches to the Israeli embassy in Cairo in support of the Palestinians and demanding that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty be abrogated. And finally, the new Egyptian government announced that it was ending collaboration with Israel in maintaining the siege of Gaza and would be opening its border to all traffic, making the 2007 agreement with Israel on controlling the Rafah Crossing a dead letter. The Egyptian foreign minister pointedly warned Israel “not to interfere” with a decision that was an internal matter to his country.

Glenn Greenwald (Strong anti-American sentiment in Egypt) usefully compiled polling results from Egypt indicating overwhelming sentiment in support of Palestine – and hostility to the US for its unwavering backing of Israel. 

What’s most remarkable about that 20/79 favorability disparity toward the U.S. is that it’s worse now than it was during the Bush years (a worldwide Pew poll of public opinion found a 30% approval rating in Egypt for the U.S. in 2006 and 21% in 2007). In one of the most strategically important countries in that region — a nation that has been a close U.S. ally for decades — public opinion toward the U.S. is as low as (if not lower than) ever, more than two years into the Obama presidency. . .

. . .this new polling data [reveals] the huge gap between the views of the Arab dictators we prop up and the Arab citizenry generally: the reason why the U.S., despite its lofty rhetoric, wants anything but democracy in that part of the world. Consider, for instance, that “54 percent [of Egyptians] want to annul the peace treaty with Israel, compared with 36 percent who want to maintain it.” 

And strong popular opinion in favor of the Palestinians is by no means a phenomenon limited to Egypt. Noam Chomsky also cited similar polling results in the Arab world: 

The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. . . . They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar.

Joffe, the author of the WSJ op-ed, is not a hard-core neocon. His academic and political associations suggest an alignment with the “realist” school of diplomacy. But on the Palestine issue, he should be more appropriately called “surrealist.” Or maybe it’s just denial.

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