The Arab Lobby and the Palestinians


While Israel’s detractors have obsessively scrutinized, mischaracterized and demonized the Israeli lobby, the equally powerful Arab lobby has been studiously ignored. In fact, some people deny it exists — or if it does, that its power pales in contrast to the all-powerful AIPAC. As proof, they often point to the failure to create a Palestinian state. Surely, these critics maintain, if the Arab Lobby is really as powerful as people like me say it is, a Palestinian state would long ago have been established. This view rests on the rather naive assumption that all Arabs care as passionately about the plight of the Palestinians as their Western sympathizers do. The truth, however, is that the most powerful parts of the Arab lobby have limited interest in the Palestinian cause , and the lobbyists who do care are deeply divided and have found little support from the American public.

Since it has received so little attention over the years, any article about the Arab Lobby must begin by explaining what it is. The Arab lobby today is comprised of two main constituencies, Saudi Arabia, State Department Arabists, and oil and defense companies most interested in oil; and a domestic lobby focused on the Palestinian issue represented by Arab and Muslim Americans, non-evangelical Christians, academics and State Department Arabists.

Saudi Arabia, the most influential actor in the Arab lobby, actually has little interest in the Palestinian issue and has actively worked to sabotage peace efforts. The Saudi attitude can be traced to the debate over the future of Palestine when King Saud said he was more concerned with getting assurances the United States would protect him from his rivals than America’s policy toward Palestine. Since that time the Saudis have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause when they believe it can weaken American-Israeli ties, but their priority never wavers from ensuring the survival of their monarchy.

Furthermore, the Saudis have undermined the Palestinian cause in a variety of ways, from opposing the Camp David Accords to welshing on promises of financial aid to underwriting terror and financing Hamas at the expense of Fatah. Ironically, State Department Arabists, diplomats whose principal concern is oil and who often represent their Arab clients more vigorously than their own country, support the Palestinians because they mistakenly think it will mollify the Saudis.

This wrongheaded view was most recently displayed when President Obama was led to believe that by focusing on the Palestinian issue and distancing the U.S. from Israel he would gain the support of the Saudis for his Middle East agenda. When Obama visited Riyadh in 2009, he expected them to announce steps to show Israel the Arab states would improve relations after the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, King Abdullah refused to do anything to help the president.

The Palestinian cause has received more support from the domestic Arab lobby, which has helped keep the Palestinian issue high on the American agenda, but has had little impact beyond that. Why?

One of the greatest obstacles for the Arab lobby is that the American people does not support its principal goal, which has been to try to drive a wedge between the United States and its democratic ally. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s resolutions, for example, called for the U.S. government to force Israel out of the territories and to freeze settlements; to halt military aid; to allow assistance to Gaza; to dismantle the security fence that dramatically reduced Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank; to adopt an "even-handed" Middle East policy (a code word suggesting policy is too pro-Israel and should be more pro-Arab); and to impose a boycott and other sanctions on Israel. The only pro-Arab resolution relating to the Middle East called for the creation of a Palestinian state and endorsed the "right of return of Palestinian refugees" (code for the destruction of Israel).

These views are totally out of step with the American public, which sympathizes with Israel over the Palestinians by a margin of 63 percent to 15 percent in the last Gallup poll, so it should come as no surprise that none of the ADC or similar proposals have been adopted.

The Arab lobby is also constrained because Arab Americans remain a small, fractious minority of only about 1.2 million. It is impossible for Arab Americans to represent "the Arabs" because, unlike the Israeli lobby, which can stand up for the strengthening of America’s relationship with a single nation, Americans of Arab descent come from no fewer than twenty-one countries, which have conflicting interests and are often at war with each other. Only 6 percent of Arab Americans are Palestinians; the majority are Christians, and many are Lebanese who fled their country to escape the persecution of Muslims and Palestinian terrorists and do not support the Palestinian cause. Even within the Palestinian and Muslim communities, deep divisions have grown as some groups back the “moderate” Fatah leadership while others support Hamas extremists.

Of course, the biggest enemies of the Palestinian cause have been the Palestinians themselves through their famous history of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. No matter what the Israeli or Arab lobbies have advocated, in the end the absence of a Palestinian state is attributable to the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing and able to accept anything less than all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and to say that he will end the conflict and live in a state coexisting beside Israel.

Meanwhile, the most powerful elements of the Arab lobby undermine our values and interests by exerting influence on issues unrelated to the Palestinians. The Saudis continue to keep America addicted to oil and to use their oil revenues to buy billions of dollars of arms they don’t need and can’t use, support terror, spread radical Islamic views through schools and mosques and bolster their intolerant regime.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and the author of The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in The Middle East (HarperCollins Publishers).