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Americans' Unfettered Support for Israel Is Beginning to Erode -- And That May Help the Peace Process

The old narrative of Israel as the innocent victim is losing its grip on Americans. This is necessary if we are to be even-handed brokers.

Editor's Note: The following is an introduction by Tom Engelhardt. The American media in its 24/7 half-life tends to turn the surprises of history, large and small, into flood-tide events. They sweep over us, offering a kind of news satiation that leads quickly enough to forgetfulness -- as the media moves on. And then the subjects of the news are left to struggle, once again little attended to, with whatever everyday crisis may be at hand. Right now, Iran, of course, is that flood: both the news of a remarkable outpouring of dissatisfaction and dismay, youthful and otherwise, with the recent fraudulent election -- not the first time, by the way, that there have been fraud charges in an Iranian election, just not on such a grotesque scale -- as well as the bravery and determination of unarmed protestors in the face of angry, armed repression. And then, of course, there are all sorts of American fantasiesabout what's happening.

It's a wonderful, even a thrilling thing, when we're reminded that history surprises, that we human beings are less than predictable and sometimes act in concert and so much better, so much more movingly, than we have any right to expect. One can only hope for further surprises against the force of a well-armed state. While we're at it, however, we Americans should remind ourselves that we are not the good guysin this story, that it was American meddling that set in motion the whole grim train of events leading to this moment more than half a century ago.

In the meantime, in news terms, the rest of the world is largely obliterated. Israelis, Palestinians? Gone. That was another moment, another flood of news. Been there, done that. You know, Obama's speech in Cairo and all that (on which, by the way, David Bromwich has an interestingand optimistic take over at the New York Review of Books). And yet in that region, the everyday worst of things simply goes on being terrible. Gaza strangles. The West Bank settlements slowly expand. The Israeli government moves further to the right. And Hamas digs in.

On the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I undoubtedly qualify as a pessimist. I see little in the direction Israel has taken -- and Israel is the strong onein the "peace process," the party with at least the theoretical capacity to give something -- that might lead somewhere close to something resembling peace. Yet, here, too, I'm ready for the surprises of history. I welcome them whether in Iran, Israel, or the Gaza Strip. And I like it when someone like that all-around canny guy and TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus sees glimmers of hope for something new in the otherwise horrific tangle of bitterness, retribution, and hopelessness that the Israelis and Palestinians now represent. -- Tom Engelhardt

The Israel Project hired pollster Stanley Greenberg to test American opinion on the Middle East conflict -- and got a big surprise. In September 2008, 69% of Americans called themselves pro-Israel. Now, it's only 49%. In September, the same 69% wanted the U.S. to side with Israel; now, only 44%.

How to explain this dramatic shift? Greenberg himself suggested the answer years ago when he pointed out that, in politics, "a narrative is the key to everything." Last year the old narrative about the Middle East conflict was still dominant: Israel is an innocent victim, doing only what it must do to defend itself against the Palestinians. Today, that narrative is beginning to lose its grip on Americans.

Well, to be more precise, the first part of the old narrative is eroding. Nearly half the American public seems unsure that Israel is still the good guy in the Middle East showdown. But the popular image of the Palestinians as the violent bad guy is apparently as potent as ever. The number of Americans who say they support Palestine remains unchanged from last September, a mere 7%. And only 5% want the U.S. government to take such a position.

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