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8 Most Commonly Held Misconceptions About the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Too many Americans hold dangerous misconceptions about the defining conflict in the Middle East.

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Top U.S. military leaders have explained why,  in private and in public: U.S. military support for Israel endangers U.S. military interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the predominantly Muslim world. In Israel Meir Dagan, until recently head of the Mossad (Israel’s CIA), warned that Israel is gradually becoming a strategic burden on the United States.

An article in the New York Jewish Week, quoting a former staffer for AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), explained that the whole idea of “shared strategic goals” was cooked up by AIPAC in the 1970s “to persuade Republicans, who were overwhelmingly opposed to foreign aid, to vote for aid to Israel.”

In recent years the GOP has been more likely than the Democrats to approve a U.S. blank check for Israel. But that may be changing. So watch out for the next misconception:

4. “A more Republican Congress means more U.S. support for Israel’s right-wing government.”

It’s true that Republicans are usually more hawkish on Israel, even though they usually come from districts with very few Jewish voters. But more GOP influence could be bad news for the Israeli government.

Although Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has always been a stalwart friend of “anything and everything for Israel,”  she now warns that the new Republicans in Congress are again bent on slashing foreign aid, and even Israel’s aid could be “on the chopping block.” A  Reuters analysis suggested that the Dems’ midterm loss “might convince Obama he has nothing to lose and decide to lean heavily on Israel to accept painful compromises.” 

If Obama leans heavily, would the Israelis move? That brings us to the next common misconception:

5. “Israel never responds to pressure from the U.S.”

The Israeli press is constantly filled with warnings from top-drawer pundits that when push comes to shove, Israel would not dare to refuse firm orders from the Obama administration. No less a figure than Israel's President Peres bluntly  explained why: "Israel must forge good relations with other countries, primarily the United States, so as to guarantee political support in a time of need."

Even a longtime hardliner like Netanyahu bends rather than run the risk of losing U.S. support and leaving Israel alone in the world. There are  plenty of examples since Obama took office. For his whole life Netanyahu refused even to consider the possibility of a Palestinian state. Now he has publicly committed Israel to that goal. He initiated a  de facto freeze on settlement expansion well before he agreed to the official 10-month freeze. He kept up a  de facto moratorium on Jewish building in East Jerusalem for many months, too. These steps and others angered his right-wing coalition partners. But as leader of the nation he saw no choice except to cede to Obama’s demands. 

The Obama administration's pressure on Israel points to another misconception:

6. “The right-wing Israel lobby has an invincible lock on U.S. Mideast policy.”

If that were true, Obama would never have made his groundbreaking speech in Cairo, demanded the settlement expansion freeze, reprimanded the Israelis for breaking it and for building in East Jerusalem, or humiliated Netanyahu at the White House (which led a popular Israeli columnist to  write that lots of Israelis were repeating “that joke about the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes … Obama sat down on us this week.").

If the Israel lobby could control U.S. policy, Obama would have swung all his weight behind Mubarak in the recent Egyptian upheaval. But the Israelis’ plea to the White House to support Mubarak, seconded by their lobby in Washington, was  ultimately ignored by the administration. 

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