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Despite Israel lobby people in US feel no attachment to Jewish state, Mearsheimer says

Although the Israel lobby is so powerful in the US — itself the most powerful state on the globe — that no American president has so far taken issue with it, abundant evidence shows that the American people may be favorably inclined towards Israel, despite feeling no special attachment to it, says well-known international relations theorist John Mearsheimer.

“Sixty-five percent of Americans think that the US should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only 30 percent favor taking sides with Israel, and 50 percent say the US should not defend Israel if it is attacked by its neighbors. If asked what the US should do if Israel attacks and Iran retaliates against Israel, 59 percent say we should not enter the war on the Israeli side. Only 38 percent say we should come to Israel’s aid,” Mearsheimer said in a speech at the İstanbul-based Koç University, assessing a survey of public opinion in the United States released last month by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Nevertheless, Mearsheimer remarked, Barack Obama, president of the most powerful nation on the planet, does not prevail on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu every time Israel and Palestine clash, although Israel relies on the US’s material and diplomatic support. He went on to say: “We [the US] should have a massive bargaining leverage in a deal with Israel, but we do not. Instead, Netanyahu has the upper hand over Obama, and the reason for this unprecedented situation is the lobby, which takes sides with Israel against the US when the two sides have conflicting interests.”

Obama is facing a presidential election and fears losing the support of the Jewish community in the United States. He has quickly backed off from pressure on Israel and instead decided to support Israel unreservedly, said Mearsheimer, adding, “Not surprisingly, the Obama administration hardly talks on the Palestinian-Israel issue, and is not so active to put pressure on Israel to allow Palestinians to have a viable state on their own.”

Obama’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue enraged Palestinian officials, who lashed out at the president for taking a pro-Israel position to win the votes of the US Jewish population. “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring,” Obama said at the assembly two weeks ago. He also referred to the issue of Palestinian statehood, saying that regional peace would not come through UN resolutions, in remarks perceived to privilege Israel over Palestine.

Referring to the Israel lobby as a remarkably powerful interest group within the American political system, Mearsheimer said it shapes US policy in the Middle East in profound ways.

“Specifically, it is the principal reason why no American government, including the Obama administration, has been able to put meaningful pressure on Israel to stop building settlements in the occupied territories and allow Palestinians to have a viable state of their own,” Mearsheimer noted, adding that every American president since 1967 has opposed settlement building in the occupied territories but that none has been able to put serious pressure on Israel to stop building, much less to dismantle them.

“When Israel pursues policies that are detrimental to American interests the lobby invariably sides with Israel and puts enormous pressure on US policymakers to support Israel no matter what. It is extremely difficult for any American president to get tough with Israel when it takes action that harms the US,” Mearsheimer commented.

“The lobby is the main reason the US is contemplating using military force against Iranian nuclear facilities,” said Mearsheimer, adding that without the Israel lobby in the US the Jewish state would not be able to push the US towards a war in the Middle East, as it is now trying to do.

Predicting the future of Middle East policy given the activities of the Israel lobby in the United States, Mearsheimer said that little is going to change, whether President Obama wins a second term or Mitt Romney moves to the White House to take his place.



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