Many have been arguing for years that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to improving the United States' status in Arab countries and among the world's Muslims. Not only Arabs and Muslims are making this claim. Administration officials in Washington and many in the American media and academia, and even among the Jews, as well as central figures in Europe and in other countries, believe that only a "more neutral" policy and American pressure on Israel to end the conflict will restore the US status in our region.
"The Israeli control and Jewish lobby" in Washington have turned long ago into a main theory, allegedly explaining the shaky position of the US in the Arab world. The anger and hatred towards America in the "Arab street," which cheers terror attacks in the West, are explained as an understandable response to the "one-sided" policy of the US.
In Washington I met politicians and senior government workers who asserted (mostly quietly) that "internal politics (Jews) damages the national interest and the status of the US in the Middle East." Even President Obama has been warned by liberals, including former President Carter and his National Security Advisor Brzezinski, and by Republicans, like the national security advisor of former President Bush Sr., that a policy biased towards Israel is dangerous for America. This has been said recently also in regards to the Iranian issue.
Yet reviewing the events of the past two years in the region proves the limitation of the thesis maintaining that America's status in the Arab world is determined mainly in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. It is in the era of Obama, many of whose associates tend to adopt the idea that the road to the Arabs' heart lies in a "just solution" to the conflict, that the US finds itself at a low point: Despised, disgraced and spineless in the Arab world. This situation has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian arena, although senior administration officials still believe in that.
In Egypt the Americans lost the army, the government system and the public not because of the Palestinian issue, but because of a deep lack of understanding of internal issues while sticking to values and rhetoric detached from the sequence of events. The grim result is that many in Egypt no longer see America as the symbol of freedom and don't trust it as a reliable ally.
Arabs and Muslims in the world are also looking at desistence of the US in the face of the killings in Syria, and even its allies – Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf countries – are "contemplating" their relations with Washington and the ability of the US to face radical Islamic forces.
Aaron Miller, who served as a senior worker at the State Department for years and was one of the most prominent American figures in the Oslo process, claimed recently in the New York Times that the Obama administration was directly responsible for the serious US entrapment in Egypt due to a deep failure in combining values and interests. In his opinion, America acting in a confused and dangerous manner is threatening the cooperation between Israel and the Arabs, and not the other way around.
The well-known scholar Fouad Ajami went a bit too far when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Obama's conduct is similar to that of Gamal Abdel Nasser; both being "charismatic figures sweeping crowds onto an imagined redeemer" which leaves destruction.
It's possible that solving the conflict with the Palestinians will let off some of the anti-American steam among the masses of frustrated Arabs. But it's hard to believe that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is the key to restoring the shaky position of the US in the region.
Still, this troubling reality should not be interpreted in Jerusalem erroneously, as if the issue of peace is marginal in our region. On the contrary: The weakened status of the US in the Middle East obligates us to move towards an agreement with maximum determination, in order to establish better relations with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
An agreement with the Palestinians, if achievable, may not improve America's status in the region, but is critical for us.