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'Arab governments should establish links with Israel lobby in Washington'.

Byline: Arab-American bloc lacks influence in US as it is more fractured than its rival, say writers.

Dubai: Contacts between Arab governments and the Israel lobby could play a role in moderating the lobby's hardline positions on the Middle East, said the authors of a controversial book about the influence of the lobby in the United States.

"I think it would be all for the good if Arab states had positive relations with the [Israel] lobby... but it's imperative that they not forget the Palestinians' plight. At the same time they need to go to great lengths to put pressure on the lobby, on the US government and on Arab governments in Egypt and Jordan to do everything possible to facilitate a two-state solution," said John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and co-author of the book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.

Mearsheimer and co-author Stephen Walt, professor of political science at Harvard University, were speaking to Gulf News as part of a regional tour to promote their book.

The authors have faced a significant amount of criticism for claims made about the lobby's power in the United States, with some calling them conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and Arab apologists.

Asked if Arab governments were realising the influence of the Israel lobby in the United States, Mearsheimer said that it was "hardly a surprise" that Arab and Muslim states were talking to the lobby and establishing contacts with it. "They understand that the lobby has a profound influence on US Middle East policy and therefore affects their relations with Washington," he said.

Walt added that there was evidence of recent coordination between Arab governments and the lobby, citing a major US arms sale deal with an Arab government which the lobby agreed not to oppose as long as it was "linked to a new $30 billion (Dh110 billion), 10-year deal with Israel".

"It was clear that groups like [the pro-Israel] AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] were involved in putting that together. They would not fight the package with [the Arab state] as long as they got their side [of the deal] with Israel," he said, inferring that the lack of significant resistance from the lobby was pre-arranged between the lobby and the Arab state "because those are the political realities in Washington".

Walt noted that contacts between Arab countries and the lobby could be productive in advancing peace between Israel and its neighbours as they could "lead the lobby to move to more moderate positions regarding Israel".

Asked about how likely the Arab-American lobby was to gain influence in American politics, Mearsheimer said there was no comparison between the Arab and Israel lobbies. The Arab-American lobby lacks influence in the US because it is more "fractured" than the Israel lobby, and because the Arab community in the US comprises of recent immigrants who have yet to become fully assimilated into mainstream American society, he said.

"But the discourse is changing. More young Arab-Americans are speaking out on college campuses in ways that was not the case in the past. This tells you that Arab-Americans are becoming more integrated into the mainstream the way Jews were 30 or 40 years ago," he said.

One of the ways to curb the influence of the lobby, the authors have suggested, would be the establishment of a new Israel lobby that would promote the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and realise that Israel's current policies would lead it to become "an apartheid state".

The authors said it was too early to pass judgment on the recently established Jewish lobby in Washington, J-Street, which considers itself pro-Israel and pro-peace, but stressed that it was evidence of a realisation in the American-Jewish community that the status quo in the Middle East is counter-productive for Israel.

"They've begun to realise that what Israel needs is peace and that is going to require a viable Palestinian state. Without it, there is not going to be any peace," he added.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 16, 2008
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