This piece originally appeared on Tom Dispatch. To listen to the author explain the history and possible future of the struggle for peace in the Middle East, click here.
Palestine as America’s next Vietnam? Like all historical analogies, it’s far from perfect. We aren’t about to send the US Army to the West Bank or Gaza to kill and die in a war that can’t be won. Where else in the world, though, is American weaponry and political power so obviously used to suppress a Viet Cong-like movement of national liberation (a bill the Taliban hardly fit)?
And what other conflict is as politically divisive as the Israeli-Palestinian one? More than the Afghan War, the struggle at the heart of the Middle East evokes the kind of powerful passions here that once marked the debate over Vietnam, pitting hawks against doves. Not that the progressive media are yet portraying it that way. They’re more likely to give us an increasingly outdated picture of an all-powerful Jewish "Israel lobby," which supposedly has a lock on US policy and dominates the rest of us.
In fact, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, the political landscape is far more complex, fluid, and unpredictable. Yes, the election day just past saw a wave of hawkish Republicans with a penchant for loving Israel to death swept into Congress, but the hawks’ amplified voice is also likely to energize a growing alliance of doves.
Religious Hawks vs. Religious Doves
This election was not a Jewish triumph. Most of the GOP congressional hawks (if they aren’t from Florida) come from constituencies with only a sprinkling of Jews. They seem eager to make Israel a symbolic test case, as if supporting the hard-line Israeli government against Obama administration "betrayal" proves their strength in protecting America.
In the wake of November 2, a prominent Israeli columnist wrote that Republicans believe in "patriotism, Judeo-Christian Values, national security…and associating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism…a worldview that is usually consistent with pro-Israel sentiments." Those are certainly "pro-Israel sentiments" as defined by the old Israel lobby that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt analyzed so sharply. That lobby still wields plenty of power with its loud media megaphone, and it will welcome the recent success of its flag-waving, fear-mongering GOP allies.
Here’s a new reality, however: The hawkish Israel lobby is no longer the true face of the Jewish community. According to midterm exit polls, most American Jews stuck with their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party and, far more important, they are visibly developing a new idea of what it means to be pro-Israel. Today, three-quarters of American Jews want the United States to lead Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution; nearly two-thirds say they’d accept Obama administration pressure on Israel to reach that goal.