The most pessimistic Arab could never imagine the day would come when a US official would say, if “he covered the faces of top officials he met during the recent trip to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, and listened to their perceptions on the issues and future of the Middle East, he would not be able to differentiate between the Saudi, Emirati and Israeli. Their views are the same on these issues.”
This picture is not only bleak because Israeli and Gulf interests are the same, but because separate efforts to pressure the US administration into adopting positions that support this united regional vision are being expressed by Arabs in Washington. This is done through repeated praise (so far privately) and heavy reliance on activism by the Israeli lobby. A US expert justifies this situation by saying, “Israel, along with Arab Gulf states, has been the oasis of stability in the Middle East since the start of the Arab Spring three years ago. Naturally, they share the same concerns and fears about the elements of instability surrounding them.”
These adversaries come together on very general goals, such as not wanting Bashar Al-Assad’s regime to make any gains in the civil war in Syria, and that the west does not reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Also, that Egypt does not become a failed state and no democratic regime succeeds in the Arab region.
Last month, the annual meeting of AIPAC – the most powerful Jewish lobby in the US – was attended by nearly 14,000 people, making it the largest conference in the US capital. The conference focused on several issues, most notably how to handle Iran as 5+1 negotiations continue to resolve its nuclear issue. Discussions noted grave concern over the possibility of reaching an interim agreement that would end the sanctions regime, and lead to normalising relations between the west, US and Iran. AIPAC believes if this happened, Tehran will automatically win. Saudi Arabia agrees with AIPAC.
For many other reasons, both camps want to block this scenario by putting pressure through sanctions by Congress, despite White House objections. More importantly, there are repeated rumours about Iran’s influence in the Arab Mashreq (east) as Tehran plays a greater role in the Syrian conflict. There are also repeated statements that Iran’s Islamic regime has expanded to reach the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s borders.
The Gulf and Israeli adversaries are not allowing the US administration to come up for breath on Iran by highlighting the wide gap between the White House and Congress on the issue. They are also convincing Congress members to continue pressuring US President Barack Obama until it becomes impossible to reach any agreement with Iran.
The Israeli lobby believes that Hamas’s weaknesses – because of losing its Syrian ally and Gulf funds as well as the rising hostility in Egypt – is a key development that must be exploited because it makes for an opportune moment to reach peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. There are many calling for Gulf states and Egypt to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a US framework agreement for peace between the two sides.
The ambitions of the Israeli lobby go even further. Many are calling to amend the Arab peace initiative proposed in 2002 by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, which suggested creating a globally recognised Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, the return of refugees and complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights. In return, there would be Arab recognition and normalisation with Israel. Today’s calls assert that any talk of withdrawing from the Golan Heights is a waste of time, and that the Palestinian leadership itself is open to ideas about the problem of the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Accordingly, the initiative should be revised and, naturally, Arabs – including Egyptians – should stop mentioning anything about halting settlement building in the West Bank, "right of return" or even the future of Jerusalem.
Glover Park Group (the lobby firm with which Egypt’s interim government signed a contract six months ago) is competing with stronger, wealthier and more versatile lobby groups to influence Congress members, their aides, key officials in the US administration and media.
AIPAC has not missed a chance to press on Congress the need to support the Egyptian army through continuing military aid. After hundreds of Egyptians died during the dispersal of the sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda, the US administration was forced to suspend some military assistance. AIPAC, however, sent a letter to all members of Congress protesting the measure, claiming the step would increase instability in Egypt, threaten vital US interests and negatively impact its key ally in the region, Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel asked Washington not to reduce assistance to the Egyptian army in anticipation of its impact on Israel’s security, or deterioration of security conditions in Sinai. After the suspension of aid, several Israeli officials visited Washington to highlight the risks of such a step on Israel’s security and its negative impact on regional security issues in the Middle East.
Gulf countries adopt the same position – rejecting any pressure on the Egyptian government and demanding the return of the entire military package to Egypt. It is noteworthy that the managing director of the lobby group hired by the Egyptian government is Arik Ben-Zvi, a former officer in the Israeli army, an Israeli citizen who served in the Israeli army and a campaign adviser in several elections in Israel. The firm also works with Apple and Coca Cola, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is its top foreign client.
Thus, Arabs in Washington are immersed in playing a role that does not in any way confront Israel or its lobby group. Arabs decided to exchange what needs to be done in the world’s most important capital with an easy agenda, namely confronting their domestic political opponents and historic neighbours.
The writer is the correspondent for Al-Shorouk newspaper in Washington, D.C.