For a succession of American presidents, Israeli prime ministers have been renowned bearers of bad tidings. They stride into the Oval Office with military and intelligence officers in tow and then, with bone-chilling charts and photographs, and proceed to warn the leader of the free world of the dangers facing US interests in the Middle East.It is a pitch that has proven remarkably successful over the years. American presidents are reminded of what a bad "neighbourhood" the Middle East is. They are also reminded that Israel is an indispensable cop for maintaining order on this beat.
As America's largest pro-Israel lobbying group begins its annual meeting today in Washington, however, it is a good time for a clear-eyed assessment of the costs and benefits of the US-Israeli relationship. It also is a good time for those listening in to note who else is on the beat.In the United States, Israel is usually portrayed by its most vocal supporters as the front-line in the war against terrorism. Its overt and covert activities are said to protect and advance American interests here.
We in the Arab world have a sharply different view of the US-Israeli relationship. It has tarnished America's image and the values it espouses, especially with regards to the Palestinians. Washington's deference to Israel has undermined its claim to be an "honest broker" in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Finally, it has even cost the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the US vice president Joe Biden reportedly told the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Congressional leaders are now urging the Obama administration to settle its differences with Mr Netanyahu quietly for fear that further public squabbles will detract from the problems posed by Iran's nuclear programme. It would be unfortunate if this argument prevailed. For too long, US-Israeli ties have been monochrome, reflecting mostly the interests of the Israeli premier's right-wing Likud party.
In calling for a reassessment of US-Israeli relations, we do not seek to drive a wedge between Washington and a long-time friend. We recognise that Israel will remain a close - even "special" - friend of the US. We merely ask for the same courtesy. Israel and her supporters should refrain from efforts to drive a wedge between Washington and her Arab friends by pandering to the general fear and ignorance some Americans harbour about Arabs and Islam.
We urge Americans to remember that a "special" relationship is not the same as an exclusive one. Washington has other friends in the Middle East. It has intelligence-sharing arrangements with Arab governments, and there are at least four nations in the Gulf where the US has pre-positioned military equipment. They are special, too.