KERRY BOYD ANDERSONSeptember 27, 2021 23:44166
The US House of Representatives last week voted overwhelmingly to approve $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, with the legislation opposed by only a few Democratic members, who cited criticisms of Israel’s human rights record. However, the vote highlighted a shift within the Democratic Party, which now includes several vocal critics of Israel — a small number, but more than in recent decades.
Meanwhile, a survey of Middle East experts has also demonstrated a significant shift in views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within academia. Earlier this month, the University of Maryland and George Washington University released a survey of 557 Middle East specialists that primarily drew on academic scholars, with 72 percent based in the US and the remainder outside the country.
The study found that 57 percent of respondents said that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible. The researchers noted that this represents a 5 percent increase since the previous survey in February. Forty percent said that a two-state outcome remains “possible,” but is “improbable within the next 10 years,” while only 3 percent view it as possible and probable. This expert assessment is at odds with the Biden administration’s policy to support a two-state solution. However, senior Biden officials have expressed pessimism about making progress any time soon.
A clear majority, 65 percent, of the experts said that the Israeli-Palestinian situation today most closely reflects “a one-state reality akin to apartheid.” The next largest group, at 27 percent, said it reflects a “semi-permanent occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Only 1 percent compared it to two unequal states and 1 percent to a temporary occupation.
This finding is particularly timely, as the recent House vote on Iron Dome sparked a public spat among Democrats on whether it is acceptable to compare Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid. Rep. Rashida Tlaib referred to Palestinians living under a “violent apartheid system.” Along with other critics, Rep. Ted Deutch said that he “cannot allow” a House member to “label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state” and suggested that doing so was anti-Semitic.
While the comparison to apartheid remains extremely controversial in Congress, the survey suggests that many academic experts accept it as accurate. Researchers noted that the percentage of experts who see the situation as similar to apartheid increased from 59 percent in February to 65 percent.
While the comparison to apartheid remains extremely controversial in Congress, the survey suggests that many academic experts accept it as accurate.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
The reason for the increase is unclear, but the researchers said that the protests over the eviction of Palestinians in Jerusalem and renewed fighting with Gaza may have drawn attention to the Palestinians’ plight. They added that important reports from the human rights groups B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch might have played a role. It also is possible that the increase reflects the willingness of high-profile members of Congress to use the term, as well as longer-term shifts in US discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The experts also weighed in on other regional issues, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A large majority, 69 percent, said that returning to the nuclear deal with Iran, in its existing form, would make it less likely that the Iranian regime could acquire “a nuclear weapon in the next 10 years.”
Similarly, 65 percent of respondents said it would be in US interests to “return immediately” to the JCPOA. However, 30 percent of experts suggested that the US should “negotiate a grand bargain” that would address other concerns about Iran’s regional behavior. Only 4 percent advocated for a return to a “maximum pressure” campaign and only 1 percent for military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
While a majority of the experts support a return to the JCPOA, 35 percent said that it is less likely to happen now, compared with six months ago. This suggests some disappointment with how the Biden administration has handled negotiations so far, especially since 46 percent of the experts who feel that the likelihood has decreased blamed the US (compared with 33 percent who blamed both parties and 18 percent who blamed Iran). Meanwhile, 39 percent of experts see little change in prospects for the JCPOA compared with six months ago, and 25 percent see an improved likelihood.
The impact of the survey is debatable. While the Biden administration is more open to expertise than some previous administrations, there is a long history of Washington policymakers ignoring Middle East academics. However, the project co-directors, Shibley Telhami and Marc Lynch, are well-known experts within the Washington foreign policy community and are well positioned to use the survey to help inform policymakers’ understanding of the region.
Bringing a broader range of expert views into Washington’s policymaking on the Middle East would be a positive change, regardless of whether one agrees with the survey’s findings. The US made hugely consequential mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq, partly through a lack of expertise and by explicitly ignoring the expertise that was available. Incorporating a range of expert views into policymaking could help lead to better decisions in the future.
* Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 16 years’ experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk.
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