Gen. David Petraeus caused a bit of a storm recently when he linked the impasse in Middle East peacemaking ("impasse" might be too soft a word, actually) to various difficulties America faces in the Muslim world: "Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."
Important voices in the pro-Israel community criticized Petraeus for this statement, but earlier today I spoke to the leader of a Jewish organization who said he agreed with Petraeus's analysis. This leader spoke to me on condition of anonymity because he said his membership might not be as "advanced" on this issue as he is. This is a person well-known in the Jewish community, whose name would be familiar to regular readers of either Tablet Magazine or Stephen Walt's blog ravings. I encouraged him to speak to his membership on this issue, and he said he would. This is what he told me about Petraeus's testimony:
"General Petraeus is right. We can't get around that. He is, essentially, the American ambassador to the Arab world, and to the Muslim world beyond it. The State Department has ambassadors on the ground, but Petraeus is something above ambassador, and when he goes around the Middle East he meets ferquently with heads of state, and from what I understand, he hears quite often about settlements on the West Bank and about what the Arabs call Israeli intransigence, and occasionally his interlocutors answer his requests for help on various issues by saying, 'Let's see what you guys do on the Palestinian question and then we'll see what we can do for you on your problems.'
"Is there hypocrisy here? Of course there's hypocrisy. Does the average Arab leader care about the Palestinians? If they cared, they would have bought them new houses with their oil money a long tim ago. But they know that their people, thanks to al Jazeera, care, and are aware of the situation on the ground, and they know that America is Israel's prime benefactor. The point is, the perception of israeli intransigence makes it seem like the deck is stacked against the Arabs and considering that we need the Arabs for oil, to stand against Iran, for all kinds of things, it's Israel's job to help its main ally unstack that deck a little. Petraeus was just telling the truth about the on-the-ground reality."