In the past year, the Obama administration made ameliorating Palestinian perceptions of injustice a priority, strong-arming Israel to impose a ban on Jews moving to the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem. Only the policy hasn’t helped the administration’s plan to reconvene peace talks. Far from it: the U.S. having raised the demand, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority duly adopted it as a precondition and has refused to negotiate until Israel accedes to it.
The track record of policies designed to appease Arab and Muslim perceptions is provably poor, inasmuch as the irrationality, suspicion, and hatred that they seek to validate are impervious to facts.
Polls show, for example, that neither Egyptians nor Palestinians like America more despite being recipients of ever-rising levels of American largesse. Saudis have scant affection for the U.S. after decades of Washington’s fawning deference. Nor has Muslim opinion been perceptibly altered by the most striking examples of American aid and succor given to Muslims: in Bosnia in 1999, or in Indonesia after the 2005 southeast Asian tsunami.
Even Barack Obama is the partial exception that proves the rule: his popularity among Muslims after a year of strenuous outreach is limited relative to the rest of the world. His approach has not translated into Iranian mellowing or Arab gestures to Israel, two objectives he publicly sought to achieve in return for emollient diplomacy towards Muslims coupled with pressure towards Israelis.
More to the point, such popularity as Obama enjoys in the Muslim world is likely to be deeply conditional. With Obama unable to deliver an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that does not lie in his gift, or to pull out of Afghanistan, or to ignore what occurs in neighboring Pakistan, Arab and Muslim perceptions of Obama can be expected to erode over time. At present, he reportedly has the confidence of just 13% of Pakistanis — hardly a significant improvement over his predecessor’s 9%.
Lying behind the recurrent urge to adopt policies conditioned on what Arabs and Muslims perceive are many things, both general (fear of Muslim groups with a proven track record of violence; political correctness) and particular (rationalizing anti-American or anti-Jewish hatreds). But fear and rationalizing hostility offer no outlet: as in Palestine in 1930, it is a low level of statesmanship that caters to these, one that dooms its practitioners.