"I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed" ... US President Barack Obama. Photo: Reuters
WASHINGTON: We have yet to see the mettle of Barack Obama in his second term as US President, but it will be intriguing to watch how he sustains Washington's support for Israel in the coming four years - or not.
Absolute support has been the default position of American politics for decades. But might this President see that the geopolitical reconfiguring of the Middle East in the past two years makes that historic position untenable?
The Arab Spring was a bolt from the blue - an event that most who monitor the Middle East didn't see coming. But in it, millions of defenceless Arabs found the courage to rise to meet and to grasp the soaring rhetoric of Obama's famous Cairo speech delivered in June 2009.
The President's visit to Cairo in 2009. Photo: Reuters
It was brilliant stuff. You remember the lines - ''I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.''
In the aftermath of the Cold War, multibillion-dollar aid cheques for Egypt and Jordan were the quid pro quo for peace treaties with Israel that were empty, save for proving the viability of a peace process that went nowhere. The region's other dictators and jumped-up monarchs were offered arms deals and other indulgences, like a blind eye from the leaders of the free world to the oppression and abuse of whole populations.
Amid all this wheeling and dealing, all parties - Israel, the Washington-sponsored Palestinian Authority and most of the regional neighbours - dutifully managed the occupation rather than worked to end it.
In that context, it was too easy to dismiss the voice of resistance coming from the regimes in Damascus and Tehran and the armed resistance from Hamas in the Occupied Territories as an Axis of Evil-type operation. They were the outlier wreckers at the peace-process party, weren't they?
But the Arab Spring has radically altered all that.
As democratically elected governments finesse their grip on the levers of power in Cairo, Tunisia and Tripoli, the days are numbered for the dictator of Damascus and even the King of Jordan finds his throne is wobbling these days.
If Israel invades Gaza, it would be impossible for both Cairo and Amman to stand by their peace treaties with what the Arab media often refer to as ''the Zionist entity''.
In Egypt, public opinion is so massively with the Palestinians that it would be political suicide for Mohammed Mursi, democratically elected to replace a dictator who sold his soul and the will of his people to Washington, to agree to American pleas to cop it for the sake of the billions sent his way each year.
Similarly in Jordan, the Arab Spring has finally caught up with King Abdullah. With his cities engulfed in protests, this is no time for him to stand by a treaty that his father, the late King Hussein, imposed on the people, as much as he loves collecting the aid cheques.
This is the context in which Obama administration officials are briefing the American media on fears that Israel is playing into the hands of Hamas - escalating a conflict in which it is poised to demonstrate again its preference for short-term tactical gains over long-term strategic outcomes.
So far this time, Israel and Washington are following the old script - Israel says it has a right to do what it does, the US backs it and the next time the Israeli Prime Minister is in town, he can expect another 27 standing ovations from a joint sitting of Congress.
But as Washington continues its support, either by selective silence or open endorsement of Israeli actions, it won't have the benefit of silence or muted indifference from the region's capitals.
These days there is a parade into Gaza by senior officials from governments which in the old days were complicit in the US-sponsored management of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The parade is an embarrassment Washington will find increasingly difficult to manage.