When George W. Bush left the White House early this year, only Israel and its supporters felt sorry for him. For eight long years, Bush made the lives of Arab leaders a misery.

His unilateralism, pre-emption doctrine and disregard for international law have scared off numerous Arab governments.

In addition, Bush's indifferent attitude towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict embarrassed Arab leaders, exposing their inability to do anything to help the powerless Palestinians. All these issues have made Bush quite unpopular in Arab political circles.

Today, there is a different president in Washington. Barack Obama seems intent on establishing better relations with the Arab and Islamic world.

He also believes in multilateralism and international institutions. More importantly, perhaps, he seems intensely focused on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and establishing a Palestinian state.

Unsurprisingly, this has made him very unpopular among Israelis, and there has been strong criticism of Obama from the pro-Israel lobby in the US.

One would naturally expect that Arab governments would rush to support Obama. But is that really happening?

For the past four decades, the pro-Israel lobby in the US has been relentlessly advocating Israel's interests in Washington. It succeeded at times in constraining or encouraging certain US policies in the Middle East. What did the Arabs do?

Traditionally, some Arab governments - the oil-producing countries in particular - have relied on the support of big oil companies to influence US policy in the Middle East.

Over the years, oil companies have sought to support stable, moderate and more conservative governments in the Arab world. Any government or leader espousing nationalisation or independence was feared and opposed.

Indeed, while oilmen and politicians in the US have not always addressed the same concerns, their policy preferences have tended to coincide in the Middle East, where the US government has also abhorred revolutionary and nationalist governments.

This coincidence in preference has given the oil industry in the US the appearance of influence. Hence, Arab governments have sought to establish strong ties with oilmen and, through contracts, joint ventures and donations, they have tried to influence US policy.

Since the end of the Cold War and particularly after the September 11 attacks, the US government not only felt that it no longer needed the support of conservative Arab governments, but it also believed that their very existence contributed to instability and insecurity.

The lesson of September 11 was that authoritarianism breeds desperation and desperation breeds terrorism. In an environment where security became a top priority, Arabs lost their only tool to influence US foreign policy, as the oil industry found itself in no position to defend the status quo in the Middle East.

So far, Arab governments have not tried to compensate for this loss in influence. Because most of them do not believe in democracy, Arab governments could not see that they have a better and more influential tool to affect US foreign policy and also counter-balance the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington: the Arab community in the US.

Arab Americans, approximately five-and-a-half million strong, have not traditionally been intensely involved in politics, in part because of many of them are recent arrivals and also as a result of the circumstances under which they left their own countries.

Most Arab Americans, or their forefathers, were forced to immigrate to the US for political and economic reasons. Some wanted to forget the bad memories they had left behind and establish a new life in a new environment.

Others remained committed to their original causes but were weakened by their division, which resulted from adopting the official policies of their governments.

However, the September 11 attacks and the ensuing policies of the Bush administration have awakened most of them and accelerated their ethnic awareness.

Arab-Americans have begun to speak out for Arab causes, especially on the Palestinian question and in opposition to US policy towards Arabs and Muslims in general.

This ethnic awareness and increasing involvement in politics have passed unnoticed by Arab governments. Arab groups and organisations in the US are today in a very strong position to influence US policy in the Middle East.

They need moral and material support to mobilise their forces and unite their positions. More important, perhaps, they need to be convinced that the conditions that forced them to leave their original countries have changed and that Arab policies are worth fighting for, lobbying for and standing up for.

Otherwise, the pro-Israel lobby will eventually succeed in undermining Obama's attempt to improve relations with the Islamic world and adopt more even-handed policies towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations at the faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.