Friday, February 4, 2011

Egyptian turmoil complicates Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Today's WaPo explores the implications of the advent of a more democratic government in Egypt for the "peace process" between Israeli and Palestinian representatives.  The sense seems to have taken hold that, with Egypt's future orientation likely to be less accommodating to Israel and with Jordan's King Abdullah under pressure to open the political process (which would surely allow in Islamist groups, likewise cool on cooperating with Israel), and with Hezbullah now calling the shots in Lebanon, Netanyahu needs to go slowly with any kind of peace process proposal that might call upon Israel to sacrifice "strategic depth" by handing back portions of the West Bank to Arab control.

In other words, the feeling seems to be: hunker down behind the "Iron Wall" (to borrow the concept espoused by Zionist Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky and analyzed in abundant historical detail by historian Avi Shlaim in his book of the same name) - and behind the steel-and-concrete separation wall that walls off Israel from much of the West Bank (as well as gobbles up chunks of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the wall); and depend on the IDF and the US's political and financial patronage to protect the realm.

Mr. Netanyahu needs to keep in mind some facts that he may find inconvenient:

  • Even with its economy slowly recovering, the US's patronage may soon begin to shrink.  At this point, new Senator Rand Paul's call for an end to US aid to Israel is a lone voice in the Congressional wilderness, but with the US still spending millions every day in Afghanistan and (to a lesser extent, Iraq), facing a major rebuilding of its infrastructure, from roads to schools, and (according to Sec Def Robert Gates) faced with cutting defense spending, the money for Israel may soon not be there, at least in the huge heaps that Israel once could count on.
  • 60 years of its "Iron Wall" strategy - intimidating and crushing its neighbors, enforcing a draconian occupation over hundreds of thousands of West Bank and Gaza Arabs, and ignoring the legitimate rights of the hundreds of thousands more who were dispossessed over the past 60+ years - have effectively made Israel a pariah in the region.  Even if the regimes in Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel, the fact of the matter is that, largely due to the conditions under which it was created in 1948 and the severity of its policies ever since, Israel has few friends among the people of the region.  Some of that is due to a pernicious, disgusting anti-Semitism that unfortunately flourishes among some elements of Arab society.  (Unfortunately, Jewish settlers in Hebron and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories - not to mention Israel's current foreign minister - have reciprocated that racist hatred, very unhelpfully.)  But an even larger reason for Israel's lack of friends "on the ground" stems from the continuing reality that the dispossessed and occupied Arabs of Palestine have been accorded no justice by Israel (or, for that matter, from its American patron or most of the West, for all their harping on democracy and human rights).  It's become a worn bumper-sticker aphorism, but it's no less true: No justice, no peace.

When your actions have made your neighbors hostile to the point of wanting to force you out of the neighborhood, you have three basic options:

  • hunker down and await rescue from some outsider.
  • go on the offensive and bully your neighbors even more (in which case, you need to have an eye on your back at all times)
  • reach out to your neighbors, talk with them, and come to a scrupulously fair and equitable modus vivendi that may well entail real accommodations, even concessions.

The third option may require the most courage, but in the long haul, it is by far the best solution.  It's also the only one of the three that offers the potential that, perhaps years down the road, everyone unlocks their doors, even begins to leave them ajar, and just maybe,  welcomes each other to come over, spend some time together.  Everyone moves around the neighborhood freely.

I know, I know - at this point, those of you of a certain age (and who were regular viewers of Saturday Night Live) would be waiting for Steve Martin to pause and then say, "Nyaaah!" But shucks, what's the harm in being positive?

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