Bad As Israel’s Situation Is, It May Well Get Worse
Tue, 06/07/2011
Gary Rosenblatt
Gary Rosenblatt

You remember the “Jewish telegram?” It reads: “Start worrying. Details to follow.”

In other words, welcome to the new Middle East.

Assessing what to make of the turbulent region and Israel’s place in it at a moment of great concern about the direction of the Arab Spring and the push for Palestinian statehood depends on your degree of pessimism.

The optimal outlook is that the Arab world is on the road to democracy — but that it could take decades to get there and will be bumpy and full of setbacks and surprises along the way.

And that’s the good news.

The psychic toll on all who love Israel has been heavy of late as we witness a stepped-up and multipronged assault on Jerusalem’s very legitimacy. To be honest, I didn’t want to write another column about the Mideast this week. I felt I needed a break, and that maybe you did, too. But pressing events, and conversations with a number of experts and analysts in recent days pulled me back.

Let me be clear: I believe that Israel is unfairly maligned and held to a double standard by the international community, and that the primary reason there has been no peace with the Palestinians is that the Palestinians refuse to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own. Israel has every right to defend itself, and must continue to do so, as it did on Sunday when Syria allowed Palestinians to try to storm the border.

That said, I also believe that a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to remain both a Jewish and democratic state, and that time is not on Israel’s side.

If the status quo continues, the prospects for the next few months are grim and predictable. The combination of United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state this fall — legally binding or not — and increasingly large and frequent mass marches by unarmed Palestinians on Israel’s borders from every direction will lead to a dangerously isolated Jewish state, one that is threatened diplomatically, economically and on moral grounds. This, in turn, will set the stage for stronger Israel-as-an-apartheid-state comparisons and continued delegitimization efforts through international institutions.

That’s not a nightmare scenario. That’s a realistic view of what’s coming our way very soon. The issue isn’t whether it’s fair for Israel to be treated this way. It’s not, and that’s infuriating. But the practical question remains: what, if anything, can be done to prevent it?

While the vote at the UN General Assembly in September in favor of a Palestinian state is a foregone conclusion, as is a U.S. veto in the Security Council, the battle now is over how the more than two dozen European states will vote.

Israel can live with the Arab and Third World states casting mindless votes for a Palestinian state. But for countries like England, France and Germany — allies and key trade partners — to go along with the tide would be crushing defeat for Jerusalem.

The irony is that despite the bad blood between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as evidenced by their recent verbal jousting in Washington, it was the president who defended the prime minister at the G-8 meeting last week. In pushing hard for a rejection of the Palestinian UN initiative, Obama is said to have countered strong criticism of the Israeli leader from European heads of state who complained that Netanyahu is arrogant and untrustworthy.

It may well be that they’ve harbored those feelings for awhile, and unfairly, but the Netanyahu visit to the U.S. didn’t help in the effort to ward off the UN showdown and coax Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

On the peace talks front, Israel’s dilemma becomes even more complicated. Consider the Catch-22 it finds itself in: unwilling, and not expected, to deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, yet urged to re-start negotiations anyway.

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Elliott Abrams, an astute foreign policy analyst, noted the “incoherence” of Obama’s message in his May 22 AIPAC speech:

“We know that peace demands a partner,” Obama told the AIPAC delegates, “which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist... But the march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations — will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.”

Observed Abrams: “So Israel cannot be expected to negotiate and it must start negotiating.”

While Abrams is correct, so is Obama, like it or not. The slim middle ground between their positions is in Israeli leaders sitting down with Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, soon, while they are still in control, in an effort to avert the UN showdown and keep Hamas out of the process. I don’t think it will happen, though, because neither Jerusalem nor Fatah seem interested in negotiating at this point — understandable in the short term, but deeply worrying long term.

Three Mideast experts addressed these and other regional issues on Thursday evening at a forum at Park Avenue Synagogue sponsored by American Friends of Tel Aviv University and The Jewish Week.

Judith Kipper, director of the Institute of World Affairs’ Middle East Programs, asserted that Israel has “a strategic imperative” to withdraw from the West Bank, and expressed confidence that Egypt, seeking stability, would prevent Hamas violence against Israel.

Both Uzi Rabi, director of Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, and David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace and a former editor of The Jerusalem Post, were more wary, noting the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and the populist anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt.

The panelists agreed that despite the possible inherent dangers of a peace initiative, if Israel remains passive at this point, waiting to see how the Arab revolution plays out, the outcome might be worse.

The message is clear: Jerusalem and Washington must work together with renewed urgency to ensure that the current situation doesn’t spiral down into violence.

E-mail: Gary@jewishweek.org.

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Comments

As an Oleh Chadash, I do not lose any sleep over "the psychic toll" on "all who love Israel". I do lose sleep over the family of Gilad Schalit, who has, against all international law, been held incommunicado for five years. What would the World say if Bibi made the freedom of Schalit a prerequisite for negotiations?
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing. The status quo finds Israel, and Israeli's, thriving. There is more concern in Israel about the Doctor's job action than about peace with the Arabs, because most Israeli's recognize that there will be peace whenever the Arabs want peace. No magic formula will make that happen. And no sanctions will be effective against a country whose technological innovations are vital to every countries economic growth.

I read through the Bermigo plan (mentioned in the post above by GM). It seemed rather bitter to Israel, but apparently was formulated by an Israeli and was very fair to both Israel and Palestine.

It would take a strong American leader to both agree to the plan and to get Europe on board. Obama hasn't shown himself to be that leader. Clinton is trying to bail out, like most in Obama's regime, and I don't see a Kissinger on the horizon. It's either going to take new leadership or a Kissinger-type that Obama listens to.

It just took one great leader like Sadat with a new viewpoint to bring about the first peace treaty. A Sadat-type in America, Israel, or Palestine might bring about this peace deal.

It's somewhat like the hudna that Hamas suggested and so if Israel is in, Palestine might agree.

A continuing fatal flaw in the decades of our status quo is ubiquitious Group Think where all our "Mideast Experts" like AIPAC, Eliott Abrams, Richard Pearle are Jewish and regularly consulted via scheduled same group events, email and speed dials. Rarely do any of our so-called "experts" consult or interact or try to understand the status quo of Palestinians and their supporters. Consult and interact with the real other povs and integrate those learnings into your thinking and understandings leading to real solutions based on realities and facts, not emotional history and friends.

It's clear that sanctions against will intensify over the next few years, and that Israel's continued rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank is not tenable. However, neither is a peace deal between Israel and Palestine tenable.

Israel's best shot is getting the Bermigo package polled - it's the one package that Palestinians MIGHT wall-to-wall comply live with, thereby enabling Israel to evacuate the West Bank without Palestinians continuing to attack her afterwards. See www.bermigo.com/SFP-eng.pdf

Else, Israel will be forced (through sanctions) to evacuate the major settlements from the West Bank regardless, but will have to leave the Israeli army in the West Bank. The world community will be unanimous about the settlements issue - but on the military issue, will split.

The only chance everyone has - the Bermigo poll would tell us if that chance is well-grounded - of getting both the settlements and army out may be the Bermigo Plan.

I'm not sure how one makes the case that Palestinian refusal to go on record as supporting a Jewish state is the main reason there had been no peace. Are we so insecure about Israel's nature as a Jewish and democratic state that we need reassurance from others? The state of Israel is the realization of the Jewish people's right to self-determination, and only the Jewish people can decide the nature of the state. That is the Zionist credo.

No, the reason Netanyahu has insisted on this condition, which he knows will not be accepted by any Palestinian leader, is so he has an excuse to kick the can down the road on tough, but necessary, steps Israel must take for peace. Unfortunately, as the author says, time is not on Israel's side. The time for a Palestinian state is now. What is Netanyahu waiting for?

They want Palestine to support a Jewish state so they'll give up the Right of Return, which would change Israel to an Islamic state.

I quote the author :
"Israel has every right to defend itself, and must continue to do so, as it did on Sunday when Syria allowed Palestinians to try to storm the border."

How can an educated person defend the killing of unarmed people ?
It reminds dark times of fascism in Europe..
Such actions will come with a price.

You said the fundamental block to peace is that Palestinians dont recognize istael as a state? Im sure they have said repeatedly that they will discuss that after Israel stops building settlements inside the west bank, or what would become Palestine. How would Israel feel if the situation was a palestinian state bulding setellements into jewish territory that is supposed to become israel in the future but will not hapoen because it will be overcrowded with Palestinian towns? You dont even mention the word settlement despite it being thissue thatblocked the last negotiations for peace. All people want is two peaceful states...israel cant keep keep putting houses inside the future palestine. Anyone can see how unjust that is.

Arabs started destroying Jewish Settlements in 1906, 42 years before there was a State. And why can't Jews live in Bethlehem Palestine the same way they live in Bethlehem Pa.? Or would you argue for all the Israeli Arabs and West Bank Settlers to trade places?

"Judith Kipper, director of the Institute of World Affairs’ Middle East Programs, asserted that Israel has “a strategic imperative” to withdraw from the West Bank, and expressed confidence that Egypt, seeking stability, would prevent Hamas violence against Israel."

Great recipe for a new shoah !
Has this lady ever visited Judea and Samaria ?

If anybody has any brilliant ideas, I'm sure they would love to hear about it in Israel. Absent that, what is the point of this column.

And come on Gary, Judith Kipper. Hussein Ibish or Ali abumineh wasn't available.

Judith Kipper, director of the Institute of World Affairs’ Middle East Programs, asserted that Israel has “a strategic imperative” to withdraw from the West Bank, and expressed confidence that Egypt, seeking stability, would prevent Hamas violence against Israel.
She cannot be serious. Egypt has upgraded diplomacy with Hamas. Egypt has opened the Gaza border to terrorists, weapons, everything. They have stopped the flow of gas to Israel. They are allowing Iranian submarines and cargo ships carrying weapons to transit the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea ports in Lebanon and Syria. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant Egyptian political group. I'm sorry, but Kipper is not even close to knowing what she is talking about. It seems like you can be an 'expert' these days, without ever being right.

Egypt gets billions from the US for keeping the peace with Israel. It should be easy for America to insist that Egypt cease engaging in acts hostile to Israel. Obama doesn't say anything.

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