This is the dilemma: on the one hand going to war causes terrible evils, but on the other hand not going to war permits them. Whichever horn one chooses to sit on, the sitting should not be comfortable. Allowing evils to happen is not necessarily innocent, any more than causing them is necessarily culpable. Omission and commission are equally obliged to give an account of themselves. Both stand in need of moral justification. Nigel Biggar (Regius Prof of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford) “In Defense of War” in Mosaic Magazine
The prize could be great: a sovereign and viable Palestinian state living at peace alongside a secure Israel at the heart of it. David Cameron, speaking in advance of his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority
Above all, the creation of the concept of realpolitik was an early attempt to answer a conundrum that has been at the heart of Anglo-American foreign policy ever since: how to achieve liberal, enlightened goals in a world that does not follow liberal, enlightened rules; and how to ensure political and social progress in an unstable and unpredictable environment. John Bew in “The National Interest” 14 March 2014
Well as you can see I have been busy. And that’s not half of it. Shenanigans around the subdivision of our property that would make your hair stand on end. Relatively minor surgery which set me back on my heels more than I expected. And, of course, the annual spectacle of Israel Apartheid Week which was ably countered by a dedicated team effort (that I had nothing to do with so no credit is due to me) but which leaked over to contaminate our public space. Etcetera, etcetera…
But good news too! Lots of powerful and provocative articles (some supplied by readers for which many thanks). Six new books from Amazon to add to my guilt burden. Friends and family down for the Argus and my wife especially, all helped keep my mood reasonably positive. And even better news: there have been some potentially exciting developments around this blog. It’s too early to talk about as yet but I hope that with careful tending we will see results over the next few months.
We Jews tend to get outraged and deeply upset by the constant stream of criticism directed at Israel. Not only does this touch us on our deepest sources of identification but the sheer malice and dishonesty offends our sense of natural justice. Furthermore, we all know that the core intent is the expunging of Israel from both history and the Middle East. The upshot is that either we escape by shutting out all news and involvement or by wallowing in a sense of endless victimisation and resentment.
Neither is healthy and neither will contribute to the long-term effort required to keep Israel both safe and moral, or to our own mental and emotional health. To counter the debilitating effect of the anti-Zionist movement, it is well to remember that Israel is psychologically and materially strong and has powerful allies across the world. Together with our allies, Jewish tenacity, creativity and sense of balance will triumph. My own response it to look conditions as rationally as possible and to do this I have asked myself the question: quo vadis?
Given the Peace Initiative, the Arab Spring and all the turmoil and uncertainty generated by the unravelling of the quasi-stable political order in the Muslim Middle East and the complex global dynamics, what are the possible or desirable courses of action available to Israel right now?
I am going to limit my effort, partly out of a sense of self-preservation, by excluding at the outset what I call the radical repertoire. These include various forms of binational state and, on the other side, various annexationist options. This does not mean that no possible situation could induce a change of perspective. One cannot foresee the future and it is entirely possible to construct hypothetical scenarios in which these options would be viable. But right now, at this time of flux and huge uncertainty, they seem to me simply too risky for a small power like Israel in her unique environment.
I am aware that intelligent and informed individuals like Hillel Halkin and Caroline Glick from different ends of the political spectrum have proposed models of solutions along these lines. Both of them appear to skirt around potentially crippling objections but are nevertheless valuable exercises in pioneering options away from mainstream thought.
So the exercise resolves down to the question whether Israel should give genuine consideration to the Peace Initiative instigated by Obama-Kerry team? My very short answer is “no” but with the essential proviso of keeping open the option of some mutual compromise on the table.
Let’s look at it more closely. Selling the deal to Israel has involved 3 features:
- Paying genuine attention to Israel’s rights and fears
Taking them in order, there have been some signs that the OK team is aware that Israel will not move unless they deal adequately with Israeli concerns over security, refugees, Palestinian incitement, recognition as the Jewish state and possibly Jerusalem. The problem is that in all these issues, Israel and Palestine cannot find the slightest grounds for mutual agreement.
Abbas is both unwilling, and probably unable, to make the necessary changes from their starting position. Some of this is understandable, some not. Abbas cannot reasonably expect Israel to agree to a deal in which the Palestinians do not stop incitement, recognise the right of Jews to a homeland (Israel) in the Middle East and accept that “refugees” cannot be used as a mechanism of subverting the Jewish majority and power in Israel.
Israel must under no circumstances accede to any arrangement which provides the OK team with the appearance but not the reality of a genuine peace agreement. Such a charade may well suit the public image of the Obama administration but will be disastrous for Israel. There is no chance at the present time that Abbas will take the necessary steps or that, in the extremely unlikely event he does, that they will not be immediately subverted by extremists in the region and even globally.
But Abbas too has genuine concerns over the viability of a Palestinian state with the current distribution of Jewish settlements and the long-term occupation of the Jordan valley by Israel. Israel may very well be prepared to absorb the enormous political, social and economic costs of rationalising the settlements for a good deal, but certainly not for a temporary charade. Until peace in the region is assured, Israel is also unlikely to hand the Jordan valley over to either the new Palestinian state or to so-called impartial outside forces.
To sum up: as matters stand no final peace deal can realistically be envisaged in the near future. The OK team response has been at least in part to resort to sticks to frighten Israel into submission. Besides the Munich threats by Kerry, the now notorious Goldberg interview with Obama, showed a USA administration which resorts to not so-veiled coercion in the face of unpalatable realities. The constant threat of boycotts dangled over Israel’s head is only likely to harden attitudes.
Much more promising is Cameron’s carrot approach. He holds out a rosy vision of the wonderful opportunities provided by a peace deal in which Israeli-Palestinian cooperation results in a Middle East hub of innovation, prosperity and, by implication, democracy with Israel and Palestine at the core. At present, for reasons already covered, this is a pipe dream despite Haaretz crowing over the leftward shift of Netanyahu.
But Cameron did more than spin opium dreams. He brought out a team of business people and other experts to set this scenario in motion. That seems to me the way to go: the status quo politically being used to create new facts and relationships on the ground. In short: drop the political agenda and focus on creating prosperity, stability and cooperation between Israel and Palestine.
Will this be feasible? Not if the USA keeps pushing for unrealistic goals and raising Palestinian expectations and intransigence. Not if it threatens to hold Israel responsible for a failure to reach a final peace deal now, thus emboldening extremists globally to ramp up the pressure on Israel. Perhaps Israel and Palestine together can withstand Hamas and other Jihadi entities, including Iran, but not if constantly undermined and destabilised by its allies.
Of course, even under the optimal conditions, failure to sign off on a political settlement is far from ideal. But given genuine commitment from both sides and support from outside (mainly the USA and Europe), establishment of the economic infrastructure and trust seem within the bounds of possibility. But it requires the most adept diplomatic footwork and buy-in not only by Israel and the Palestinians but from the West.
If all this seems precarious in the extreme, that’s because it is. But for the present it seems the best way to go until history reveals itself further. Let’s hear your thoughts on this analysis.
I have included some additional excellent links some readers may want to follow up.