Part Two of “The Isolation of Israel: Peril and Opportunity”
This is part two of Professor Paul Merkley’s series, “The Isolation of Israel: Peril and Opportunity.” Access to the previous intstallment can be found here.
We are now into the eighteenth month (or thereabouts) of the Arab Spring and no closer to understanding how it might end – or, indeed, whether it will ever end.
The Arab Spring was celebrated in its early phase by all the best thinkers as a force of unlimited promise – a powerful wind tending to carry authentic democracy into every corner of the Middle East and to begin a process of modernization of the local economies and of all aspects of civilian life. Journalists like to call it the Arab Spring, by analogy to the Prague Spring of 1968 which some see as the earliest augury of the process that twenty years later would bring about the collapse of Soviet Communism and its empire.
In those early days, foreign policy idealists rallied around the Sharansky thesis about democracies never going to war against other democracies – a central premise of the American neo-cons [Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy (New York: Public Affairs, 2004)]. These idealists speculated that the neighborhood was being made more friendly to Israel by reason simply of its becoming more democratic. This blessing, mind you, could not be expected to become obvious to us all right away.
After a few weeks of Spring had gone by, the proper names of the movers and shakers in this first phase disappeared from the news. New ones took their place, only to disappear as quickly thereafter. None of the usual expert sources seemed able to keep us up-to-date about what this latest cohort represented and where they came from. Still, only the very dense are in real doubt as to the general direction – and that is towards chaos.
The voices of the idealists have receded or have been lowered as it has become obvious that achieving democracy was going to be much harder than believed at first. Indeed, it soon appeared that Islamist-dominated government was likely to be the first fruit of democratic method and that anarchy might well be the longer-term outcome. As this scenario played out (think of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria), the “optimists” changed their tune: their refrain was now that Israel’s situation had been made more secure by the very fact of disorder in the region. The thought here was that since it is government that calls up troops or sends up missiles, Israel had been made relatively safer as Arab populations stopped obeying their governments. In this thinking, Israel needed only to improve the well-tested methods for policing her borders and thwarting loose-cannon terrorists. Democracy was still the preferred outcome, but we might not all live to see it.
The escalating threat of Islamic unity in a new war against Israel
From the beginning of Israel’s life it has a been a standing tactic of Arab dictators when times get exceptionally bad and they hear the rabble at the door to cry out to their citizens and fellow Arabs throughout the region that it is the Jews who have caused all this trouble – that Islam itself (or, with variation the Arab Nation) requires that you should cease throwing things at your government and join it as a band of brothers in resuming the struggle (now 64 years old) to throw the Jews back into the sea
As space does not permit a detailed history, I will simply recall here the names of some prominent practitioners of this art. It was Haj Amin al-Husseini (1896–1974) the Grand of Jerusalem, Hitler’s ally in the work of liquidating the Jews of Eastern Europe, who inaugurated this pattern in the days when the Arab nations were gathering to strangle Israel in its cradle. Among a gaggle of successors was Gamal Abdel Nasser who rallied the Arab nations in 1967 and instigated the ruinous Six Day War. Then there was the late Saddam Hussein who nearly managed to wriggle out of the war with the U.S. and its allies in 1991 by re-directing his wartime propaganda and his missiles away from the Gulf and towards Israel.
The successors to these statesmen are busy today trying to get this same strategy off the ground. What complicates the story is that one effect of the Arab Spring so far has been to decapitate the roster of leadership as it was about two years ago; we are presently waiting to see whether a new leadership is likely to emerge and if so whether by democratic process – something new in the Arab world – or by some cunning re-alignment of the elements that sustained the old autocracies.
Western media, meanwhile, are so intent on getting us to accept the sunny side of democracy’s debut that they are blocking our ears against the ever-growing consensus among Arab politicians to the effect that freeing the Palestinians from Jewish occupation is the obvious, noble and irresistible way to bring the Arab world onto sunny uplands.
The Threat from Egypt
One has to look well beyond newspaper coverage in our part of the world to learn, for example, that Muhammad Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s Presidential runoff election (June 17) is interpreting his forthcoming victory as “the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time …. The second Muslim conqueror … will be Muhammad Morsi and history will record it.… [I will] make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya.” None of our mighty worldwide newsgathering sentinels seems to have noticed this appalling declaration. Mind you, the New York Times was aware a few weeks ago that Mursi “has a track record of inflammatory statements about Israel, including repeatedly calling its citizens ‘killers and vampires.’” [“In Egypt, Morsi Escalates Battle over Islam’s rule,” April 23, 2012; “Egypt Race Pits Aide to Mubarak against Islamist,” May 25, 2012.] But this is expressed in the past tense as if no longer of much relevance. For documentation on Mursi’s present public commitment to the cleansing of Egypt from the curse of Christian presence we have to go to a website previously unknown to me and I am sure to most others, that of the Gatestone Institute [http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/about/May 30.]
Meanwhile, the New York Times goes on reporting from some mythical scene where basic questions about the Muslim Brotherhood and its purposes remain indeterminable:
The Muslim Brotherhood, the 84-year-old religious revival group known here for its preaching and charity as well as for its moderate Islamist politics, took a much softer approach in the official platform it released last year. It dropped the “Islam is the solution” slogan, omitted controversial proposals about a religious council or a Muslim president and promised to respect the Camp David accords with Israel.
It is difficult to reconcile this cheery picture with the plain meaning of the words of would-be President Mursi.
What has happened to the legacy of Camp David?
For the time being, the multifarious distractions that beset the Arab regimes are no doubt lessening their ability to take up their ancient pledge to unite in the cause of liquidation of the Zionist Entity. But there is no reason at all to believe that these distractions have weakened their will. Commentators who loiter long enough to talk to the champions of the many forces of “reform” are embarrassed by the heating-up of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric, but for the most part they prefer to understate the matter. Some have noted (in passing) that among other debris cast aside by the winds of change is the legacy of Camp David – a process begun in the Presidency of Jimmy Carter dedicated to “normalizing” diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab states as the first steps towards general reconciliation. Only Egypt and Jordan ever signed onto that policy, in return for massive amounts of American financial aid and other privileges. But the regime that signed on behalf of Egypt has been swept away, and the political parties considered most likely to dominate future democratically-elected governments have always hated the Camp David agreements and they reckon among the most unforgiveable crimes of the Mubarak regime that it maintained diplomatic relations with Israel.
Still, the men and women writing the editorials in our newspapers continue to imagine that democratic method will bring about the spread of pluralist and liberal values and in due course the triumph of the Camp David vision. Israel should take cheer, they say, in the prospect of democracy’s leavening effect on the political life of the region.
But as each month passes, the bottom line in this calculus of the benefits of Arab democracy becomes darker than ever. With the possible exception of Jordan and Turkey, none of the regimes upon which Israel and its ally the United States had based their hopes for improvement of peace and security in the region is better qualified than it was eighteen months ago to govern its own people or cooperate with other regimes nearby in the cause of peace and security.
In a third essay, I will consider the situation in Jordan and in Turkey.