HOW MANY SWALLOWS MAKE A SPRING?
By Paul Merkley.
The day after the dust began to settle on Israel’s War of Independence, congenital optimists – there were many more of that breed alive then than there are today! – began scouring the landscape for signs of Spring – signs that Israel’s enemies had accepted the futility of defying the edict of the United Nations – that they and would, in reasonable time, give up on their determination to drive the Jews back into the sea and accept opportunities for constructive diplomacy. The informed insiders were sure that they could already see signs that the people and the leaders of Israel, together with the leaders of the Arab nations, were quietly preparing to enter into a new era of goodwill. Surely these are swallows, everyone said! Surely Spring cannot be far behind!
And so we must tread cautiously. Still, there have been so many signs of late that Israel’s strategic situation as well it standing in world public opinion is improving. It is legitimate, I believe, for realists to take note of some almost entirely unanticipated developments on the world scene over recent months, that, taken together, seem to suggest a dramatic improvement in Israel’s political assets, her security situation and her prestige.
Some Signs of spring?
First and foremost, we should note an enlargement of Israel’s reputation as a stable regime – not only relatively, with respect to the neighbours (all of whom seem to be careening towards anarchy or re-invigorated tyranny) – but also absolutely, with respect to the Israeli government’s command on the loyalty of its citizens and thus with respect to the political capital that her government brings to her dealings with the world. This twin development would seem to have taken off some of the pressure that Israel has faced in recent decades over her alleged unwillingness to yield to the maxim Palestinian-Arab ambitions with regard to the early creation of a sovereign State of Palestine.
Among the external developments, we have to note the cracks that have developed in the Arab front against her, opening up opportunities for flexible and creative diplomacy, and tending (belatedly) towards a new era of qualified, limited, and largely invisible, cooperation with regimes that have never dared before to say a kind word for Israel – let alone confess any degree of common interest.
The growing sense among Arab nations of a convergence between their strategic interests and those of Israel follows from two inter-related facts:
The first fact is the general recognition throughout the Arab world that the greatest threat to their internal stability and external peace is not today, and probably, after all, never was the State of Israel, but a more ancient enemy, Iran. Arab propagandists prefer to refer to this enemy as “Persia.” This usage underscores the immediate priority in Islamic thinking of ancient quarrels going back to the very earliest years of Islam’s existence days, while simultaneously suggesting an irreconcilable conflict of interests built into perennial geographical imperatives.
The second fact behind this tendency to convergence is the betrayal of Israel (as Israelis, and most friends of Israel see it) that is bound up in President Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, presently pending before Congress, and generally agreed now to be assured of passage. Netanyahu’s campaign against “this very bad treaty” puts the government of Israel at an unprecedentedly great distance publicly from the Government of the United States over the matter that, at the moment, matters most to the American public, while simultaneously bringing it closer to the Arab states who live in fear of Iran.
But the most fundamental development affecting the bottom-line of Israel’s security is an internal one: it is the reality of deeper support for the present government of Israel within Israel itself. The paramount evidence for this is, obviously, the Israeli election held on March 17, of this year.
Leaving for another essay opportunity for commentary on the several external forces noted above, I conclude this essay with some observation on this primary internal circumstance contributing to Israel’s security: the ratification of the present government and its policies in a recent election.
Effects of the Israeli Election of March 17, 2015.
In the front rank of several recent developments which tend to improve Israel’s advantage in the contest with her enemies is (perhaps paradoxically) the disorientation in opinion-making circles in our part of the world caused by the Israeli election of March 17.
In the days immediately leading up to the election, reporters in the field and the sages in the editorial offices at home were agreed that sweeping winds of change were in the air, opening the way for restoration to government of Israel’s Left. Should the leftward tack somehow fail to occur, the clear alternative, pundits shouted in unison, must be a cliff-hanger that would require Netanyahu to build an all-Party government and to sell the principles he has stood for regarding the Peace Process and the related matter of methods for securing Israel’s security. What actually happened was that the electorate confirmed Netanyahu in office more securely than before.
Needless to say, the discredited pundits have not apologized or lowered their tone. Instead we hear from quarters where a tone of objectivity has always been at least pretended, ugly outbursts of complaint against the Israeli electorate and much shaking of fists against Netanyahu for his determination to resist capitulation to decent world opinion. (See my essay, “The Israeli Electorate Gets It Wrong Again,” www.thebayviewreview.com, March 25, 2015.) Still, there can be no doubt that the world public in general takes this result as proof, once again, that Israel knows its own mind and that the governments that it chooses by thoroughly democratic method must be respected. Meanwhile, “Palestinian” politics has gone steadily downhill since the days of the Oslo promises. Today there are more factions than anyone can count, all of them at daggers drawn against the others, all of them claiming to represent the will of the Palestinian people, but all of them fearful to test the matter with free elections.
Just one example of the disorientation of which I speak – but an exceptionally significant one – is Thomas L. Friedman, bureau chief for the Jerusalem desk for the New York Times; another is David K. Shipler, Freidman’s predecessor at the same desk – both of them authors of best-selling, prize-winning books based on their reporting and both fiercely anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Both filed columns within hours of the election announcing (as Friedman put it) that “the two-state solution looks dead.”
This abrupt change of tune is even now taking hold wherever opinion elites gather.
***The Deflation of the Two-State Balloon.
This expectation – distressing beyond expression to American opinion elites – is encouraged further by opinion polls that reveal substantial decline of the American public’s confidence in the wisdom of the Two-State Idea – proceeding in tandem with declining respect for the leadership of the PLO. [“The Palestinian statehood Ideal Begins to Crumble, Algemeiner, April 9, 2015.] A new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that Americans’ support for the idea of creating a Palestinian state has reached its lowest point in 20 years. Just 39 percent of Americans support it; 36 percent are opposed. That 39 percent is down from the 58 percent who backed Palestinian statehood in 2003. And the three-percentage point gap between supporters and opponents is the smallest gap in at least 20 years.
It is important to recall that two Israeli Prime ministers, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, offered to create a Palestinian state during the course of negotiations fifteen years ago. Providentially, they were rebuffed by Yasir Arafat.
“It is hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won,” Friedman wrote after the recent election. “The insane, worthless Gaza war that Hamas initiated last summer that brought rockets to the edge of Israel’s main international airport and the Palestinians’ spurning of two-state offers of previous Israeli prime ministers built Netanyahu’s base as much as he did.” In other words, Israeli voters, instead of paying attention to Friedman’s years of writings, paid attention to the reality around them–and voted accordingly.
Likewise, on the eve of the election, in his online newsletter, The Shipler Report, David Shipler wrote: “A bet on statehood for the Palestinians is about as good as money in a Ukrainian bond,”
As recently as 2012, we recall, President Obama confidently told the UN General Assembly, “The road is hard, but the destination is clear: a secure Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine.” But immediately following the election of 2015 he abruptly changed his tune: “We can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something [the two-state solution] that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.”
The Abbas government will, of course, continue its unremitting propaganda assault against the Jews, as will, even more vehemently, the boss of the Gaza/Hamas regime (which also describes itself as the lawful government of “Palestine”) Ismail Haniyeh. But as we have seen, President Obama’s, as firm a friend of the “Palestinian cause” as has ever been, has trashed the central premise of the Oslo Accords, with his new dictum – that that everybody knows that the two-state solution is not going to happen.
Do we dare to see this development as “one swallow” prefiguring a Spring for Israel-U.S. relations?