The cold comfort of Israel’s ‘status quo’
If you survived the 1960s, you may remember the Kingston Trio singing “The Merry Minuet”: “They’re rioting in Africa/ They’re starving in Spain./ There’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain/…Italians hate Yugoslavs. South Africans hate the Dutch/ and I don’t like anybody very much!”
Such is the situation in today’s Arab world. There’s a civil war in Syria with upward of 100,000 people killed; a coup in Egypt displaced the Islamist president before his first year in office ended.
Jordan, which has serious economic problems, is playing host to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. Lebanon has its own influx of Syrian refugees, while Lebanese Hizbullah militants are playing an active role in the fighting. Further away, Turkey is housing Syrian refugees, and Iraq is facing a Sunni insurrection of its own.
The North African nations, as recently pointed out by Bruce Mady Weitzman in the Jerusalem Report, are having troubles of their own, with a tribal state in Libya, rising Islamism in Tunisia, and an Islamic insurrection in Algeria.
It’s small comfort, I suppose, that neither Israel nor Zionism is being blamed for turning the Arab Spring into a long winter nightmare. When Israel was credited with bombing three convoys of arms that Assad was moving to Hizbullah in Lebanon (and a fourth strike on Russian-made missiles sold to the Syrian government), there was no Syrian retaliation. Indeed, Assad has ceased arm shipments to Hizbullah. Israel’s sole involvement has been to extend medical treatment to wounded Syrians who happened to wander to the border seeking help.
From a security standpoint, Israel’s neighbors are so involved in their own rivalries — Sunni/Shiite, Islamist/secular-liberal, Muslim Arab/minorities (Christians, Kurds, et al) — that for the immediate future there is little energy remaining to focus on Israel. This of course does not include Iran, but even Iran is preoccupied with its economic difficulties caused by international sanctions and its expensive support of Assad.
All this might suggest that Israel should be satisfied with the status quo, except for the inconvenient fact that, as Efraim Halevy, former director of the Mossad and head of the Israel National Security Council, told Moment magazine, “the status quo is non-existent — things happen on the ground every day.” Halevy writes that “the number one security threat to Israel today is the danger of Jews becoming a minority in their own state.”
Nevertheless, the pressure to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue is coming from Israel’s primary ally, the United States, and the cooler but nonetheless supportive European Union. Secretary of State John Kerry is repeatedly pressuring and cajoling the two sides into renewing negotiations. In a recent speech to the American Jewish Committee, he sought to enlist American-Jewish support in encouraging Israel to renew negotiations. The EU, meanwhile, is pondering a less friendly approach. According to Andreas Reinicke, its envoy for the Middle East peace process, the EU opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and, although it opposes the BDS effort to isolate Israel, would not be averse to supporting a “labeling” of West Bank products.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is not insensitive to the above. As J.J. Goldberg wrote in the Forward, Netanyahu is subject to a conflict between head and heart. He understands the demographic problem of maintaining a Jewish state in which Arabs are a majority. He’s heard the prodding by almost all of the former security heads to enter into negotiations to arrive at a two-state solution. Yet his heart — a product of the Revisionist Zionist home in which he was raised — tells him to maintain all the land. Hence, he puts off negotiations. To counter the Palestinian demand that West Bank settlement be suspended, he comes up with a demand never before made by an Israeli prime minister: that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the “State of the Jewish People.”
In the end, several lessons emerge from the recent tumult. Contrary to the Arab and far left message of the past 65 years, Israel is not the central problem in the Arab world. Sounding like the Jets singing in West Side Story, the Arab world’s “got troubles of our own.”
Secondly, for the sake of Israel’s peace and prosperity, a two-state solution must be found. There is no other way.