It can't last-or maybe it can
By Ira Sharkansky
Slogans of the left are that Israeli occupation of Palestinian land cannot last, or alternatively, that the international community will not tolerate the lack of agreement between Israel and an independent State of Palestine.
It has lasted for coming onto 66 or 47 years, depending on whether you begin at 1948 or 1967.
Those who say it can’t last, and must be interrupted by an agreement with Palestine overlook two things:
• The impossibility of predicting the future, perhaps especially amidst the turmoil currently apparent.
• The apparent impossibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of Israel—with or without the clause “Jewish state”—give up on the refugees including unlimited generations of their descendants, and to cease all future claims.
Forever is a long time, beyond the life history of the Roman, British, or Soviet empires, formidable as they seemed. Also beyond the lone position of the U.S. at the pinnacle of world politics. That began in 1945, may have found its limits in Korea less than a decade later, and more certainly in Vietnam after another decade. Since then the United States has been more influential than any other country, but that influence—never mind sheer power—continues to be tested.
The Jews of Israel ought to know by their history the dynamism of events and the fluidity of any status quo. They also should be alert to the problems in being sure that action X will assure result Y. Read that is withdrawing more settlements, agreeing to Palestinian terms, and expecting levels of peace equivalent to those of North America or Western Europe.
There is no end of what is roiling history, and getting in the way of any certainty that the Palestinians can reach an agreement with Israel, or that peace will occur as a result of such an agreement.
Muslims are fighting among themselves. This can work to lessen European and North American certainty that it is worth the efforts of creating another Muslim state, especially one making a point of not wanting Jews as residents. It can also work to make the Palestinians even more nervous than usual about agreeing to accept Israel’s existence, and thus falling afoul of one or another of the many factions claiming to fight for the true principles of Islam.
The European Union has several issues on its plate, which may detract from its concern with this part of the Middle East. The current fashion to boycott goods from the West Bank, or from all of Israel, may go the way of other fashions, without having great impact.
Russia and Ukrainian elements allied with Russia are involved in what is looking more and more like a run up to a civil war, focused at least partly on whether the Ukraine will join Europe or remain a satellite of Russia. Analysts are concerned that such developments can also spread to other former Soviet satellites that the EU would like to absorb, such as Latvia and Lithuania.
Egypt is as close as the Ukraine to a civil war. The incidence of car bombings and ambushes of security personnel suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood and other aggressive Islamists will not go quietly.
The growing and restive Muslim populations in Europe might lead some Europeans to express greater support for Palestine in order to buy quiet at home. But it may lead other Europeans to abandon the Middle East as hopeless, and concentrate on their own problems with Islam.
Syria is not only a source of great unrest on the border of Israel and very close to Palestine. The fighting there has also attracted extremists who wander the region looking for opportunities to advance Islam. They have recruited European as well as American Muslims, some of whom may go home further inspired to blow up train stations, shopping centers, or other symbols of the infidels.
Last Wednesday night’s news showed John Kerry moralizing at the conference meant to bring peace to Syria. He described in his most serious tones the carnage that he laid at the feet of the Syrian president. But then he was shown with head in his hands, and covering his face in something that looked like pain as the Syrian prime minister lectured him about his ignorance of the Syrian civil war. The Syrian put all the responsibility on the foreign forces aiding what he called terrorists fighting the legitimate government. He blamed Israel but not Saudi Arabia for aiding the terrorists. We might chuckle at that bit of Arab obfuscation. Neither it nor Kerry’s moralizing is likely to contribute to anything on the ground, where Sunni financed fighters battle Alawi and Shiite fighters, with some of the Sunnis fighting among themselves, as well as doing what they can to spread the civil war into Lebanon.
There are several reasons to view Saudi Arabia as a central player in the Middle East, and its recent activities as contributing to the uncertainties. It is important because of its location, its oil, and its asserted leadership of Islam. In recent months it has been on several sides of different controversies. It has worked along with Israel (in concert with Israel?) against American and European concessions to Iran; it has financed the enemies of Iran who are also fighting the Assad regime in Syria, and most likely fighting the allies of Assad in Lebanon. Yet some of these fighters are the most extreme of Islamic jihadists who are not only anti-Shiite but anti-Israel and anti-western. Remember the role of Saudis in 9-11? It’s back again.
This snapshot of chaos will not last forever, but no one knows what comes next.
One hears several times each day that Israel must do more to persuade the world of its justice.
The reality is that Israel is low priority for most people of the world. And those who are concerned about it—either its sharp critics or warm supporters—tend not to change their minds.
If you have been convinced since 1948 or 1967 that Israel ought to do more to bring about peace with its neighbors, chances are you read all of the above to say that this is the golden moment. The chance for peace can only get worse.
If you are among those who have been convinced since 1948 or 1967 that Israel must look after itself, with great suspicion about Arab and Muslim intentions, chances are that you read all of the above as saying that this is another moment not to risk concessions that could weaken Israel is the face of regional chaos, perhaps now more heightened than at any time in the recent past.
Ira Sharkansky is professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.