The Real Existential Threat to Israel: Itself
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The nearly complete mastery of U.S. politics that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again displayed in Washington last week belies a dark reality for the Jewish State. That is the startling prospect that it has sown the seeds of its own destruction, one which will come to its ghastly fruition in a matter of a few years.
That stark judgment is not mine alone. Many of us who have marveled at Israel's achievements in building a thriving state and society have hoped it would secure this remarkable feat by coming to terms with the people whose land it once was, and to do so on fair and sustainable terms. It is increasingly clear this will never happen with Israel's cooperation, however.
Three developments in the past week are emblematic of the coming disaster.
First is the fabricated fear of Iran's nuclear program, one which poses no immediate threat to Israel -- much less an "existential" threat -- and very likely never will. Even if Iran at some future time managed to build a few nuclear weapons, Israel's nuclear arsenal (reportedly 200 bombs at the ready) would serve as a deterrent, to say nothing of U.S. capability.
In this light, then, Netanyahu's alarmist rhetoric about Iran, echoed by his legions in the United States, really serves another purpose -- taking the Palestinian issue off the political agenda here and there for the foreseeable future. President Obama has not mentioned Palestine or the "peace process" for several months. As everyone admits, without U.S. pressure, the peace process -- already moribund -- is dead.
Without fear of even a discouraging word, the Israeli state punishes Palestinians in its manifold ways: invading and trashing a television station run by one of the most internationally respected Palestinians in the West Bank, for example, or conducting air strikes in Gaza. The notorious Jewish settlements in the West Bank continue to be built at an alarming rate. Those agitating for a "Greater Israel" that will in effect include all of Palestine, and one more beholden to religious militants, are getting their wish.
A second, ongoing drama is the Arab uprising, with attention now focused on Syria. Israel last week offered humanitarian assistance to civilians brutalized by Assad's regime. But Netanyahu wants a weakened Assad to remain in power, just as he wanted Mubarak to survive the rebellion in Egypt. A democratized Arab world will demand -- is demanding -- an end to the occupation of Palestine, and the issue itself radicalizes the Arab uprising to the benefit of the Salafis, the most "Islamist" factions that will support Hamas and possibly a new intifada.
Just two weeks ago in the ancient Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed to liberate Jerusalem to the ecstatic roar of the Egyptian worshipers -- a scene, as many observed, that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. Egypt is forming a strong relationship to Hamas, a sharp change in regional dynamics.
Instead of seeing the Arab transformation as a serious, even mortal challenge, Israel is digging in its heels and dismissing the small prospects for a peace agreement with the Palestinians -- a move that would neuter many of the Arab radicals.
A fitful and fragile détente between Fatah, which controls the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority, and the more militant Hamas, which controls Gaza, is a tacit admission by the Palestinians that they also must tack with the democratic winds. But the moves to unify are decried by Israel as a sure fire way to bury the peace process for good.