The Real Existential Threat to Israel: Itself
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.
The third recent and noteworthy event occurred not in the region but in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- a student-organized conference at Harvard on a "one state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For many, such a solution -- recognizing that a two-state agreement is improbable and that there is in effect one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River -- is a harbinger of the destruction of Israel. Demographically it likely is, since Arabs would outnumber Jews in that state in a few years. Were Palestinians to be given basic human rights, like voting, they would likely be in control.
Even the faint prospect of a one-state solution proffered in an academic conference was so upsetting that the Israel Lobby condemned Harvard for hosting the two-day meeting and leading panderer Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) demanded that Harvard cancel this exercise in free inquiry and speech.
One can easily see why Israelis are alarmed by one-state talk. But of course it is the logical outcome of what Israel is actually doing. It shows no sign of serious negotiations to create a Palestinian state. It builds settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank with practically no restraint. It isolates Gaza, strengthening the hand of the most extreme elements. It scoffs at the democratic impulses of the Arab transformation, and may soon be surrounded by Arab states not longer willing to accept the status quo. And it attempts -- successfully so far -- to distract everyone with inflated threat assessments regarding Iran.
When Palestinian statehood prospects are a shambles and a Greater Israel is a fact on the ground, the global community -- minus Washington, of course -- will insist that Palestinians be given citizenship in Israel. Thus a one-state solution is indeed unfolding before our eyes, a creation not of Cambridge academics or Arab militants, but the State of Israel itself.