I don’t envy Barack Obama this one:
Israel is under assault. On Sept. 20 the Palestinian Authority plans to unilaterally declare statehood and go to the United Nations for recognition. This is a rejection of all efforts for a peaceful compromise. In its wake will come waves of Palestinian violence. And yet this is just the latest manifestation of an embattled Israel that is being threatened from the outside””by Muslim Arab states and societies, Egyptians storming the Israeli Embassy, a nuclear-arming Iran (with its local sidekicks, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon), and a besieged President Bashar al-Assad in Syria””and from the inside by domestic upheaval that led to the largest mass protests in the country’s history.
More than 50 years ago, Israel’s leaders, headed by David Ben-Gurion, believed and hoped that they were creating a social democracy, with all the requisite egalitarian accoutrements (socialized national health care, progressive income tax, child benefits, subsidized cheap housing). Ben-Gurion, who owned almost nothing and retired to a primitive hut in the Negev Desert, typified the austere lifestyle, and greatness, of the state’s founders.
This is no longer Israel. A profound, internal, existential crisis has arrived. It stems in part from the changing nature of the country, more right wing, more restrictive, far less liberal, and far less egalitarian. Many moderate Israelis fear the country is heading for ruin. Indeed, the country’s ruling class, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his predecessors Ehud Olmert (now on trial for corruption) and Ehud Barak (a former head of the Labor Party and current defense minister), live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. In Tel Aviv, where some 350,000 gathered in protest, a widespread chant, set to a popular children’s ditty, was ”œBibi has three apartments, which is why we have none.”
While it’s about time Israel started to come to its senses, this puts the United States, and particularly the Obama administration, in a kosher pickle.
It’s clear Israel’s influence over American foreign policy has been on the wane, particularly in the years since 9/11. America has had to intervene directly in Middle Eastern and South Asian affairs, rendering Israel basically irrelevant as a strategic and political entity and pretty much eliminating its role as US proxy in the region.
Israel as a people has recognized this and hardened positions with respect to the Palestinians and West Bank settlements, Hezbollah and Hamas, Lebanon and the Gaza. The governments they have elected have turned their backs on the people’s concerns (sounds familiar, right?) in favor of more conservative economic policies designed to extract unfairness from a nation that has up to this point relied on fairness…almost to a socialist tune.
President Obama will be put into the uncomfortable position of having to choose between pursuing a policy with the Arabic and Muslim nations of the region and extending the protections that have made Israel comfortable and able to eat its own young, primarily because the Israeli support in America is crucial to advancing his domestic agenda and securing his re-election.
If he chooses to cut Israel loose, all hell will break loose, both here and there. If he continues this level of support for Israel…well, Israel has demonstrated a protacted nasty streak with respect to its neighbors, even the ones it has made nominal peace with. This will only endanger the domestic and foreign policies of the US further.
You’ll note all this implies that cutting Israel loose may be the best single solution for our nation as a whole.
It will be intriguing to watch the global political Noh theatre that comes out of the United Nations next week. In the meantime, buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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