I recall the foreboding I felt in 1967, at the prospect of a war between tiny Israel and its Arab neighbors. It seemed impossible for these latter-day Davids to defeat the Arab Goliath surrounding them on all sides. A slaughter would surely ensue. I was astonished and elated that the Israeli military put their attackers to rout, and later ran the Egyptian Army all the way out of the Sinai Peninsula.
Later, I was again surprised and pleased when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin achieved the Camp David Accords – trading conquered desert land in return for security, acknowledging Egyptian sovereignty over that territory in exchange for peace. Two generations later, that treaty is still celebrated as a triumph of leadership: legitimate interests prevailing over intractable positions. Indeed, that’s just about all we have to celebrate in that long and torturous regional history.
Space and time will not support a recounting of the whole Who-Shot-John, in which tribal grievances commenced long before we’re told Moses parted the waters. Perhaps someone else can regale us with that tale of woe. I do not pretend any sustained expertise in those affairs, other than the attention of an interested bystander.
But I will say that I have never understood what motive underlies the Israeli strategy of building settlements on West Bank land – other than the desire to eventually absorb those lands by some sort of adverse possession. And I am not surprised that Palestinians also view those settlements as a naked land-grab. I am very glad it’s not my land being settled, as I would find that nearly impossible to abide.
Now, that would also be true that if my legitimate Israeli homestead was hit by a Hamas missile desperately fired from the Gaza Strip. There is no purely white knight thereabouts, but I believe a true leader could correctly characterize those impotent projectiles as so much diversionary noise in the system. It seems the Netanyahu regime has instead decided to use them to excuse its worse ongoing behavior.
And so it goes. My spectator’s view of recent events is that, whatever the question, Tel Aviv’s answer is “no.” That impression is apparently shared by former-ally Turkey, whose leader recently characterized Israel as “the West’s spoiled child.” (Apparently he doesn’t follow our Congress) My personal patience with Israel wears thin; poll results and more expert commentators like Tom Friedman seem to indicate that I’m not alone.
In the latest scene of this perpetual drama, the Palestinian Authority seeks to bring symbolic pressure to bear by applying for nationhood recognition before the UN General Assembly. The US has promised to block that move, but on its merits I do not understand why. 193 other nations are represented, and the Palestinians appear to have the required elements under international treaty law. Most seem to agree that a “two- state solution” holds the key to a durable peace, and currently only one state exists.
The stated position that the US would prefer statehood via negotiation is empty, especially when the other party demands pre-conditions that pre-suppose the outcome. It appears to be a US approach that is long on politics and short on principle – not the sort of position that represents American values well, nor the kind that I anticipated three years ago.
I am also concerned that Israeli intransigence will prevent the US from fully participating in, or assisting the nascent democracies born out of the Arab Spring. There are important decisions being made in those new regimes, and the US will be sidelined by its identification as a blind supporter of the anti-democratic policies of the Netanyahu government. Israel is an important player; it is not the only player in the region.
I would like to be happily surprised again after this long drought of good news. For that to happen, it may be necessary to instill a hint of a doubt in the mind of the West’s stubborn child.