Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The West’s Foreign Policy Theme—Like Me Before You Kill Me—Applied to Israel

By Barry Rubin

Recently, it was revealed that President Barack Obama had consulted Tom Friedman in formulating his Middle East policy. Here’s an example of where disastrous policy comes from.

Friedman writes:

“Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is always wondering why his nation is losing support and what the world expects of a tiny country surrounded by implacable foes. I can’t speak for the world, but I can speak for myself. I have no idea whether Israel has a Palestinian or Syrian partner for a secure peace that Israel can live with. But I know this: With a more democratic and populist Arab world in Israel’s future, and with Israel facing the prospect of having a minority of Jews permanently ruling over a majority of Arabs — between Israel and the West Bank, which could lead to Israel being equated with apartheid South Africa all over the world — Israel needs to use every ounce of its creativity to explore ways to securely cede the West Bank to a Palestinian state.”

By the way, the picture of “a minority of Jews permanently ruling over a majority of Arabs” has not been accurate since 1994, that’s 17 years ago. The Palestinian Authority rules over the West Bank Arabs. Hamas, which has now merged with the Palestinian Authority, rules in the Gaza Strip. The only non-citizen Arabs that “Jews” are ruling over are those in east Jerusalem, according to an agreement that Israel made with the PLO.

So a big part of Israel's difficulty is that people like Friedman are perpetuating anti-Israel lies instead of attacking them.

In other words, if your enemies lie about you does that mean that you must take huge risks? There’s a clever bumper sticker that says: Never apologize. Your enemies don’t care and your friends don’t need it.

But leaving all of that aside, let’s start with Friedman’s opening sentence. I certainly don’t speak for Netanyahu and didn’t vote for him, but I really doubt he’s wondering why these things are happening. He knows the reasons, as do most Israelis, even those critical of his policy:

The greater international weight of the Arab world; oil money; well-intentioned but ill-placed sympathy for an apparent underdog; aspects of Islam rejecting ever accepting a Jewish state; Arab nationalist rejection of a Jewish state; a clever anti-Israel propaganda campaign; Western leftist sympathy for its enemies; the rejection of Zionism by some Jews; the honest belief that if you resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict by Israeli concessions the whole world will be stable and terrorism will disappear; antisemitism; and more.

There’s no mystery here.

But there is a problem. If you equate that hostility to one cause and one cause only: Israel is “permanently ruling” over a majority of Arabs. That’s it. Solve that problem and everything else will fall into place.

Yet what if you know that giving up the West Bank will not solve every problem—a viewpoint almost never aired in the Western mass media and universities nowadays? Then Friedman’s concept and that of most Western policies immediately collapses.

Israel has conducted extensive experiments with this concept, experiments that have cost about the same number of Israeli lives as September 11 took American lives. Since the population of the United States is approximately 40 times that of Israel you can calculate the impact of those costs.

After all, Israel already acted “to securely cede” (the split infinitive is Friedman’s) the Sinai to Egypt, with the result that this peace treaty is about to be abrogated. It tried to “securely cede” the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, getting rockets and mortars and cross-border attacks in return. It also sought “to securely cede” southern Lebanon and got rockets and cross-border attacks. To see what would happen it acted “to securely cede” much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority and then received in return incitement to violence, terrorist attacks, and intransigence.

Might there be a pattern here?

Yes, it would be better to have a stable, two-state solution that ended the conflict and made Israel’s neighbors friendly. But here’s where the gap is between Israel and much of the Western political elites today:

We tried it and it didn’t work.

That is not a “right-wing” statement. It is an Israeli consensus statement. And even if Israel tries and tries again, this doesn’t mean that people don’t know that.

Now, there are people in the Middle East—millions of people—who openly make my point every day. These include the governments of Iran, Syria, Turkey, and the Gaza Strip, as well as probably Egypt’s next government and those running Lebanon. Islamists openly proclaim that no matter how much territory Israel cedes they won’t be satisfied until it has ceded everything and gone out of existence altogether.

What Friedman calls “a more democratic and populist Arab world” means a more radical and Islamist Arab world. In fact, the radicals will remain radicals (Syria, Iran) while the formerly moderate become more extremist (Egypt). Why, then, should Israel make dangerous concessions when these will be taken advantage of to attack it more effectively? Why give things to people who want to kill you no matter what you do?

But there’s one point that is so overwhelming in Friedman’s piece, so symptomatic of everything wrong with the Western vision of Israel, the Middle East, and even the entire world (and especially with the Obama Administration’s policy), that it should resound with everyone who reads that article:

Friedman is telling us that a good public relations’ image is more important than material security. Israel will survive an infinite number of nasty articles or sneering professors without great difficulty. It would not survive concessions that make Israel weak and vulnerable, more than ever at a time when—let’s face it—American and European guarantees are worthless.

Golda Meir already dealt with Friedman’s idea decades ago: Better a bad press than a good epitaph.

That’s a principle which North America and European countries should think about adopting as their motto.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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