I recently returned from six days in Israel. Great place to visit, but if you’re American you don’t want to keep spending billions of tax dollars there.
I stipulate that Israel and its place in the Middle East is a complex issue and that I’m no expert. But you don’t have to be a policy wonk to know this: the status quo is really bad for the United States.
The Arab Spring has changed the calculus. Israelis still deserve a secure homeland, but it appears to me that they have mastered the skill of maintaining security. It’s the United States that I’m worried about.
Get in a cab in Abu Dhabi and ask any driver from Pakistan or Bangladesh or Egypt if they like the U.S. “We love Americans. We hate America.”
Why? Israel. More precisely, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. There’s little evidence the Muslim World cares much about the Palestinians, but the Muslim World seems to have packed all of its envy and anger toward the United States into one box: our unwavering support for Israel.
So, I have begun to wonder.
I wonder if the U.S. can’t continue to assure Israel’s security without alienating the world’s 1 billion Muslims.
I wonder if our kids will be paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to prop up Israel 20 or 30 years from now.
I wonder if Israel isn’t becoming more of a liability in a region that is rapidly falling under Islamic rule. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would criticize Israel, but he was more interested in selling Israelis natural gas than pressing for a Palestinian state. I suspect Egypt’s new leaders will be far more attuned to the mood of the Arab Street and less pragmatic about the economic consequences of challenging Israel.
I wonder if America’s president will seize that narrow post-election-victory period later this year to apply painful pressure on the Israeli government to stop building illegal settlements and start making significant compromises that could lead to a Palestinian state. We need to apply some tough love if we want to operate in the new Middle East.
I wonder about Florida’s smart, liberal Jewish residents who are so generous with their time and money to promote the rights of the dispossessed. Certainly they understand that today’s Israel is not the shining example of democracy that was envisioned in 1948. They know that the increasingly right-wing Netanyahu government panders to the settler movement and that many of the new settlements, where Palestinians are denied the rights of citizenship, are simply part of a strategy to expand Israel’s borders.
I’m heartened to learn that American Jews are beginning to debate among themselves the wisdom of our government’s support of Israel.
I wonder what would happen if American Jews told American politicians and the pro-Israel lobby that they sure would like to see a humane peace established in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Tell them that Israel is far more powerful than all the Arab armies combined and that peace would benefit everyone – including Israel.
I wonder if a serious peace effort would lessen the chances of a nuclear attack by Iran. Probably not, but I’m sure the status quo is an ace the Iranians will continue to play in this nasty nuclear poker game.
I’ve seen the imposing security wall, the massive settlements and the teenage soldiers in the Old City with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. I suspect Israel has the power and smarts to control the Palestinians for decades.
Whether that’s fair, I’ll let the wonks wrestle with that. All I wonder is this: for America, does it serve our interests to support that kind of Israel?
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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