Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Mon,Apr 21,2014 21 Nisan 5774
Balance is essential for political success.
The concept has several meanings, each of which sounds more simple than it is.
We are hearing once again the prospect of an American dictate that will impose its preferred solution for Israel and Palestine.
We've heard that at least since the Eisenhower administration, generally without results.
Withdrawal from the Sinai in 1956 was the best example of compliance, but that was mixed with pressures on Britain and France, which also complied, and reflected extreme US concerns linked to the Soviet invasion of Budapest.
A sharp counter example occurred when Condoleeza Rice lost her cool, and was ignored by the Israelis when she demanded a cessation of attacks on the West Bank that came in response to the Passover killings in a Netanya hotel and other outrages of the second intifada
So far Netanyahu appears more balanced than those making the key decisions in Washington. He has kept within the vague middle range, with respect to Iran and Palestine.
He has not attacked, signed on to the Obama initiative with respect to Iran, nor ceased his criticism of what appears to be a bad deal for everyone but the Iranians.
He has linked Iran with Palestine, reaffirmed his preference for a two-state solution, but has held to key demands. According to Palestinian reports, the talks are deadlocked over Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, refugees, and Jerusalem.
Israel is cursed as well as fortunate by being a Jewish state.
On the one hand are the condemnations and a campaign to boycott, disinvest and impose sanctions, way out of proportion to any fair assessment of Israel's behavior over the course of 65 years. While advocates claim purity of motives, the disproportionate nature of their condemnations has a strong smell of anti-Semitism, along with the tantrums of Jewish extremists.
On the other hand are the concerns of overseas Jews for Israel, and a rough balance between those who pressure Israel to comply with international demands, and those who support Israel's resistance to those demands.
Sheldon Adelson and George Soros pretty much balance one another in their generosity and their postures.
Haim Saban is Jewish money closer to the middle, and with access via his generosity to the most recent Democratic administrations.
The non-Jewish world is also balanced, with especially generous help from Germany, which may be Israel's historic due, the apparent reluctance of the EU to go too far in pressing its support for the Palestinians with respect to the program of joint research (Horizon 2020), and the American administration that continues to cooperate on important stuff, even while lecturing and dealing poorly with the Iranians. Also helpful is the internal US balance with Congress more friendly than the White House.
American generosity toward Israel with its military technology may be viewed as keeping Israel within a balance favorable to the United States. It may dissuade Israel from using what it already has against Iran, and scuttling any chance of a diplomatic solution with respect to its nuclear program. The combination of US failure to press Iran hard, while providing military assets to the IDF may persuade Israel to sit back and let Iran get to nuclear weapons, in the expectation that it will have a balance of threat against any Iranian insanity.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf States are deserving the adjective of "Middle Eastern moderatess" by virtue of cooperating with Israel against Islamic extremists, as well as what they seem to view as the extreme naivete of the US administration.
There are Iranian reports about meetings between Israeli and Saudi intelligence personnel. Apparent in those stories is the self-interest of Iran, trying to paint itself on the good side of the Middle East. Yet the more important element is Israel finding more support hereabouts, even if some of the new friends are cooperating on the hush hush.
A key element in the forces that impinge on Israel is a tragic imbalance that continues to cripple the Palestinians.
It is the syndrome of extremism, corruption, and dependence on elements even more extreme that prevent the Palestinians who claim national leadership from reaching an accord with Israel. It is what Abba Eban described years ago and remains valid, that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
While the tragedy of imbalance in Palestine prevents any agreement, it also relieves Israel of being forced to go beyond what its own leaders see as reasonable. So the imbalance for Palestine adds to the balance of forces in which Israel operates.
The details are well known. Mahmoud Abbas, the darling of the democratic boosting worthies of the West, remains in office nearly five years after the expiration of his term. The Palestinians of Gaza do not recognize him as President, and shun the talks his colleagues are conducting with Israel.
Abbas cannot accept that "Israel is a Jewish state," cannot renounce the claims of "refugees" and their three or four generations of descendants, and does not recognize Jewish claims about a historic presence in Jerusalem.
There are ample indications, both from Palestinian commentators and my own conversations with individual Palestinians, that the trust held by individual Palestinians in the individuals claiming to represent them is no higher than the trust in them held by Israelis.
While Abbas and his cadres demand the return of East Jerusalem, a majority of East Jerusalem Arabs say that they prefer the status quo of an Israeli residence and public services.
It's time for Americans and Europeans to ask themselves if they would force a state on Palestinians without asking the Palestinians if they want it.
For an expression of Palestinian opinion that rejects both Israel and those negotiating for Palestine, see this. Those reading it might come to pity the Palestinian leadership that needs to find a path between such ideas, fighters even more extreme who describe themselves with labels that typically include "Jihad" and "Islamic," and westerners who insist on a "two-state solution."
There is imbalance within Israel. Issues of the Bedouin are no closer to resolution than the much different issues associated with the ultra-Orthodox. Those inclined to dismal projections see demographic threats from both directions. Committees are at work, doing what they can not to make things worse..
So here we are, trying to maintain balance while under international and domestic pressures. It is neither easy nor comfortable. But we appreciate the opportunities for maneuver between the competing forces providing support, criticism, and threat. So far we have managed to keep from toppling.