Some years ago, George Ball wrote an article entitled: The Middle East: How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself. I remember observing at the time that if he knew anything of Jewish faith it should be that the last thing Israel wanted was a savior. In it he propounded, as though it were new, the essential formulation of the most consistent foreign policy America has. That is: that if Israel returns land to its Arab neighbors there will be peace in the Middle East. To this end, America has bullied and bribed Israel since 1948. Given the stated objective, this has not been a particularly successful policy. Until one realizes that by “peace,” America means status quo. America, in particular President Truman, was essential to the founding of Israel. Since then, I suspect that without our help Israel would have achieved a position of stability and respect in the community of nations that has been denied her. By our consistent policy of forcing Israel to concede land, we have forced Israel to concede sovereignty and identity as a nation. Given that history, it is not surprising that most Israelis are beyond the limits of reason.
There has been some question of Palestinian legitimacy. These arguments note the small numbers of Palestinians actually expelled from Israel and view the creation of the Palestinian people as a function of United Nations relief. The detachment of military units and financial aid from other nations supports these views. But if six million, or more, people view themselves as Palestinians that will suffice. The questioning of legitimacy is a perilous and slippery slope.
There are those who believe that Israel has undue influence within the United States. The essential function of the Israel lobby in American politics is to keep up the price. This was made clear during Desert Storm. At the same time, that Israel was begging for loan guarantees to borrow ten billion, Saud was writing checks for fifty billion for Desert Storm. This difference is orders of magnitude. As this much ambiguity doesn’t make for a sound bite, I doubt that America is going to be much help.
The Palestinian position seems the most foolish. Does anyone believe that another nation in the Middle East is going to make things more peaceful? The Palestinian campaign to install themselves in a reservation between Jordan and Israel without oil or water can only be the product of foreign sponsorship. It doesn’t make sense in a democracy to demand disenfranchisement. The Palestinians can put Israel on the spot so easily, put up or shut up, in or out, what’s it going to be? If the Palestinians reversed position and demanded full citizenship, service in the army, etc. the world would finally have to appreciate their situation. They would be entering the arena of modern discourse.
Of course, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis, trapped in the discussion of sovereignty, can appear to recognize this option. For the Israelis, Palestinian enfranchisement is far more terrifying than Palestinian sovereignty. They would probably offer the Palestinians Tel-Aviv rather than citizenship. Given the heterogeneity of the Palestinian people one has to wonder where their nation building would stop, is each town going to be its own nation? Can the Palestinians and the Israelis share a nation? Can the Israelis share a nation? This is the wonder of democracy. The United States is shared between two of the bitterest opponents in the history of the world: North and South. We don’t like each other, but we somehow manage. Although we do seem to have a particular affinity for other peoples civil wars, always supporting the south.
It is unfair to demand exceptional behavior of Israel. Israel is a nation in the Middle East, no more, no less. For instance, Israel doesn’t mistreat its Palestinians any more than other nations mistreat theirs. However, someday, Israel, like all nations, will have to decide if it’s a religious artifact or a nation. Once the Palestinians enter Israeli political life, all questions are on the table, the flag, the nation, its identity. Obviously the Palestinians will not be welcomed, the future never is.
Therefore, we see that Hamas, the PLO, or something like it, is essential to Israeli policy. What they do is frame the discussion and prevent the terrifying option of enfranchisement.
Palestinians entering Israel’s political life would not be a peaceful solution. Success would be the most dangerous result. Israel, or whatever its name would be, would be a modern democracy in the Middle East. This would terrify the world. It’s likely that everyone would attack them.