“With respect to Israel,” President Obama said in his interview this week to the New Yorker,
the interests of Israel in stability and security are actually very closely aligned with the interests of the Sunni states…. What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue, as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up.
Obama meant, of course, an alliance against Shiite Iran. Indeed, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has referred several times to behind-the-scenes cooperation between Israel and Sunni Arab states against the Iranian threat. The catch is “behind the scenes”; Israel is still too much the regional pariah to bring these interactions out in the open.
Obama adduces the Palestinian issue and Arab anti-Semitism going back “decades” as the factors preventing an “informal alliance” and “diplomatic relations.” The implication is that these problems—along with Israeli “anti-Arab sentiment”—can be overcome. The administration, spearheaded by Secretary of State Kerry, has indeed thrown itself headlong into another round of the “Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
The problems with Obama’s take on the matter, however, begin with the word “decades.”
On that point the Daily Caller turned to experts Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer, both of whom observed that “Arab”—more properly Muslim—anti-Semitism goes back to the Quran and the dawn of Islam.
In Bostom’s view, “You’re dealing with an intractable situation, and people hate intractable situations…diplomats are the worst.”
As Spencer put it:
No well-informed individual could possibly think himself capable of overturning hatreds that are founded in religious texts that are over a millennium old and are still revered by hundreds of millions of people as the perfect and unalterable word of the deity.
Who’s right? A good way to find out is to look at the behavior of the Sunni Arab states. If the Palestinian issue were really what was bugging them, along with some anti-Semitism that doesn’t run too deep, then presumably they would encourage the Palestinians to make peace with Israel—thereby clearing the way to a valuable alliance against Iran.
That, however, is not what they do.
Netanyahu said this week: “If the Palestinians expect me and my people to recognize a nation state for the Palestinian people, surely we can expect them to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people.”
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said two days earlier: “Palestine can never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
If the Sunni Arab states were concerned to break this impasse—one of the major ones in the talks—one might think they could try nudging Abbas past his intransigent position. Actually, they do the opposite. It was reported on January 13 that nine Arab League foreign ministers had
notified…Kerry…that they will not accept Israel as a Jewish state…. Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki told the official daily Al-Ayyam [that] “A clear and unified Arab and Palestinian position was presented [to Kerry] rejecting the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state….
If the “Palestinian issue” were really—as conceived by Obama and so many others—Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the lack of Palestinian sovereignty there, and it could be resolved by Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state there, why should the Jewishness of the remaining state of Israel pose such a problem?
The answer is that it poses a problem in Islamic terms—for the Palestinians and the Sunni Arab states—given the Islamic status of all of “Palestine” as a wakf where Jewish sovereignty is unthinkable.
Whoever has trouble believing this could note a video posted Tuesday on the Facebook page of Fatah—the movement Abbas heads, considered “moderate” and “secular.” In the video, as Palestinian Media Watch describes it, “a masked man in uniform standing in front of a group of other masked men, all of whom are holding weapons,” addresses Israel and says:
We swear to you that we will turn the beloved [Gaza] Strip into a graveyard for your soldiers, and we will turn Tel Aviv into a ball of fire.
That is, not only Gaza but also Tel Aviv, well within the part of Israel that is supposed to remain after the “two-state solution.” Again, if the Sunni Arab states really wanted progress on the “Palestinian issue,” they could pressure Abbas to get his movement to stop making such incendiary displays, which are hardly encouraging to Israel. Of course, they do no such thing.
The upshot? It is not that Israel cannot tacitly cooperate with Sunni Arab states, cannot successfully deter them from military aggression, and that these states’ pragmatic interests never dictate nonbelligerency or even “cold peace” (Egypt, Jordan) with Israel. All that can happen and does.
It does mean that the quest for a melodramatic resolution of all problems, based on a Palestinian state, remains as delusory as ever, and that instead of obsessively pursuing that chimera and subjecting Israel to constant corrosive pressure, the U.S. could appreciate Israel as an ally radically more democratic and advanced than its neighbors and treat it accordingly.
Clearly, in its remaining time, the Obama administration will not undergo such a transformation. One can hope some future administration will adopt that wiser approach.
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