Israel and America.

            The long-standing orthodoxy: the tiny, embattled democracy of Israel is encircled by hostile dictatorships; American support for Israel allows the country to survive, while giving the United States the influence to prevent Israel acting within safe bounds.[1] 

            The context for the orthodoxy: the Soviet-American Cold War made the Middle East, with its oil and important place in communications, a key area for American security; the Arab Cold War between revolutionary and monarchical dictatorships made for de-stabilizing meddling; Arab military incompetence allowed Israel to expand its borders, so a solution to the Palestinian problem would reduce the dangers of war in the entire region; and Middle Eastern oil underpinned a prosperous world economy. 

            The new heresy: The Cold War has ended, so Americans can view international affairs in a different way; Israel has made peace with most of its neighbors; Israel never intended to accept a Palestinian state, and the Arab states have abandoned the Palestinians to their fate; the great division in the Middle East runs between Shi’ites and Sunni; a nuclear-armed Israel is a valuable ally against an Iran striving for nuclear weapons of its own. 

The trigger for Israel’s drive for greater autonomy may have come during the First Gulf War.  The Americans couldn’t prevent Saddam Hussain’s Iraq from launching Scud missiles at Israel in an effort to broaden the war and undermine Arab support.  President George H. W. Bush did arm-twist Israel into not responding.  This may have suggested that post-Cold War Americans had begun to think of Israel as just another chess piece.  Israel began preparing against the day. 

            The Israelis have managed to reconfigure their “occupation” of the West Bank into something that they—and the world—find tolerable.  To accept a Palestinian state would be to endow their worst enemy with the benefits of sovereign statehood.  That state would much more easily provide a base from which Hamas or the next version of the Islamic State could rain down death on the heart of Israel.  Intervention and defensive response would both be much more difficult.  Moreover, security barriers and check points have hived-off Israelis from Palestinians.  The Israeli : Palestinian death toll has fallen from three-to-one to twenty-to-one.  Palestinians may be miserable, humiliated, and enraged, but they are largely forgotten by the world. 

            The fear of Iran and of other forms of Islamic radicalism is bringing about a diplomatic realignment.  Relationships have been “normalized” with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.  All this will be crowned—sooner or later—with warm relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Moreover, Israel is in search of new friends.  It’s hard to claim that your country is a democracy when it is holding several million Palestinians in a colonial status.  Illiberal democracies like Hungary and India seem to be targets of Israel’s diplomacy. 

            Benjamin Netanyahu, at least, has been demonstrating his contempt for the United States since the Obama administration.  Fair enough.  Some future historians will write a book about our recent and current politics and diplomacy called America in a Dark Hour.  But the United States has been through bad patches before and recovered.  Betting on permanent decline seems like a game for the overly-clever. 

[1] Inspired by Max Fisher, “Israel Grows Less Reliant on U.S. Aid,” NYT, 25 May 2021. 

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