For reasons I have never been able to understand, many foreign policy experts and commentators on the Middle East are weirdly obsessed with Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians. It often seems that no matter what question is asked, the answer is always the same: everything would be better if only the Israelis would give a little more ground to the successors of Yasir Arafat. Turmoil in Egypt and across the Arab world has given rise to another round of hand-wringing about Israel, as though that tiny country somehow holds the key.
It is obvious that the current upheaval has nothing at all to do with Israel or with the Palestinians. Egyptians want a new government; they are not dumb enough to believe that it is Israel that somehow has been standing in their way. Egyptians aren’t that dumb, but a lot of American pundits seem to be. George Soros, remarkably, gets space in the Washington Post to free-associate on events in the Middle East. Soros is optimistic about developments in Egypt and elsewhere, but there is, in his view, one fly in the ointment:
The main stumbling block is Israel. In reality, Israel has as much to gain from the spread of democracy in the Middle East as the United States has. But Israel is unlikely to recognize its own best interests because the change is too sudden and carries too many risks. And some U.S. supporters of Israel are more rigid and ideological than Israelis themselves.
So, Israel is a “stumbling block” to what? Democracy in Egypt? In Jordan? In Tunisia? Is Soros really trying to argue that Israel has some kind of veto power over political developments in Arab nations? Soros continues by riding some of his favorite hobby-horses, but what his prejudices have to do with events in the Middle East is anybody’s guess:
Fortunately, Obama is not beholden to the religious right, which has carried on a veritable vendetta against him. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is no longer monolithic or the sole representative of the Jewish community. The main danger is that the Obama administration will not adjust its policies quickly enough to the suddenly changed reality.
Adjust its policies? What policies? Is Soros talking about America’s support for Israel, which is favored by the “religious right” and by AIPAC? If not, then what is he talking about? And since when does the Post publish such utterly incoherent columns? About all we can take away from Soros’s ineptly written piece is that upheaval in Egypt should be an opportunity for the U.S. to stick it to Israel. The connection is entirely unclear, but then, for left-wing, anti-Israel commentators, no connection is necessary.
George Soros represents the hard left, Tom Friedman the soft left. But for the soft left, too, anything that happens within 1,000 miles represents an opportunity to hector Israel. Friedman, too, sees events in Egypt through an Israeli prism:
This is a perilous time for Israel, and its anxiety is understandable. But I fear Israel could make its situation even more perilous if it succumbs to the argument one hears from a number of senior Israeli officials today that the events in Egypt prove that Israel can’t make a lasting peace with the Palestinians. It’s wrong and dangerous.
There is no doubt that events in Egypt and Jordan are of great concern to Israel. Israel has had peace treaties with those countries for decades that have been key elements of Israel’s security strategy. The prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood taking control of Egypt is horrifying if you are an Israeli. But how do you get from that strategic fact to a conclusion that Israel needs to scramble to give ground to the Palestinians? Somehow, Friedman makes the leap:
If Israel does not make a concerted effort to strike a deal with the Palestinians, the next Egyptian government will “have to distance itself from Israel because it will not have the stake in maintaining the close relationship that Mubarak had,” said Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster. With the big political changes in the region, “if Israel remains paranoid and messianic and greedy it will lose all its Arab friends.”
That last sentence leaves one speechless. Israel is indeed in danger of losing its “Arab friends,” not because of its own paranoia or greed, but rather because organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood that have long been dedicated to (among other things) the destruction of Israel may come to power.
It is certainly true that the upheaval now occurring in the Arab world poses significant security concerns for Israel. But Israel is not in any way responsible for the upheaval, and its security concerns can hardly be ameliorated by making concessions to the Palestinians who remain devoted to Israel’s destruction.