Things have been trending badly for Israel for some time now, but Hosni Mubarak losing control of Egypt makes the Jewish state untenable. Thats right: Israel is no longer feasible. I dont mean that in the manner the international left usually doesthat nationalism is passé and we must move on to higher forms of communal existence. I mean it in the old-fashioned way of nations and peoples who are vanquished when the balance of power tips against them. And I mean it strategicallya tiny country with a Jewish majority of 6 million cant survive surrounded by enemies and forsaken by its superpower ally.
For several decades American policymakers from both sides of the aisle traveled to the Middle East to explain how much peace there meant to Washington. During the October 1973 war, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixons airlifts showed the Arabs that it was futile to make war on Israel while they were backed by an awesome superpower. The Arabs could not hope to beat Israel in war so they would have to petition the Israelis U.S. patron if they wanted any concessions. Besides, there were great rewards, such as American military aid, to be had for anyone who would sign a dealwhich essentially amounted to a bribe.
Coming to power in Egypt after Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated for signing a treaty with Israel, Mubarak kept the peace and thereby underwrote the integrity of the peace process. Egypt was the trophy that Washington kept on display to show all the other Arab states what they, too, might have should they come to their senses and just sign a deal. But as it turns out, the peace treaty must not have been that important because the man who preserved it for some 30 years in the face of domestic as well as regional oppositionenduring several attempts on his lifewas tossed aside by the Obama Administration. In doing so, the United States showed that everything it had ever said about the peace process was total nonsense.
Americas Arab allies were astonished that the White House would treat a close ally like Mubarak as it did; but they were also dumbstruck that the Americans could undermine their own position in the region without a second thought. If binding the region together in a peace process is no longer the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East strategy, what do the Americans have up their sleeve? Washington only has one move, which is to throw Israel under the bus.
Sure, things were bad for Israel even before Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based radical cleric who is the spiritual voice of the Muslim Brotherhood reappeared last week in Cairo to call for the liberation of Jerusalem. But consider the most optimistic scenario for Egypt, in which it follows the Turkish model, once a strategic ally that in the space of just a few years has become moderately hostile. Ankaras involvement with the Mavi Marmara incident made Turkey part of an international delegitimization campaign against Israel, waged largely in Europe but making inroads now in the United States.
For instance, consider the administrations bizarre mishandling last week of the Palestinians proposed Security Council measure denouncing Israeli settlements. Not only did Washington delay in vetoing a proposed resolution that in the past it wouldve batted down immediately, but the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, felt compelled to make a statement covering the administrations flank. The veto, she explained, should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity.
Washington, it seems, is tired of having to stick up for Jerusalem. Its bad enough that having Israels back always sets the United States against the rest of the international community, but in the wake of the Arab uprisings, defending Israel also means that Obama has to cross the Muslim and Arab masses hes courted ever since his 2009 Cairo speech. But nothing Washington is able to wring out of Israel never seems to satisfy anyone. Israels withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 bought it tens of thousands of Hezbollah rockets, while its 2006 war there bought it international opprobrium. The 2005 withdrawal from Gaza that was supposed to burnish Israels bona fides with the international community only won it more rockets. And after the war with Hamas in the winter of 2008, Israel got the Goldstone Report.
Now, with the end of Mubaraks regime in Egypt, Washington will have no choice but to move further away from Israel. Its an understandable move from a superpower whose prestige is waning in the Middle East.
So what of the near future? There will still be a peace process, but it will be rather like a living will, in which the party with power of attorney, Washington, decides when to pull the plug on Israeland how to dispose of the corpse. Indeed, the Obama Administration still wants talks between Israel and Syriaeven though Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has said that a peace deal would cost his regime its life. It is Assads resistance to Israel, through his support of Hezbollah and Hamas and Syrias alliance with Iran, that has endeared him to the Syrian masses. Syria is stable, said Assad, because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.
In other words, the peace treaty with Israel that Egypt signed has now been exposed as a suicide pact. In Assads view, the former Egyptian presidents great misstep was diverging from the beliefs of his people, who are anti-Israel. Or, as Syrias foreign minister put it, the leaders of regional countries should befriend their peoples. Thats the best choice.
The notion that the Arab masses hate Israel is difficult for Washington policymakers to swallow. Their working assumption for the last several decades is that Arab rulers were responsible for anti-Israel sentiment by redirecting popular anger at their own regimes onto the tiny Jewish state. But as were seeing, the Arab public is more than able to voice its discontent with their rulers while also hating Israel. Whether Washington grasps the fact that Arabs hate Israel is immaterial, for Arab rulers cannot afford to forget it without losing their grip. And the United States will have no choice but to make those rulers happy if it is to pursue its interests in the region. Unfortunately, this means that Israel is no longer viable. By which I dont mean that 6 million Jews are going to be killed, only that if they want to survive they cant stay in Israel.