Israel and the New Middle East

Apr 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Politics & Current Events

The significant changes sweeping through the Middle East will have acute implications for Israel.  At this point, it is impossible to deduce those implications in their entirety but there are a few hints.

  • First, a comment about the Goldstone Report, a report that resulted from a fact-finding mission led by Richard Goldstone on the Gaza War of 2008-2009 for the UN Human Rights Council.  Richard Goldstone has written a powerful follow-up article in which he reaches some very different conclusions.  He reports that ?Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza,? while ?the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.?  The crimes of Hamas were obviously intentional and meet the criterion for war crimes because they ?were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.?  Goldstone also reports that when it came to Israel, there were individual incidents of attacking civilians but ?that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy [of Israel?s government].?  Perhaps Goldstone is naïve to expect a terrorist group such as Hamas to investigate its own war crimes because its very policy is to destroy the state of Israel.  But this follow-up essay by Richard Goldstone, who was quite critical of Israel in his initial report, shows that Israel is a far more transparent democracy and holds its military accountable to a degree unseen in any Arab or Muslim nation in the Middle East.  Israel deserves the unqualified support of the United States.  It is truly the only viable democratic, open society of the Middle East.
  • Second, Israel may soon face one of its greatest challenges since its founding in 1948 as a modern nation-state.  This coming fall of 2011, the United Nations may vote on welcoming the State of Palestine as a member whose territory would include all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  The Palestinian Authority has been steadily building support for such a resolution.  If this resolution is passed, then Israel would be occupying land belonging to a fellow UN member.  Indeed, Ehud Barak, Israel?s defense minister, has stated that ?We are facing a diplomatic-political tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of and that will peak in September. . . It is a very dangerous situation, one that requires action.?  Palestinian leaders are emboldened by this prospect at the UN and are in no mood to compromise very much with Israel.  They still demand a total freeze on all settlements in the West Bank by Israel as a condition for any discussions whatsoever.  Understandably, because of all the change sweeping the Middle East, Israel is extremely cautious about making significant concessions on anything right now.  Nonetheless, the Palestinian Authority?s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, declared in September 2009 that his government would be ready for independent statehood in two years.  President Obama said last September 2010 that the framework for an independent Palestinian state would be declared in about one year, apparently giving support to this idea.  Further the European Union, the UN and Russia have all declared that the 1967 lines on the map should be the starting point for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  This would of course mean that Israel would need to give up Jerusalem.  Fortunately, at least for now, Obama has not backed this idea.  Israel has argued throughout all of its negotiations with the Palestinians that the fundamental issue is that the Palestinians refuse to accept openly that Israel is a Jewish state and continue to support ongoing anti-Israel incitement and the praise of violence on the Palestinian airwaves.  The other absurdity of declaring a Palestinian state without any negotiations with Israel is the division between the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza.  How can there be a state when these two entities despise each other and have fought a civil war against one another?  Nonetheless, if a vote by the UN General Assembly were held today on admitting the Palestinian state as a member, more than 100 nations would vote yes, meaning it would pass!  The United States has no veto power in the General Assembly.  In other words, Israel would be diplomatically isolated in the United Nations and its settlement on the West Bank and its rule over Jerusalem would be illegal, as far as the UN goes.  This would be a veritable disaster for Israel.  May God thwart this initiative!
  • Finally, just a note about Iran.  No matter what is occurring in the Middle East right now, the fundamental issue remains the growing power of Iran.  As New York Times reporter, David Sanger, correctly argues, ?Containing Iran?s power remains [the US] goal in the Middle East.  Every decision?from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain to Syria?is being examined under the prism of how it will affect what was, until mid-January, the dominating calculus in the Obama administration?s regional strategy:  how to slow Iran?s nuclear progress, and speed the arrival of opportunities for a successful uprising there.?  US support of the Libyan rebels sends a message to Iran that the US can still act decisively in a military fashion.  Its silence when Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to quell Shiite demonstrations shows Iran that it will support Saudi Arabia.  But the greatest concern is Israel.  If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, does anyone really believe that Iran would not threaten Israel?  Will Israel stand by and allow Iran to acquire such weapons?  Would there be a war between Iran and Israel?  The US must act decisively when it comes to Iran.  Right now, every action seems to be viewed through the diplomatic prism of Iran.  This is the right prism to have.  May God grant the US and the world community great wisdom.

See Richard Goldstone in the Washington Post (1 April 2011), Ethan Bronner in the New York Times (3 April 2011) and David Sanger in the New York Times (3 April 2011).

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