Saturday, April 26, 2008

Israel at 60: Can the Jewish State Survive?


May 14th marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state in Israel.

As a staunch supporter of the Israeli people, I'm deeply interested in debates on the future of the nation.

We'll be seeing much more commentary and analysis on this in upcoming weeks, but let me share some of the articles I've been reading on Israel's milestone.

The current cover story at the Atlantic, for example, asks "
Is Israel Finished?"

The piece traces current debates in Israel over Ehud Olmert's handling of the 2006 Mideast War with Hezbollah, with particularly attention to the criticisms of the government among prominent public intellectuals, like the novelist David Grossman.

It's a good piece, and includes this great passage on the background of Israel today:

Israel’s people are among the world’s most patriotic—in a recent survey, 94 percent of Jewish Israelis said they are willing to fight for their country (by contrast, 63 percent of Americans are willing to fight for theirs), but 44 percent of Israelis said they would be ready to leave their country if they could find a better standard of living abroad. There are already up to 40,000 Israelis in Silicon Valley (and more than a half million across the U.S.), and the emigration of Israel’s most talented citizens is a constant worry of Israeli leaders. “Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world,” Ehud Barak, the defense minister and former prime minister, told me. “The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place—cutting-edge in science, education, culture, quality of life—that even American Jewish young people want to come here. If we cannot do this, even those who were born here will consciously decide to go to other places. This is a real problem.”

There are other, more disturbing issues, ones that many Israelis don’t care to address ... How can Israel survive the next 60 years in a part of the world that gives rise to groups like Hamas? How can Israel flourish if its army cannot defeat small bands of rocketeers? Does the concentration of so many Jews in a claustrophobically small space in the world’s most volatile region actually undermine the Jewish people’s ability to survive, an ability that was called into question little more than 60 years ago, when 33 percent of the world’s Jews were murdered?

The article portrays Israel as a country in paralysis, with the public commentariat on the left - represented here by Grossman, who is receptive to an accomodation with Hamas - opposed to Olmert's policy on Israel's West Bank settlements, and his simmmering war with the Palestinians in the absence of a negotiated compromise.

Grossman's position sounds like a recipe for self-destuction, but Olmert is in a bind himself, being sympathetic to compromise while fearful of being the prime minister who lost Israel.

But I'm also reading Foreign Policy's new essay, "Think Again: Israel," which offers an incomplete assessment of Israel's politics of survival.

The piece asks if, "Israel’s Existence Is in Danger"?

Not anymore. When Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, its Arab neighbors responded by invading. “It does not matter how many [Jews] there are,” said Arab League Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Azzam. “We will sweep them into the sea.”

Instead, disorganized and inexperienced Arab armies quickly crumbled before them. By the war’s end, Israel held more land than the United Nations had allocated it. Before the June 1967 Six Day War, as Arab states massed their forces on Israel’s borders, Israelis feared a second Holocaust. Israel’s astonishing victory showed that it had become the regional superpower, a status confirmed when it repulsed Egypt and Syria’s surprise attack in October 1973. Five-and-a-half years later, the peace agreement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat neutralized Israel’s most formidable foe.

Today, there is no conventional military threat that remotely compares with the alliance led by Egypt. Left isolated by the Israeli-Egyptian peace, Syria has carefully observed a cease-fire since 1974. Afraid to risk full confrontation, Damascus has supported substate forces such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Along with other guerrilla groups, they employ terrorist tactics and rocket fire. Those methods have claimed many Israeli civilians’ lives. But on a national level, they’re equivalent to a chronic illness, not a fatal disease.

The essay also asks if , "Hamas Seeks Israel’s Destruction":

In its dreams. Hamas’s founding charter, issued in 1988, defines Palestine as “an Islamic waqf”—sacred trust—“consecrated for future Muslim generations.” That includes pre-1967 Israel. All of Palestine, says the charter, must be liberated by jihad. Diplomacy is a “vain endeavor.” The document turns the goals of radical Palestinian nationalism into timeless religious truths.

Yet with time, Hamas has indeed changed. It hasn’t renounced its charter, but has stopped referring to it. The movement has gradually morphed into a hard-line but more pragmatic Islamist organization. A milestone was its decision to participate in Palestinian Authority elections, even though the Authority was born of the Oslo agreements with Israel. In its 2006 election platform, Hamas stressed liberating the land that Israel occupied in 1967, even while insisting that it would not renounce the claim to pre-1948 Israel or Palestinians’ right of return.

This balancing act looks much like the change that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) underwent a generation ago, when it adopted its 1974 “phased strategy”—willingness to establish a state in part of Palestine while maintaining a claim to the rest. For the PLO, that was a way to justify participating in diplomacy on the future of the occupied territories, and it was a step toward recognizing Israel. Today, there are disagreements within Hamas over whether to negotiate directly with Israel. However, the organization appears willing to accept a de facto two-state solution and long-term cease-fire, as long as it doesn’t have to recognize Israel outright.

Not that Hamas has turned moderate. It hasn’t renounced “armed struggle,” including attacks on civilians. It may be willing to put up with Israel’s existence, but it still hasn’t negotiated with itself the way to say so publicly. Nonetheless, an eventual agreement with Israel is within the realm of the possible.

The essay's written by Gershom Gorenberg, a senior correspondent for the American Prospect.

I think Gorenberg badly misrepresents the nature of Hamas - and for more to that effect, see Caroline Glick's essay on Jimmy Carter's recent meetings with that terrorist organization, "Revealed Truths vs. Revealed Lies."

Also, Gorenberg doesn't really address Israel's demographic problem. Can Israel survive as a democracy if the Jewish population loses its majority status?

The Atlantic piece sums it up:

Political parties of the left and the center see the “demographic threat” to Israel’s Jewish majority as an existential menace nearly on a par with that posed by Iran and its nuclear program. The demographic trend has raised fears that Israel will become a state like pre-Mandela South Africa, in which the minority ruled the majority. But if the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza were given the vote, then Israel, a country whose fundamental purpose has been to serve as a refuge for persecuted Jews, and to allow those Jews to have the novel experience of being part of a majority, would disappear, to be replaced by an Arab-dominated “binational” state. Yet Israel has not found a way to escape the West Bank.

This is the biggest problem.

As left-wing anti-Israel groups in the West continue to demonize the Jewish state with incessant cries of "apartheid" and demands of the "right of return" for Palestinians, Tel Aviv will continue to face a crisis of existential proportions.

I'll have more on this, but in the meanwhile check out the question of worldwide support for Israel's survival across the Jewish diaspora, in Hillel Halkin's, "After Zionism: Reflections on Israel and the Diaspora."