To continue with my argument that the United States does not hold all the cards, and that even tiny Israel has a few:
Friends have noted that Israel/Palestine is not at the top of the Obama agenda. More important are Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as still evolving economic issues.
I hope so.
However, American comments about Israel/Palestine are the center of things here.
Going back 2,500 years, Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judeans was at the center of Jewish experience. It resulted in the books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, Nehemiah and Ezra that continue to be important in Jewish learning and rituals today. For the Babylonians, however, the events were routine maneuvers to punish rebellious peoples on the borders of their empire.
The parallel dissonance is how Americans and Israelis view the issue of Iran, and the inclination of some Americans to couple it with Israeli actions like removing settlements and pursuing negotiations toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
Americans should not view Israel as a weak supplicant comparable to ancient Judea.
Currently there are active debates comparing the Iranian threat and the Holocaust. One cannot predict the outcome, but there are experts in security, usually on the left, who have generally promoted accommodation rather than military action, now saying that the threat is intolerable. Imperfect intelligence and timing make the issue critical. While President Obama wants to talk with the Iranians, Israelis are concerned that Iran is too close to the accomplishment of its nuclear program, and has indicated that it will not be talked down from its intentions. Couple that with frequent Iranian comments about the illegitimacy of Israel, that it can and should be destroyed. The result is serious tinder.
I do not perceive that Israel is on the verge of an attack against Iran. We are flooded with discussions of the pluses and minuses, and it appears that the minuses are in the lead. However, it is close, might change, and we will not know the outcome until we hear it on the radio.
Should Israel attack, Iran counter attack, and Israel escalate, it will be a different Middle East. The weaponry involved may produce a different world.
President Obama and his advisors, along with all their American cheerleaders, must take account of these possibilities.
Somewhat below the intensity of this issue is that of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Americans in high positions say that withdrawing them, or at least freezing their growth, is essential in order to attain peace between Israel and Palestine, and help solve problems elsewhere in the Middle East.
I do not perceive that major changes with respect to settlements are on Israel's agenda. The experience of withdrawing from Gaza was not encouraging, as Americans should know. Furthermore, there is little indication that West Bank Palestinians are ready to make positive responses, such as altering their demands about refugees, and considering ideas about Jerusalem and the Temple Mount that Israelis can accept.
The game continues. Any side thinking it has all the important cards will find itself with fewer accomplishments than it expects.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science