You want irony?
The most obvious problem on our horizon involves Iran seemingly intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and the world's greatest power claiming to have our interests at heart. but with a President and Secretary of State who are sounding like Neville Chamberlain.
Another problem that may be equally serious is lots of Palestinians armed with stones, which they are throwing in the direction of other Palestinians.
Enough has already been said about the first problem. A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times spells out as good as anything the conundrum. It carries the headline "Nuclear Mullahs" and reaches the tentative conclusion that the United States can live with a nuclear Iran. Israelis are fearful that the item reflects thinking in the Obama White House, and recent reiterations of a reliance on a "political solution" reinforce that view.
The item also says that Israel can live with a nuclear Iran, given its capacity of massive retaliation.
For me, the analysis does not give enough weight to Shi'ite fanaticism or the small size and dense population of Israel. Destroying Iran would give Israelis little pleasure if a substantial part of this country and its people disappeared in the first strike.
Associated with that first problem are Israeli quarrels about how to deal with the greatest power, as always concerned about its exalted status. Has the Prime Minister pushed too hard? Given Israeli fears of yet another Holocaust, should he push harder, even in the context of a presidential election? Are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fixed by their culture to be quick to offense, and concerned to put American interests far ahead of those claimed by distant Israel? Will this be another case like that of the Roosevelt Administration, quieting Jewish protests with platitudes but concerned to avoid a war for the Jews and intent on keeping American borders closed to all but a selected elite?
There are no obvious answers to those painful questions.
Meanwhile, there are commotions in all the major Palestinian cities of the West Bank, ostensibly protesting the existing regime. Involved in the motivations are economic problems in the context of an unresponsive and corrupt elite. For some time now we have known that Palestinian nationalism co-exists with intense cynicism toward its own leadership.
For Israel the internal Palestinian crisis--not yet at the level of Arab spring et al as manifest in numerous other Middle Eastern countries but moving in that direction-- may be even more pressing than the Iran-Washington elephants in the living room. The Palestinian problem is more immediate in location and timing. Israel does not occupy Palestine, but we live cheek by jowl with the Palestinians. Members of the Palestinian governing elite, known for having their personal and family fingers in the economic pie, are blaming Israel for the problems of the West Bank in a way that may translate into another round of incitement and violence. Or the Palestinians' cousins in Israel may join the protests and present Israeli security personnel with difficult challenges of stones, pistols, rifles, and low-level explosives that have to be met without a full scale onslaught that would have undesirable spillovers in the assurance of international condemnation and another round of unwanted occupation.
Also on the agenda, perhaps of particular interest to academics, is the not quite yet born University in Ariel. The government has approved its upgrading from University Center (formerly college) to University, but the final decision is waiting on a case in the Supreme Court and the imprimatur of Defense Ministry and IDF officials, who have responsibility for governing "occupied territories."
Leaving aside the professional and political squabbles about whether the institution is ready for University designation, no less a figure than the British Foreign Secretary issued a "strong condemnation" of the government's decision. William Hague said he was "very disappointed," about the establishment of a university
""beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law. This decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace with the Palestinians."
That a ranking British official sees Ariel as a serious obstacle to peace with the Palestinians is in the same category of ranking Americans who think there is still something to be gained by negotiating with Iranians. Such expressions hand around our neck as part of the international environment that begins an explanation of Middle Eastern problems with Israel's actions or inaction.
Friends of Britain would say that the government is working to avoid movements among its academics to impose boycotts on Israeli institutions, and the timing of Ariel's upgrading will make that task all the more difficult.
Take your pick and start by ranking the problems: Iran, Obama's White House, Palestinian protests so far primarily against Palestinians, Ariel. Once you've decided which is more serious, or which is more amenable to treatment, get down to the business of drafting plans of action.
I'm all ears.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at September 12, 2012 12:06 AM