Shimon Peres's last argument as foreign minister in the cabinet, a few hours before he resigned, was with the heads of Military Intelligence, when Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi and Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser presented the ministers with an intelligence assessment in which they mentioned "the clash of civilizations," with Israel on the side of the Western camp against Islam.
Peres attacked their "simplistic" approach, and was angered by their description of the Oslo accords as a failure. The dispute was symbolic, an expression of the change that has taken place in the Israeli political consciousness in recent years.
The summer of 1993 saw the emergence of two contradictory paths concerning Israel and its place in the Middle East. The signing of the Oslo agreement raised hopes for Israel's integration into a web of political, security and economic cooperation with its Arab neighbors.
At the same time, Harvard Prof. Samuel Huntington published his essay, "The Clash of Civilizations," in which he argued that the conflicts around the world would no longer be over ideology, but over culture instead. "Islam has bloody borders," Huntington wrote, counting Israel as a "Western creation" on the fault lines of the conflict, along with Kashmir and Bosnia.
The idea was accepted enthusiastically by the Israeli right wing. It also had some supporters on the left, most noticeably Ehud Barak, who described Israel as a Western fortress in the region, "a villa in the jungle."
As of now, it appears that the argument was settled in favor of the clash of civilizations theory, which has taken over the political and security establishment in Israel. The supporters of a new Middle East, led by Peres, have been sidelined, and the right believes the eternal war with the Arabs will go on indefinitely; while those who favor a withdrawal from the territories are no longer proposing Israeli integration in the neighborhood or security and economic cooperation. They are calling for a division from the Palestinians behind a high fence, to protect the "Jewish character" of the state and to bottle up the demographic demon.
The appeal of the clash of civilizations theory is also expressed in the Israeli enthusiasm for the expected American assault on Iraq, in the hope of showing the Arabs who's the boss in the region. Israel is the only country to absolutely support the American decision, and has urged it to act - and quickly. Despite the delay caused by the UN Security Council last week, the preparations for war are in full swing. Ariel Sharon even got up earlier than usual one morning this week to get a first hand look at Israel's means of reaction.
The tangible result of the change in consciousness has been deepening Israel's dependence on American defense and economic support. Sharon led that policy. The same Sharon says there are no free lunches in policy and is now begging for aid from Washington, trying to point the American cannon in the direction of its next target after Iraq.
But the clash of civilizations is not limited to the field between the West and Islam. A new book, "The End of the West," by Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University, says the next conflict will be between two parts of Western civilization - the United States and the united Europe, with their rival political and social attitudes. He compares the conflict to the split in the Roman Empire in the fourth century, between the Eastern and Western empires. Kupchan puts Israel on the fault line in the conflict, as one of the issues that divides the Americans from the Europeans.
Arguments over Israel's orientation vis-a-vis Paris or Washington are a thing of the distant past. Israel absolutely chose the American side and is paying the price in damaged relations with Europe. European diplomats say this is a mistake and ask if the enthusiastic embrace with Washington really helps Israel's security and economy, or just drives Israel deeper into the territories.
The answer won't be decided soon: The clash of civilizations is only at its beginning and the political issue won't be on the agenda of the current election campaign.
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