Henry Kissinger used to say that Israel has no foreign policy, only internal politics. Listening to our politicians, you often indeed wonder whether any of them has any long-term strategy. Given that every Israeli politician is supposed to care for Israel's long-term survival, it is stunning to see that an important event in the U.S. with enormous implications for Israel has gone all but unnoticed here.
Eighteen months ago, two senior political scientists, Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, from Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively, published a paper claiming that U.S. Middle Eastern policy, including the misguided Iraq war and its unqualified support for Israel over the last decades, has run counter to true U.S. interests. They blame the influence of the Israel Lobby for this.
The paper generated a lot of commotion in Jewish circles in the U.S., but surprisingly, has been disregarded in Israel. W&M have now published The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy as a book. Their conclusion: the U.S. needs to start relating to Israel like any other country, and no longer see a special ally in us, because the close relation with Israel harms U.S. interests.
W&M paint Israel as a rogue state that does not abide by international law, and is not up to the standards expected of a Western state. The subtext is clear: Israel is just another problematic Middle Eastern country, and should be treated as such - and the number of policy makers and opinion leaders who think this way is growing.
My concern here is not with the question whether W&M are right in the details of their analysis of the power of the Israel Lobby. My point is that their anti-Israeli stance is the tip of a growing iceberg that is simply disregarded by Israel's decision makers. Dismissing W&M as a fringe phenomenon is shortsighted, because it does not take into account a consistent development over the last few years.
It is something of a consensus that the confrontation with Political Islam has become the Western world's No. 1 geopolitical problem. This is generally called the "Clash of Civilizations," following Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis. A growing number of decision makers in Europe and the U.S. think that Israel, while not necessarily the main cause for the rise of Political Islam, has become a symbol around which Islamist extremism coalesces - and there is good evidence for this. Watch any Jihadist Web site, even if run from Pakistan, and you will find that images from the West Bank are the core of their iconography.
Israel's way of dealing with the Palestinians and Lebanon in the last few decades has led to a long-term process in which the Western world is beginning to see Israel as a pariah state that has no true affinity to Western values. Hence, it is not on the 'right' side of the clash of civilizations, as was reflected in the French ambassador to Britain calling Israel "that shitty little country" not long ago.
This development is consistently disregarded by Israeli decision makers. Short-term political bickering is on their minds more than the survival of Israel, which in theory is their main goal. Any criticism of Israel's policies is dismissed as an expression of the New Anti-Semitism. The proof often provided is that we are not judged by the same standard as our neighbors: "Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia can get away with inhuman behavior a lot worse than ours," the argument runs.
My point is simple: the day we are no longer judged by the standards of the West is the beginning of Israel's end, because it means that the West has decided we are no longer part of it, and hence will not be committed to Israel's existence. The day may come when Israel will, as W&M suggest, be seen as just another troublesome country that destabilizes the world.
Behaving in a manner befitting the standards of the Western world is far more important for Israel's long-term survival than gaining a few square miles here and there, by building the security wall through Palestinian territories, tearing apart villages, homes and schools, and expanding settlements. Every such act is not just a moral outrage; it pushes Israel one step closer to being disqualified from belonging to the West.
My argument is not just about being loved by the world - though this factor must not be dismissed. Many of us believe that Israel's moral fiber has been fatally harmed by the occupation and by the two Lebanon wars. The result is that both morally and strategically, the continued occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people has put us on the wrong side of history.
The writer is professor of Psychology at Tel Aviv University, and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists.
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