Monday, January 31, 2011

No It Isn't !

Israelis - well most Israelis anyway - act as if time is on their side. They have done so at least since the 1960s.

The reasoning goes thus: since we are the stronger party, and since we hold all the cards we can outlast the Palestinians, and hold out for a better deal if the one on the table doesn't suit us to a tee. Sure, the Palestinians, and their Arab allies, can hurt us, but they will never be an existential threat, and when they do cause us really uncomfortable pain, we can hit back so hard that they will soon stop. They know this, and we know it. So if we don't get the deal we like today, we can hold out until we do get it. And if we never get a deal, well that's not so bad either. Peace and justice are strictly optional, and always weighed against the "cost" - in either land, economics, politics, etc ...

The only time in recent memory when this was not true, was after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. For a few days at the start of that war, Egypt and Syria came close to breaking through Israeli lines and winning. This gave Israel such fright that it eventually lead to the historic peace deal with Egypt and the return of every square inch of the Sinai. That peace deal has served Israel well for over 30 years. Egypt has been a trustworthy ally. It is a full partner with Israel in attempts to bottle up Hamas in Gaza. It's security forces have made the Egyptian border virtually terrorist free. Most of the border is physically unmarked - no fence, just open dessert. Yet Israel has been able to significantly reduce the size of its army, not having to seriously worry about the Arab worlds largest and best equipped military, and to redeploy most of it own forces to the West Bank and the northern borders.

But peace with a trustworthy Egypt only made Israelis return to their "time is on my side" nap. With Egypt not a threat, and indeed a quiet ally, - "what me worry?"

A similar attitude applied to Jordan, and even to the PA. Jordan made peace with us, so why do anything to satisfy its majority Palestinean population. Now that the PA has eschewed violence, they are no threat, so why give them a good deal. They are weak, so they will eventually have to bend to our terms.

But the "time is on my side" crowd fail to realize that history does not stand still. Advantages and opportunities available today may not be here tomorrow. Thus, if the PA collapses, it may not be able to offer any deal at all, and Hamas may be the only significant player on the Palestinian side. If Mubarek's regime in Egypt falls, it may be to a government that is not so willing to help Israel bottle up Hamas, or fight Israel's security battles for it in the Sinai, or use its influence to promote a conciliatory stance toward Israel in the Arab world. Or it may even join forces with the rejectionists, and return us to the days of open hostilities that preceded the 1979 peace treaty. And if Mubarek falls in Egypt, can Jordan's King Abdullah last? Or Mahmud Abbas?

Of course it is not certain that any of this will happen, but the events of the past week show that nothing is forever, and things can change for the worse as well as for the better, and that whatever can happen, likely will happen over the long haul.

Israel's only long term security lies in making peace and integrating into the region. Eventually, the tide ebbs, and both force and strategic diplomacy fail. At that time, only integration and a reservoir of good will will count. You would think Israel would have used the 30 "good years" to try and achieve some of each. Let's hope it is not too late to start.


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