Israel is a remarkable place. Just smaller than the state of Massachusetts, with just less than the population of New York City, Israel has been nothing less than the focal point of international relations for 60 years. I would argue that the effect of Israel on U.S. foreign policy is and has been greater than that of any other entity, including the Soviet Union. The contradictions and complications that swirl around the Jewish state are no more likely to find resolution now than at any time in history. Republicans and Democrats have come and gone, in the White House and the Congress, without meaningful resolution.
Foreign policy is supposed to be a bipartisan deal; when George W. Bush was in office, we the people were reminded often that politics “stopped at the water’s edge”. This ethic has, apparently, passed its expiration date, but the realities of Israel and the issues that surround her cry out for American political unity. This is sadly not forthcoming. There are elements in this nation that believe that the nation of Israel was founded illegally and immorally, and that the only real solution is its disolution. They are balanced by AIPAC and a rising evangelical rush to co-opt the struggle of Jews in the service of Christian ambition. As per usual, extreme positions are the root of the problem, not the solution.
How then, should we the people look on this problem? Much like the American expansion of the 19th Century, the founding of Israel was a noble purpose lifted up by questionable tactics and unquestioned brutality. Whether we like it or not, these historical happenings are layered with unjust acts that left a residue of bitterness in their wake. It is, however, the position of The Rational Middle that the central events in question are a matter for history; it is not practical to put toothpaste back in the tube. But an honest understanding of the process is the first step in a just resolution of the problem.
Israel must exist; the United States was, to borrow the poker term, pot-committed to the concept long ago. But the actions attendant to her founding pushed a majority population of Muslims out of their homes and businesses. Given similar circumstances, I know of no American who could stand by and watch a similar process. The legacy of anger is the source of many problems, and is regularly refreshed by extreme positions in both the pro-Israel camp and the Muslim community. Viewing this situation with an eye towards the assignment of original fault, is an exercise in futility dating back centuries. The answer to the question of chicken and egg, is that a circle has no beginning or end; this circle must be broken.
Is Israel wrong to blockade Gaza? Yes, but how should they react to the indiscriminate rocket attacks launched from Gaza? Are Palestinians wrong to protect and support terrorist attacks? Of course, but how would you react to the forcible taking of your home or business? This is the theme repeated down through the history of Palestine. The recent confrontation in the Mediterranean is the logical and predictable result of the actions and positions of all parties involved. Israel must screen material en route to Gaza; Gaza must attempt to get material. The strategy adopted by the Israeli high command in response to the aid convoy was wrong; but an alternative strategy is not easily imagined. The killings on board one ship were tragic, but the commandos were being beaten by a mob with clubs. The attack of those commandos by the activists was wrong, but they were watching as armed men with guns descended onto their ship in international waters.
Can we so easily determine fault, assign blame, and take substantial action from our position of safety and “moral superiority”? I look on the ease with which people take inflexible sides with a sense of amazement mingled with wonder. This conflict is known to us through the news, and through the positions of policy wonks and commentators. It is known to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims through the deprivation of blockade and the awareness of imminent terrorist action. We Americans would do well to take a more detailed interest in the issue. Currently, it is through factions alone that our views are defined.
At the very least, it is impractical to define a foreign policy based on the fear of being labeled anti-Semitic, or the need to get something done in the name of politics. Since President Carter’s accomplishment of the Camp David Accords, it has become a political check box to do something in the Middle East. The notion of unlimited support for Israel, do to their status as an ally, is somewhat overheated as well. Israel defines itself as a lone nation, distrusting the motives of all others to include the United States. They do not act with the United States in mind, a fact they will readily acknowledge. So our nation is left to mediate a dispute between a hostile ally in Israel, and the barely existent government representing a people who have a consensus hatred of America.
The solution, I think, is honesty; pure, brutal, undiplomatic honesty. If Israel does something we would condemn Iran for (like enforcing a blockade of Gaza), then we should condemn Israel as well. If Israel does something that we would ourselves do (like using an invasion to subdue rocket attacks), then we should support them. When it comes to the Middle East, we have no friends. Our support for Israel is based on a concept more noble than friendship, and trust has no place in international relations. Our support for the so-called “two state solution” is based on the fundamentals of fairness, and is undermined by contrary motivations. This is a problem devoid of a conservative or liberal point of view. Our strategy and tactics in the Middle East must start with the preservation of Israel, but it must always be fair to the reality of human interactions in that troubled corner of our world.
The Rational Middle is listening…