Saturday, May 06, 2006

William Pfaff - Israel's personal superpower - IHT

IHT - Israel's personal superpower


PARIS The John Mearsheimer-Step hen Walt critique of the Israel lobby's activities and influence in the United States initially produced an attempt to silence discussion and discredit the authors, sometimes employing character assassination and the technique of guilt by association.

This was not successful, and the issue of Israeli- American relations, as well as of the Israel lobby, has now been opened up to discussion.

Most Americans and many Israelis may not realize that the close U.S.-Israeli alliance is relatively recent.

The U.S. government witnessed Israel's establishment without enthusiasm.

To Washington, Israel was an unwelcome irritant to American relations with the Arab world, where Saudi Arabia had become a principal source of oil for the United States. Israel's foreign policy throughout the 1950s was "non-identification" with either side in the Cold War.

The predecessor of today's main Washington pro- Israel organization, Aipac, was formed in 1954. But more influential in changing American popular opinion was probably the novel "Exodus" and the movie made of it, and in 1961, the trial and condemnation of Adolph Eichmann, which brought home to many the full horror of the so-called Final Solution.

The 1967 Six Day war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, won by Israel with great panache, was the start of the great romance between Americans and Israelis. It also produced the decision that has made Israel a pariah in the eyes of much of the world: its colonization of occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel lives with existential realities. Its primordial interest is survival in a hostile region, where its presence was established and is maintained by violence, and where it has never been fully accepted.

Hamas speaks for many in the region when it says that Israel is illegitimate and must eventually disappear. This probably seems to Hamas more a historical inevitability than a declaration of policy.

Israeli interest thus is served when the Arabs are politically disorganized and conventionally powerless, as the Palestinians are now. Its interest is also served when the Arabs are divided along sectarian or ethnic lines, as is happening in Iraq, as a result of the American invasion, with the emergence of rival Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish entities.

If a unified Iraq disappears, Iran will remain the only major Muslim state in the immediate region, with Syria a minor, if influential, actor. Hence it is in Israel's interest that the United States bring about regime change in Iran. Israelis know that such an effort could produce the same consequences as in Iraq, which could be to their advantage - although not to Washington's.

There is, in principle, a different vision of realism available to Israel, which would not rely on the destruction of rivals and the permanence of American alliance. Israel could reverse 40 years of policy and look for security in withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, serious negotiations to create a viable Palestinian state, and settlement of the territorial and refugee issues.

However, I would imagine that few Israelis now believe in this possibility, after the acts of terrorism and all the blood that has been shed during the past 60 years, even though many may wish for it.

After the Jewish experience during World War II and since, I would think that little ability survives to trust in the good will of others. Certainly not trust in the Arabs. Certainly not trust in the Europeans. In the case of the Americans, it is not good will that has to be trusted, but American willingness to believe that American and Israeli interests really do coincide - despite the fact that they do not.

The announced American ambition is to make the Arab states into democracies and install a liberal order in the region. Israelis, being realists, understand that this is a fantasy.

Israel's own interests depend on the exercise of power in ways unwelcome to the Arab peoples, and this depends on a permanent American willingness - and ability - to dominate the region on Israel's behalf. And this, as politically perceptive Israelis may grasp, could prove a profoundly unrealistic assumption.

Superpowers can afford the illusion that empires "make" the reality that suits them. Small powers cannot afford such rashness. That seems to me Israel's dilemma.


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