Who Cares About Israel?

“The Palestinian issue originally achieved strategic importance for the US primarily as a result of the Cold War and the US-Soviet competition for allies in the strategic Middle East. With the end of the cold war there has been a sometimes-serious debate about just how important the issue is to the United States. For the most part its importance has been assumed. Everybody knows it is important – but is it really important to us? 

If the record of US involvement in trying to resolve this problem over the past ten years is any indication, we don’t care, at least not very much.  Or at the most, we only care episodically. Once Bill Clinton failed to strike a deal in 2000, and blamed the Palestinians for the failure, the Palestinians resorted to violence in their second intifada. And perhaps that is one reason that we care – the fear that violence will escalate and embroil a region, which dominates the world’s lines of communication and its energy supply.  But past eruptions of violence in two intifadas hardly caused a ripple on the international stage. Oil continued to flow, US ships transited the Suez Canal, and we maintained solid relations with most of the Arab world. 
Another possible problem is that whenever Middle East peace talks led to an apparent dead end, either the Palestinians or the Israelis did something about it.  And we may not like what they do. Right now, the Palestinians are engaged in two initiatives – reconciliation talks between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – And a Palestinian drive for UN membership - either would have an impact on the international community, on the region, on Israel, and on us.

The Israelis for their part, are threatening unilaterally to annex large portions of the West Bank for their existing settlements and to build many more if either of the Palestinian efforts is successful. If there is still any chance of a two state solution, and that is questionable, this would just about put paid to the possibility.  So perhaps the problem is back on the agenda and we can answer the question of why it is important to us.

One answer is that the Middle East is rapidly changing, and our policy must take these changes into account. There are three primary factors that are altering the landscape. 

First. A very large cohort of young, better-educated and better-connected Arabs is coming of age. What we are seeing in the Arab world is a population bomb that could explode in our face. The Middle East North Africa youth population is among the largest in the world. And they communicate with one another and with the world through the internet and social media. Governments can no longer isolate their people.

Second. Entrenched leaders can no longer control the agenda. For almost 50 years, the United States has seen the Middle East as a collection of autocratic leaders, with the exception of Israel and, at times, Lebanon. By contrast, every public opinion poll showed the Arab people consistently supporting the Palestinian cause, but the people had no voice. Leaders can no longer count on a passive, cowed constituency – the street will be heard. 

And third.  Demographics are working against Israel as a democratic Jewish state. In 2050, in the area of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza there will be 8.8 million Jews and 12.4 million Arabs according to UN statistics. Whatever your system of counting and given the passage of enough time, the result of an Arab majority between the Jordan river and the Med is likely.

AP Feb 2, 2010 quoted Ehud Barak, Israel's former Prime Minister: "The simple truth is, if there is one state" including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, "it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. ... if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

So who is winning - the Arabs or the Jews?
Given the continued growth of settlements and the difficulty of uprooting people once they are settled, the Palestinians are on the losing side. 

Given the demographics in the region and the passage if tune - Israel is on the losing side. 

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Ha'aretz in 2008, "if the day comes when the two-state solution collapses," Israel will face "a South-African style struggle for voting rights." Once that happened, he warned, "the state of Israel is finished." "Under these circumstances Israelis will depend ever more on US support to sustain their state and their identity. And we will be increasingly isolated in the world." 

These are unpalatable choices that we, and Israel may be called on to make. And we would be wise to think about them now so that we are prepared for the future.  For those who oppose the compromises necessary for a two state solution, let them put forward their ideas on how to avoid this population bomb, as well as the spreading settler tide.  

Anyone who suggests that our vital interests are not engaged in the future of Palestine and of Israel will have to explain how we can sustain our position in the region if popular opinion, flush with Facebook success, forces governments to abandon us. And we will have to look in the mirror to decide if we have been the best friend that Israel could have had.” AmbassadorNed