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Israel-Palestine: the Dia-clog Continues

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"The occupation must end."


Five words; a mere two phrases suffice to sum up the diaclog between a growing chorus of American citizens, European citizens, trade unions, academia, an ever-shifting panoply of online forums, and Israel. Brussels, as the personification of what's perceived by many Israelis as a mainly European bias against the Jew-ish state, pouts.

To some, the EU capital, and by the same token, most EU capitals, hardly deserve mention unless disparaged alongside the likes of Tehran, Beirut, Ramallah, or Kabul. The growing isolation of the country is making it harder for Israel to constructively engage with the outside world. Its reactions have been defensive, and even harsh to the point of seeming entirely at variance with non-Israeli interpretations of the facts. Israel, in other words, is fast becoming a fortress, not just to its immediate neighbors, but to the world at large.

Asking of Israel to end the occupation invokes a broad consensus, even among the Israeli public, that the military control of the majority Palestinian West Bank and East-Jerusalem, and the closing off of the ghetto-like territory of Gaza by sea, land, and air, must stop. It stands to reason that people be ruled by (the same) people, and for the (the same) people, i.e. by their own elected bodies and administrations, not by means of verbal commands barked at gunpoint from an armored car, or leaflets twirling from the sky.

"Anti-Semite" evokes the idea that by withdrawing to the borders of '67, Israel will be wide open to Arab tanks rumbling in from Baghdad, Damascus, Riyadh, and Amman, or additional Palestinian claims for land and attacks, which is exactly what proponents of Palestinian rights are purported to have in mind. Europe does not respect Israel's right to exist, Israel itself or for that matter, Jews in general.

Alas, the latter two arguably, are true, at least where European governments are concerned. They, tasked with the provision of abundant energy for rebounding industry and populations after the calamitous Second World War, didn't blink to advance the hapless survivors of its concentration camps on the great Middle Eastern chessboard. Israel could count on unquestionable support, in exchange for the odd hit job whenever Arab political developments or constellations threatened the steady, cheap flow of hydrocarbons.

European, and later, American governments came to instrumentalize Israel as a client-state, to be called upon whenever a waterway needed to be kept open, or an Arab potentate's Soviet-built air force culled. In exchange they made sure their guns-for-hire avoided censure whenever, in pursuit of the aforementioned goals, a few minor transgressions occurred. Western public opinion meanwhile became anesthetized by the prevailing rhetoric of on the one hand a special relationship, religious affinity between Jews, and Christians who had quite a bit to make up for, and the bloodthirsty nature of Arab autocracies, and Arabs in general on the other.

This special relationship seems slowly but surely to be expiring. Creeping anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe hardly attest to a lack of anti-Semitism, but the current vociferous criticism of Israel is to be grounded elsewhere.

First of all oil production, if not yet on an easily recognizable net decline, is about to peak, or more likely, has done so already. While Chinese buyers still eagerly prospect mainly African and Central-Asian producers, the black gold has lost some of its sheen, and is no longer the commodity of the future. More specifically, the share of Middle Eastern crude in the global mix has dropped considerably in recent times.

Secondly, as the Gulf wars of '91 and '03-to-now have shown, direct Israeli participation in maintaining the regional status quo is no longer necessary. On the contrary, Israel's campaigns against Lebanon in '06, and the Palestinians on numerous occasions, steeped in the strategy of deterrence, or the infliction of massive, disproportionate damage, have proved tangential to American prestige, and its ability to conduct its affairs in the Arab arena on its own pace and terms. Moreover, America's wish to engender a broad Arab coalition against the new Iranian bogeyman, is stifled, among other factors, by the lack of an Israeli response to the Saudi peace plan proposed more than four years ago. In short, America's military leadership, echoed in Europe, increasingly views the former stalwart as a strategic liability.

Israeli policy makers didn't initiate this wretched state of events. They engaged in the quid-pro-quo out of necessity, but the grand bargain that took shape after 1948 is slowly but surely on the wane. This process cannot be stopped, only managed well, or managed badly. This is the strategic choice that the government of Israel faces: to recognize the steady shift of a broader constellation which is out of its control to change, and act in its own best interest. Neither the Israeli leadership itself, European governments shouting, or worse, cloaked in horrifying silence on the sidelines, and those on America's Christian right who affect kindness toward the people of God, instill much confidence. As any taxi driver in any city in any country of the world will attest; "Politics is the problem."

The status quo is on the way out regardless of the rhetoric in Jerusalem, Brussels, Ramallah, Tehran, or Washington. The old days are not going to come back regardless of whether Barack Obama gets a second term, or whether the Iranian regime survives another acrimonious election cycle. Neither increasing vandalism against synagogues in Europe, anti-Muslim discrimination, incitement in Ramallah, nor a mosque torched near Nablus will profoundly affect the eclipse of the oil era. They are selective stories to fill newspapers, cited in varied apportionments according to inclination. They are the footnotes and analogies employed by weak leaders afraid to utter an encompassing fact.

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