May 17th, 2009 18:52 EST
Time for a New Strategic Alliance With Israel
If there was ever a time to step back, take a deep breath and find new ways to look at our place in the world, it`s now: now, when war and greed have bankrupted us, now when our currency and standing in the world are in disrepute, now when Wall Street has pulled the rug out from under the global economy.
But how do we find new ways to look at our place in the world? First, I suggest that we stop thinking like headline writers and start looking at history as it would be presented in a museum. Second, we leave our ideologies at the door. Third, we look at issues as others would look at them.
This doesn`t mean we stop being Americans, it just means being savvier Americans. How, for example, might the Turks regard the Arab-Israeli conflict? How, say, do the Chinese regard Islamic extremism? What is the difference in viewpoint between the western (North African) Arabs and their Middle Eastern cousins?
Every issue is multi-faceted. The more facets we identify and study, the sharper our responses to the issue will be. That`s the way commanders in the field win battles, and it`s the way we should conduct our foreign policy. Commanders who refuse to adjust to battlefield conditions lose battles. Our advantage over fanatics is that they`re fanatics.
Here is an example. In the days immediately prior to the Iraq war was there any public discussion of the fact that the majority of Iraqis are Shiites who naturally look to neighboring Iran for support, that same Iran we had been calling evil? Do you remember that discussion? Do you remember anyone in government saying our interference might strengthen Iran`s hand? Do you remember anyone asking why we would go into Iraq, topple its Sunni government and preside over the installation of a Shiite government friendly to Iran?
We didn`t look at Iraq as Iran looks at it, or as its Sunni Arab neighbors look at it. We didn`t look at it as the Israeli center and center-left looked at it. Instead we saw it as the Israeli right and our own religious right did. We looked at it from the viewpoint of preconceptions and ideologies. And look what happened. The Sunni world, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, stood aghast at what we had done in the wake of the invasion. How, they asked, could the Americans have been so stupid? And these people who stood aghast, these Sunnis, are now left with their own religious extremists, those same extremists fighting us in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Did it make any sense at all? And yet we had the expertise in our State Department and in our universities to fathom this complex situation. We chose instead to act on a set of presuppositions and sometimes outright lies. And lest we be thought to be totally ignorant, rather than cynical, keep in mind that the Iraq war has been very kind to certain businesses, even if it has bankrupted our nation.
There are five to eight million Muslims in the United States, living under a cloud of suspicion. China`s twenty-eight million Muslims, by comparison, are oppressed and often in a state of virtual rebellion. And yet it is the United States that is embroiled in an open-ended war in Muslim Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is Americans who have been killed on their own soil by Muslim extremists.
Why? There are many answers, but every one of them involves Israel. And yet no real examination of this stasis is underway. Standing by Israel does not mean doing things Israel`s way. It does not mean seeing the Muslim world as Israel sees it. And yet since Israel`s creation in 1948 we have blindly presumed that our interests and Israel`s are identical when in fact they diverge all along a crucial geopolitical arc. We don`t have to abandon Israel to differ with its hawks, and this is the message Barack Obama should make clear to Israel`s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when they meet May 18 in the White House.
In the May 14 New York Times Mark Landler wrote that Israel is unsettled by signs that President Obama may not be as unwavering in his support of Israel as his predecessor, George W. Bush. He described Mr. Netanyahu as worried about America`s more conciliatory approach to Iran.
There is much to be learned from Landler`s article. First, Israel`s opinions of our foreign policy should carry no more weight than Jordan`s or any number of our other friends. We`re not Israel`s handmaiden and Israel is not ours. Second, we should reassess our policies in the Middle East in light of the obvious recognition that they have exascerbated our relationship with the entire Muslim world. Third, our policies should not be based on the fundamentalist Christian notion that Israel is an instrument of the apocalypse and the Second Coming and therefore to be encouraged in refusing to accept a Palestinian state because nothing matters compared to this end-time belief. It`s not a belief we all share, and while it deserves our respect, it doesn`t deserve to drive our agenda.
Israel has convinced American policy makers that a) the Arabs will never accept Israel`s existence, and b) Israel is in mortal danger from Iran and the Muslim world. But the facts say otherwise. Israel enjoys cordial relations with Turkey, the most powerful Muslim military presence in the Middle East. Israel in fact already has diplomatic relations with two Arab neighbors, Jordan and Egypt, and the Arab League has had a peace proposal on the table for some time now promising Israel peace with her Arab neighbors if Israel accepts a Palestinian state. Israel has yet to sit down with the Arabs to work on the details of this proposal, the most vexing of which may be the status of Jerusalem.
No one thinks this Arab peace plan is perfect or easy, but Israel owes it to her steadfast American friends to at least sit down with the Arabs. We have put our blood and our wealth on the line for Israel; Israel in turn needs to consider how to make the 21st Century easier for its giant guardian across the sea.
We do not go to war with the Hispanic people because Hugo Chavez has a big and loose mouth; so why should we blindly encourage Israel`s rejectionist right wing because of Arab and Iranian rhetoric? Chavez does not speak for the Hispanic world, and Iran`s Mahmoud Ahmadinajad does not speak for the Muslim world. The United States does not speak for its allies.
Israel`s right wing has used the Arab penchant for hyperbolic rhetoric to justify Israel`s refusal to negotiate settlements with the Arabs. Religious fanaticism is not the only factor at work here. Israel does not want to give up land it seized and settled on the West Bank. We should no more bend ourselves out of shape in the face of Arab hyperbole than we should cave in to the religious zealots in our own midst. We have left eight years of protracted adolescence behind us; President Obama should make this clear tomorrow.
Many subtleties are at play. The Golan Heights from which Syria bombarded Israeli settlements is in Israeli hands now and would have to be negotiated. All Israel`s borders with a Palestinian state would have to be negotiated. All aspects of infrastructure would have to be worked out. The stakes are enormous. An Arab-Israeli entente cordiale could give the world the respite it needs at this moment to climb out of the economic pit, but further hostilities can only worsen the world`s precarious condition. Mr. Netanyahu should think about his responsibilities not only to Israelis but also to the rest of the world when he makes his case to President Obama tomorrow.
The tail has been wagging the dog in Israel, the Arab world and the United States for a very long time. Hard-headed largemouths have set and driven the agenda. It`s high time for more moderate leaders to try to make the peace. Why should that "unsettle" Israeli-American relations? If the prospect of peace unsettles zealots, we should send them to the principal`s office to cool off.
Haven`t we just learned, after eight years of scare tactics, exaggeration and misinformation, that assumptions need to be re-examined at least as often as we get our cars serviced? Taking a new position with Israel does not mean abandoning Israel. It does not mean allowing Israel to be consumed in the fires of Arab hatred. Israel and the Arabs (and yes, us too) are as likely to be consumed in our fires of irrationality as those of our enemies.
Another question we might ask ourselves is whether we want our economy to depend on the number of houses we build "one in nine homes are empty "and the number of wars we fight. If the answer is yes, we can forget about decent health care and education for everyone. If the only way we can resolve our differences with the Muslim world is to impoverish our grandchildren in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we can forget about the American Dream here and now.
Still another question we might ask is how much the culture wars we have been fighting are worth to us. Do we want to continue beating each other`s brains out about g*y marriage, abortion and other such polarizing issues or do we want to find consensus to build a better society for all of us?
We have it well within our capabilities as a people to lead the way towards a peaceful, prosperous and healthy world, but the petty infighting that has characterized our politics in recent decades has paved the road to mediocrity. Nut cases abound in every nation. To allow them to set our course makes all of us nut cases.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.