The Ice Curtain

Ehud Barak’s speech by satellite to the AIPAC Policy Conference became surreal when he stopped his address about the peace process to say that his chief of staff was calling him and since he was the Defense Minister he’d better get off the line so he could deal with the military threat in the north. This is the reality in which Israel exists: a heartfelt and determined pursuit of peace while under constant threat of terror and conflict from those who do not share Israel’s objectives. Still, I read in a recent magazine article by a prominent Jewish leader that this is not the problem; the crux of Arab rejectionism is rooted in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Give me a break!

Yes, Israel has not treated the Palestinians in the territories very well. There, I’ve admitted it. But just who in the Arab world cares? Surely not the Kuwaitis who expelled the Palestinians after the Gulf War or the Lebanese who denied them citizenship or anyone else in the region. In fact, I suspect the only people in the region who care about the treatment of the Palestinians are left-wing Israelis.

For years we heard the tired refrain that the Palestinian issue is the source of conflict in the Middle East despite the fact that most of the tensions in the region, and the last war, had nothing to do with them. It is true that most Arab countries did not feel it was politically feasible to improve relations with Israel until an accommodation was reached with the Palestinians, but the idea that the Arabs interpret Israeli disrespect for the Palestinians as disrespect for all Arabs is laughable.

Look at the reality on the ground. From the Arab perspective, Israel is still showing disrespect to the Palestinians, persecuting them, stealing their land and water, expanding settlements and engaging in a hundred-and-one other objectionable actions. Nevertheless, Israeli relations with Jordan continue to grow closer and other Arab nations, in the Gulf and North Africa, have openly improved ties with Israel.

Many Arabs do fear that Israel is expansionist, despite the fact that Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai, nearly half the West Bank, southern Lebanon and offered to retreat from most of the Golan Heights. The idea that Israeli settlement activity is reinforcing the Arab paranoia is pure poppycock. These Arabs would have the same views if Israel dismantled all the settlements and handed over Jerusalem as well.

Speaking of the withdrawal from Lebanon, shouldn’t Israel’s compliance with UN Resolution 425 now end the conflict along Israel’s northern border? Not if you listen to the leaders of Hizballah, who insist they will continue their armed struggle against the Zionists. One of their pretexts for continued animosity is the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. This is yet another issue totally unrelated to the Palestinians. What does the Golan have to do with Lebanese guerrillas? Well, for one thing, their sponsors are the Syrians who want the Golan back. And the Syrian claim on the Golan has nothing to do with the Palestinians either.

It would be nice if Israel was situated in the Midwest and not the Middle East so that it wouldn’t have to remain a garrison state, but that is not the neighborhood God chose for the Jewish people. The Middle East is a place where anti-Semitism is rampant, as one can see daily in much of the Arab (usually government-controlled) press and school textbooks. It is a place where the dominant religion is Islam, many of whose adherents think that nonbelievers must be converted or killed. It is a place where hatred of Israelis stems from often distorted views of historical events and the psychological reaction to them.

Americans, especially State Department officials, obstinately refuse to acknowledge that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not simply a political dispute over borders. If they did, they would have to admit they cannot resolve it through their negotiating skills. If you mention the religious component, for example, they do back flips extolling the virtues of Islam and dismissing the suggestion that Muslims might bear any ill will toward Jews. Those 13 Jews in an Iranian prison are a nasty complication, but one diplomats dismiss as a political struggle between Iranian reformers and conservatives.

When the Syrians are water skiing on the Sea of Galilee and the Palestinian flag is flying over their capital in Abu Dis, will peace be at hand in the Middle East? Don’t count on it. Enough Arabs will still have one-hundred other reasons for wishing the rump state of Israel did not exist and will continue to work toward fulfilling that dream.

Does this mean that Israel shouldn’t continue the peace process, that it shouldn’t make further compromises? Not necessarily. The best outcome is likely to be the creation of an Ice Curtain surrounding Israel. All of Israel’s neighbors will maintain a cold peace, similar to the one with Egypt, which will allow Israelis to enjoy a greater level of security than they do today. They will have to remain vigilant because of the likelihood that terrorists and rejectionists will try to chip through the curtain, but the dream will remain that someday it will thaw and Israelis will feel as safe as the Jews in Illinois.