On his critically acclaimed 1983 album Infidels, Bob Dylan had a song, “Neighborhood Bully,” which has been interpreted as a defense of Israel:
Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully.
The bully lives in a rough neighborhood. It is received wisdom that if only Israel allowed the Palestinians to establish a state, then the rough neighborhood would be transformed into a Rodney King utopia, where everyone would “just get along.” This seems to be the working premise of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
To that end, President Obama has convened direct negotiations on Sept. 2 between Israel and the Palestinians with the goal of achieving a peace agreement within a year.
Assuming Nirvana is achieved, what would be the effect on the neighborhood?
To the north, there is Lebanon, with which Israel has had two wars prompted by irregular groups which were given free range of military action against Israel, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization and Hizbullah.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was intended to incent Israel to pull out of Southern Lebanon, has been routinely violated by Hizbullah, which has encroached on the Israeli border, launched rocket attacks, and rearmed, particularly with rockets, with the assistance of Iran and Syria. Hizbullah leaders routinely call for the destruction of the “Zionist entity.” Will Hizbullah be pacified by a Palestinian peace?
Moving clockwise to the east, Syria built a nuclear reactor, undetected by the International Atomic Energy Agency until Israel bombed it. Syria was involved in the assassination of a popular Lebanese prime minister and is reasserting itself into the affairs of Lebanon, which it considers part of Greater Syria. Syria wants the Golan back as part of a global Middle East settlement. Syria, along with Iran, has been rearming Hizbullah. Russia is about to sell sophisticated cruise missiles to Syria, which will place Israel’s Mediterranean fleet in jeopardy. Will an Israeli-Palestinian peace do away with Syria’s Middle East ambitions?
On to the West Bank. Fatah controls the West Bank and Hamas controls Gaza. The two land areas are to make up the new Palestinian state. The negotiations are with Fatah. In the one popular election held by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah lost to Hamas. Can Fatah make a commitment which binds Hamas? Doubtful.
Institutionally, the Fatah/Abbas West Bank PA has supported suicide bombers, glorified dead terrorists, financed religious leaders and media and education systems that call for death to Jews, incited anti-Semitism, and claimed the entire Palestine Mandate, which includes Israel, as the true Palestinian state.
The proposed Palestinian state would have no Jews. What does that mean for the Jews who now live in East Jerusalem, which is slated to be the capital of Palestine? Meanwhile, the right of return for Arabs who, at the onset of the War of Independence, left what became the Jewish state remains a negotiable item.
Gaza is the stronghold of Hamas, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction and whose best offer to date was a mere truce.
Look what happened when Israel evacuated Gaza. This was an opportunity for the Palestinians to showcase what they could do when left to their own devices. What they did was destroy everything built by Jews, enter into a civil war, and launch terrorist and rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Would an Israeli-Fatah peace agreement fundamentally change Hamas-run Gaza and Hamas’ Muslim Brotherhood philosophy?
There are two states with peace treaties with Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Right now, the peace is cool to lukewarm at best. Would this change with an Israeli-Palestinian peace?
Then there is Iran, which is sworn to destroy the “little Satan.” Iran has been financing and supplying arms to Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas.
With the assistance of the Russians, Iran has just fueled the Bushehr nuclear reactor. In the past week, it has test-fired two new surface-to-surface missiles and announced a new long-range, bomb-equipped, drone aircraft. In the same week, a former top IAEA official said Iran has stockpiled enough low-enriched uranium for one or two nuclear arms, contradicting recent United States assurances to Israel that Iran was a year away from having material for a nuclear device. Would an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord change Iran’s dreams of hegemony?
While most pundits think the chances for progress in the upcoming negotiations are slim to none, former Clinton Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, writing in The New York Times, is optimistic about the outcome. The time has not been better and a year is “ample time” to resolve all outstanding issues, he writes. Indyk invites us to “suspend disbelief” about chances for success.
Given the real situation on the ground, I believe Indyk is overly optimistic. If there is a breakthrough, it will have limited effect and Israel will still be considered the neighborhood bully.