This is not about whether Israel's actions on the high seas were justified or not, whether Israeli soldiers acted with restraint or not. Rather, it is about the irrelevancy of such considerations to Israel's long-term interests.
The factors that led to Israel's favored status with the US -- its origins in the holocaust, the bravery of those who fought off at its birth the entire Arab nation, its democracy, its "reclamation" of desert to fertile soil, its continued threatened existence, the extraordinary rescue at Entebbe and other heroic military acts, the utter inhumanity of terrorist strikes in the heart of the country -- began to unravel when Israel attacked and occupied Lebanon. Like the British during the Boer War and the United States in Vietnam, the public (American and Israeli) then came face-to-face for the first time with the harsh truth that not all was good, true and beautiful about Israel's occupation and conduct.
Indeed, Israel did not realize it, but it had been transformed in world perception from underdog to bully.
Like everyone else writing at this juncture, I do not know all the facts and details about the flotilla or the conduct of Israel's military on the ships in international waters, all of which may emerge from an investigation months from now. One might, however, predict the outcome --some fault will be found, and Israel's version of a Lt. Calley or a 'Breaker Morant' will be found guilty of something to show that Israel takes its conduct seriously -- but it will not matter. The more Israel flexes its military muscles, justifiably or not, the more its position in world opinion will shrink.
Although that military power may allow Israel to remain intransigent, there will be only two consequences for Israel: more people will die, more children will lose their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters; and, the eventual peace will be less favorable to Israel than what could have been achieved a year ago or five years ago or ten years ago, as the Israeli position will become less and less tolerable in world opinion. An Israel that adhered strictly to the Oslo accords and actively pursued peace would have produced a better long-term outcome than what it can achieve now.
Although there remains an unending supply of anti-Semitism in this world -- e.g., Pat Buchanan exclaiming as a so-called "pundit" that Kagan would make it three Jews (horror of horrors!) on the Supreme Court-- it is not anti-Semitism that will continue to erode Israel's position.
The mainstream media may show only high-tech jets dropping precision bombs, thus providing an adrenalin rush of strength and solidarity for Israel.
But, YouTube shows the impacts. Over-and-over-and-over-and-over again.
YouTube does not favor the strong.
Moreover, the two major foreign policy challenges for the United States -- al Qaeda and Iran -- link themselves, however disingenuously, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace between Israel and each of its neighbors, and the creation of a viable Palestinian State, will not end those spurious claims but substantially reduce the power of their appeals.
Peace between Israel and Syria would put some distance between Syria and Iran, compromising Iran's ability for mischief in Lebanon and Palestine. Establishment of a Palestinian State, with the major Arab nations co-signing the agreement, would provide legitimacy to that state. Much of the Middle East could be transformed from a cauldron of misery and extremism into a vibrant area of opportunity, although there would be an inevitable clash between the al-Qaeda and modernizers within the Muslim/Arab community. It would not be surprising for the Levantine countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine to become the vanguard of modernity.
In the waning days of his Administration, President Clinton nearly negotiated a deal (at Taba), although it was unclear whether the major Arab states would have endorsed it. From what I am told, water rights and some small disputed border with Syria remained unsettled. The major Arab states have announced their approval of a Palestinian state, Israel more-or-less within its 1967 boundaries, recognition and full diplomatic relations with Israel and support of its absolute right to exist. Peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan have, largely, held for all the years since they were signed despite skepticism that the parties would adhere to them and despite many provocations since that time to abandon them.
Surely, the gulf that remains is far smaller than those that have already been bridged.
Israel has far more to offer the Middle East other than bullets and bombs. And the Middle East needs what Israel has to offer far more than it needs continued bloodshed.
Continuing the status quo is a guarantee of more such incidents. Going back to where Taba left off, and resolving the remaining disputes, promises a far brighter future than appointing the next Commission to look into the next incident.
Israel cannot "win" that one. It can win the peace.
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