Why the fascination with this little corner of the world?
Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in the bloodiest of conflicts. Neither of us can claim to be the most threatened or oppressed. Yet Israelis are at the focus of supervision, criticism, and the threat of sanctions, while the Palestinians are coddled.
Religion, energy, geopolitics, ego, national interests, and the domestic politics of great powers are among the reasons.
Explanation is more controversial than simple description.
The Land of Israel has no oil, but has been a powerful religious symbol with the Jews since their emergence as a people. Scholars quarrel about Jewish origins, but Israel has been a religious icon since Hebrews, Israelites, Judeans, or Jews began telling stories about themselves perhaps 3,000 years ago. The story of Jesus, the spread of Christianity, and the fascination of Mohammed with Jerusalem also beg explanation, but add to the status and problems of the Holy Land.
Geopolitics has been a factor at least as long as religion. Pity the Jews that the Land of Israel is the bridge between Africa and Asia, with Europe not far distant. In ancient times it was on the invasion route of imperial rivals. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome wanted it. By the time Britain was dominant, Christianity was a motive, then the Suez Canal, proximity to oil, and tensions between newly awakened Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms.
National interest, the inflated egos of politicians, and the domestic politics of great powers bring us to present details.
The United States aspires to maintain its position as world leader, which means that it must involve itself in issues that attract attention. Jews and Evangelical Christians are close to the tables where things are decided in the United States. Israeli Jews were the darlings of those with feelings about justice, but that has declined with distance from the Holocaust. Now the mantle of the oppressed has descended on Palestinians, even though they are far from being the most unfortunate of the world''s peoples and Israeli Arabs are even further from being the neediest of minorities.
Liberal Christians tend to side with Palestinians against conservative Protestants who tend to support Israeli Jews. Liberal American Jews cannot let themselves be passive. They may be the most conflicted of the relevant clusters. Some outshout other supporters of Palestine while others speak up for their people in Israel. An unknown number of American Jews are assimilated to the point where Israel is a minor concern.
One does not have to read Harold Lasswell (Psychopathology and Politics) to know that successful politicians have big egos. Notice the body language shown by the Israeli Prime Minister and the American President, and gain some understanding of the tensions between them.
Domestic problems also have something to do with the attention that the American president devotes to Israel. Reminiscent of Arab dictators who shout Palestine in an effort to distract attention from problems they cannot fix, Barack Obama finds himself drawn to international affairs as his safest venue. Conservative Republicans in control of the House of Representatives express an interest in Israel, but not with the intensity they show for issues of economic and social policies. Obama’s world class ego will not let him wait quietly for the chaos in the Middle East to settle down and indicate who are the key players in Arab governments.
He is not likely to suffer politically even if he does not succeed in solving anything internationally. American voters, like those of other countries, are most concerned with their economic prospects and other domestic issues. Without compulsory military service, an American president can risk the lives of those who volunteer without having the voters turn against him as they turned against Lyndon Johnson. And in case you haven''t noticed, it is not generally the children of the big donors or prominent activists who sign up for the military.
The personality of individual leaders has a role in what happens, but is filtered through institutions thick with advisors, checks and balances, and interest groups. Barack Obama may be more inclined to Muslim interests than his predecessor, but he is no Muslim, anti-Semite, or wild card on the international scene. He has annoyed Israel and its friends, but Israel is not impotent, and the American President has shown a capacity to adjust in the face of opposition. Even if he postures himself as concerned about Muslims, there is enough animosity to the United States among them to limit his influence.
We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that Israel is a great power. But others should not deceive themselves into exaggerating its weaknesses.
In short, there are lots of forces pushing in various directions.
It may be controversial to assess what is happening, and why, but it is easier than trying to influence events, and is less likely to do harm.