Expert: Israel should 'disengage' from Palestinians

Palestinian front is the only one in which Israel controls its fate, Mideast scholar tells INSS panel.

March 24, 2012 19:05
2 minute read.
Protest of the Gaza Disengagement.

Disengagement orange jewish star 370. (photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)


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Israel’s regional standing is as precarious as at any time in its history, a leading Mideast scholar said at a panel discussion Thursday, but the country can cut its losses by waging a unilateral “disengagement” from the Palestinians.

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies, Asher Susser said that although Israel’s ability to influence regional events is severely limited, its relations with the Palestinians is one arena in which it still controls its own fate. Susser said a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement may never be signed, but a unilateral disengagement would help Israel avoid becoming a binational Jewish-Arab state.

Susser – a fellow and former director of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies – said the past year’s Arab upheavals represent the reemergence of sectarianism, tribalism and above all political Islam.

“Where does this put Israel? In many ways we’re reverting to 1949 – a region not of peace, but of armistice agreements with the Arab states. We’re in the midst of an Arab world that is highly unstable, and one closer to boycott of Israel than normalization.”

Susser disputed the view – one he described as the prevailing conventional wisdom in Israel – that the country should bide its time indefinitely in hope the region’s volatility eventually subsides. Instead, he called for a unilateral initiative to secure Israel as a Jewish, democratic state rather than risk letting it become a binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

“Israel has a real interest in disengaging from this strategically unstable environment,” he said. “I don’t think we can have a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians – I don’t think it is in the cards. But I do think it is in Israel’s interest to disengage from the Palestinians and create a two-state reality, even if it looks only like an armistice.”

Susser said the term “Arab Spring” is inaccurate to describe the region’s recent upheavals. The phrase, he said, “reflects the unwillingness of many in the West to look at the Middle East and accept the ‘otherness’ of the other” – particularly regarding the role of religion in society.

“These are not secular societies,” he said. “If ever there was a huge failure in history, it was that of Pan-Arabism, which was supposed to secularize Arab society. It failed miserably.”

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed that terms like “Arab Spring” and “Arab awakening” are misnomers.

“We’ve had a series of intifadas – uprisings, either violent or nonviolent, whose outcomes are uncertain,” he said. “Except for Algeria one could travel from Morocco to the Persian Gulf encountering only Islamist leaders. This is what I call the ‘new Middle East.’” Still, Satloff warned, prognoses of US irrelevance in the region may be premature.

“The conventional wisdom is that the US has lost influence and prestige in the Middle East. My view is America still has a lot of assets in the region that we can give ourselves credit for,” he said. “The day Arabs line up for Chinese or Russian visas is when we hang it up in this part of the world. That day is still far off.”

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