Many people are obviously and understandably frustrated that Israel is so badly
treated by the “M.U.G.-gers (Media, University, and government)” complex in much
of the Western world. One can fume endlessly against their behavior
(double standards, unfair, falsified history) but that accomplishes
An alternative approach to the issue is to call for “creative
new ideas,” with the assumption that these ideas will solve the problem, or at
least make things better. This is logical and fits many other situations, but it
usually doesn’t apply to Israel’s case. Why not?
The assumption is that if good
actions are taken they will be recognized and rewarded. If good things are said,
they will be reported and praised in a meaningful way. But while Israel should
always do and say the best things, this mechanism doesn’t work. The good actions
are ignored or reinterpreted; the good statements are just ignored.
so the eternal last bastion of those who unintentionally make Israel’s situation
harder and the Middle East worse is to say: Why don’t you propose something
positive? What’s the alternative? The status quo is unsustainable!
all status quos are unsustainable in a sense, since change is inevitable. But
sometimes the status quo deserves to be kept around for a while until something
better comes along, or can be made to happen. The best alternative of all is not
to make things worse than they already are. As for the cliché that the status
quo is unsustainable, that statement is usually followed by a plan that would
make for a status quo even more unsustainable and negative.
There is a
one-word description for the idea of the unsustainable status quo: defeatism
Mind you, I don’t mean that nothing should change and that one’s policy should
be that of mindless reactionary intransigence. But one can also make
one’s own strategy better rather than switching to another.
implication of an unsustainable status quo is that things are so bad that you
better jump off the sinking ship – into shark-infested waters – before it is too
late. It might be better to mobilize the crew, start pumping out the water, and
steer a good course.
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CONSIDER PAST examples of the “status quo is
unsustainable” nonsense: The status quo is unsustainable so we must withdraw
immediately from south Lebanon.
The status quo is unsustainable so we
must have the Oslo accords.
The status quo is unsustainable so we must
withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
And what have these accomplished but
produce the “unsustainable status quo” we’re in now, as opposed to all of those
previous unsustainable situations of the past six decades?
Another thing left
out by the unsustainable-status-quo school is its assumption that any change
must focus on Israel making more concessions. One could also alter the status
quo, for example, by showing more strength, inflicting higher costs on
adversaries and sabotaging hostile acts. One can also be creative about
On top of all this, however, Israel has special
problems. Here are three examples:
• Turkey: In trying to deal with the current
friction with Turkey, Israel’s government proposed that it express regret for
defending itself during the Gaza flotilla – or rather, not for defending itself
per se, but for the resulting loss of life. It offered to make donations to a
humanitarian fund for the relatives of those killed.
government responded that it would accept only a full apology, the payment of
compensation (an admission of wrongdoing, and based on demands rather than the
donors judgment), and an immediate end to the Gaza blockade.
demand was ironic, coming as it did immediately after a UN commission determined
the blockade is legal.
So despite trying creative ways to end the
conflict, Israeli officials could do nothing. Why? Because, for its own reasons,
the Turkish regime doesn’t want to resolve the conflict. All Israel can do is to
show its respect for the Turkish people and nation along with willingness to be
flexible if the other side is reasonable.
• Egypt: What is going to be
determining the Egypt-Israel relationship in future is not Israeli actions or
words, since radical nationalists and Islamists in Turkey – even relative
moderates – are so hostile. Israel’s creative alternative is to try to get along
with the military junta and to avoid offending reasonable Egyptian pride and
legitimate Egyptian rights. Once an elected government takes over, it isn’t
going to be easy.
No verbal formula, no Israeli action will make the
country popular among revolutionary Islamists and radical nationalists. This is
different from normal international relations, where countries can make
alterations in their words or policies to get credit for them and sooth
disputes. That’s a point many in the West simply don’t
• Palestinians: What’s Israel to do on this issue? How about
withdrawing from the Gaza Strip to show its good intentions? No, did that.
Letting a couple of hundred thousand Palestinians return and establish their own
government? Been there, done that. Letting them have guns and lots of money?
Check. Offering, on almost a daily basis, to negotiate without conditions; to
accept an independent Palestinian state; to return basically to the 1967 borders
with some alterations and swaps? Oops, done that, too.
IF AFTER all that
Western leaders and writers can still say that Israel hasn’t proven that it
wants peace, will the next change in the status quo change that? Of course, if
Israel elected a left-of-center prime minister, the world would say nice things
for a while, even if they had the same basic policy and said the same words as
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does. Yet how long would that last? Don’t
believe me? Three words: Rabin, Peres, Barak.
At the same time, let me
say something nice about the status quo. Israel is relatively secure and
prosperous, given the alternatives. The new idea needed at a time when the
regional situation is deteriorating badly because of external factors is how
better to defend yourself. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes contacts
going on with the Palestinian Authority and others to ease the situation as much
as possible, including the promotion of Palestinian prosperity.
Churchill knew something about real-world politics and “unsustainable” status
quo situations. He was, after all, prime minister at a time when the
Nazis ruled virtually all of Europe and German planes nightly bombed British
Asked once what it was like to be ninety, he answered: Terrible,
but consider the alternative! Asked about democracy, Churchill said it was the
worst of all political systems, except for all of the others.
So I’m all
for creativity and new ideas, as well as flexibility, but anyone who doesn’t
understand Israel’s special situation and history in that regard understands
nothing. There’s a reason why every concession, risk, and new idea Israel tries
out doesn’t create a “sustainable status quo,” and that reason is: the fault
does not lie with Israel.
Finally, if the status quo is so horrible, say,
for the Palestinians, then let them make a deal for a stable, two-state solution,
for peace with Israel to change the situation, rather than public relations
campaigns at the UN and patiently waiting another few generations in the hope
that violence, martyrs, intransigence, and an Arab or Islamist war against
Israel will bring them total victory.The writer is director of the
Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. He is a featured
columnist at Pajamas Media and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) journal.
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