Interesting Times: Spitting in the wind?

Both Americans and Israelis need to embark on a new path.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Spending five days on a bicycle - cut off from the radio, television and newspapers - is refreshing. Wheeling from Jerusalem to Eilat on a ride for Alyn Hospital, I dropped my intravenous news feed cold turkey and did not miss it a bit. Yet ignoring the daily litany, while a healthy form of meditation for most of us, is a scary way to run a country or fight a war. The news is particularly depressing these days. For many, the post-9/11 cloud hanging over us seems not only a permanent change in reality, but threatens to darken still. Even more debilitating than the trend itself is the underlying sense that we, as a civilization, have no coherent idea what to do about it. Lately, this strategy vacuum is particularly apparent in the US and Israel. The Democrats tried to make the just-fought American midterm elections a referendum on the Bush presidency, with an emphasis on the unpopular war in Iraq. Yet as prominent pro-Democrat pundit Michael Kinsley put it: "Bush is right that the Democrats have no 'plan for victory.' [Neither does he, of course.]" On our side of the pond, author David Grossman struck a chord at the memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin when he branded our current military and political leadership "hollow." Yet here too, however valid the criticism may be, the critics themselves do not stand up to scrutiny. As an op-ed by Hanan Shein retorted from the Right: "The Israeli intellectual leadership has ... contributed more than anything to chopping away the roots of soil and creating roots of air.... the hollow intellectual leadership is cooperating with the hollow political leadership in the classic ... [evasion of] responsibility ..." IN THE United States, the only alternatives on the table seem to be "cut and run" - however dressed up - and "stay the course" - when it is unclear what the course is. In Israel we have the Left pushing the chimera of negotiations, while the government has nothing to offer but unilateralism, a path that was politically emasculated by the recent war. No wonder things look bleak when neither government, nor their opponents, is exhibiting a strategy that would give a reasonable person reason for confidence. What is the "third way" that presents a hope of success? IN THE American case, the "third way" is actually the road that President George Bush was on but seems to have abandoned. The original Bush Doctrine simply and effectively drew a bright line between the pre- and post-9/11 worlds: henceforth, state support for terrorism (especially when combined with the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction) would be punishable by regime change. Operationally, this meant that the West would transform nukes and terror - a rogue regime's favorite insurance policies - into liabilities worth jettisoning, as Libya did in 2003. The Iranian regime needs to be shown that its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorist proxies, not to mention its genocidal threats against Israel, do not enhance its power but actually threaten its rule. This can be done by cutting off Iran's supply of refined oil, by severing all diplomatic contacts, by credibly threatening military action should sanctions be insufficient, and by stepping up support for popular opposition to the regime. There is currently no sign that this will happen, because the US has been willing to be led by Europe rather than the other way around. Left to its own devices, Europe alone, let alone Russia and China, will never agree to sanctions sufficiently draconian to do the trick. Is the currently limping Bush Administration capable of changing gears and, instead of accepting what will fly, demanding what will work? Such a course would entail persuading Britain, France and Germany that Russia and China must not be allowed to prevent effective action, which means acting outside the UN Security Council, if necessary. BUT WHAT is the "third way" available to Israel? Here the task is even trickier, since it involves changing the conceptions that have dominated our thinking for over a decade. Both the negotiations-based Oslo mind-set and Ariel Sharon's unilateralism were built on the idea that the Arab-Israeli problem could be addressed in isolation. Both failed because they attempted to pretend away a wider reality. That reality is that the "Arab-Israeli conflict" is just the century-old opposition of the Arab world to Israel's existence. For decades, the plan has been to use the creation of a Palestinian state as the excuse for the Arab world to drop that opposition. Over time, however, means and ends have become so confused that the root cause of the conflict has become almost completely obscured. Rather than the world continually demanding that Israel prove its existential desire for peace, it is time that Israel and the countries attempting to broker peace demand that the Arab world prove its acceptance of Israel. Our prime minister should make a simple standing offer to negotiate unconditionally with any Arab leader who, like Anwar Sadat, is willing to come to Jerusalem and to host Israel's leadership in his capital. The fact that even Arab leaders who are formally at peace with Israel would currently balk at this offer is a sign of how unripe the Arab world is for peace. The reason has nothing to do with the Palestinians, but the state of the wider jihad against the West. During the recent Lebanon war, Arab leaders went from condemning Hizbullah in the beginning to singing its praises when it became clear that Israel was failing to destroy that Iranian division as cleanly as expected. Arab leaders have their fingers in the wind, and that wind is blowing the wrong way. Rather than pretending that Israel can steer itself independent of that wind, our leaders should be bolstering our own ability to combat the jihadi axis arrayed against us, while explaining that peace has no chance so long as the West continues down the road to capitulation in the wider war.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11