It is the conventional wisdom to wring hands and proclaim the dire impending nose-dive in the fortunes of Israel if its settlements policy is not dramatically reversed, and to express gloom about Israel's prospects generally. The facts, demonstratively, do not justify such pessimism. Israel itself has sailed through the international economic downturn and continues to rack up impressive economic growth rates and excel in all areas of scientific innovation. Large reserves of oil and natural gas have been discovered just off-shore and are being brought into production, which will make Israel energy self-sufficient in the next few years, strengthening its currency and relieving it of the obligation to festoon every rooftop in the country with solar panels. And the Arab Spring, though it has achieved little for the Arabs in most of the countries where it has occurred, has created immense disarray in the ranks of Israel's traditional enemies. Syria, one of the most intractable Arab foes, is in complete disarray, and will be incapable of furnishing any assistance, even as a conduit, to Israel's tormentors, for the foreseeable future.
Where Israel and the West generally, have dodged the biggest bullet, is with Egypt. The Arab Spring threatened, when it blew through that country, to produce a militantly Israelophobic government that would tear up the Sadat-Begin peace treaty. The Muslim Brotherhood -- which had been the 900-pound gorilla in the country for 50 years, and one of whose affiliates murdered Anwar Sadat -- so mismanaged its brief time in office, with no economic improvement and the massive violation of its undertakings not to tamper with the democratic provisions of the new constitution, that the militant high command of ostensible loyalists it had installed led a coup that has uprooted the Brotherhood and its Salafist allies. More than 80 years of agitation, during much of which the Muslim Brotherhood was undoubtedly the most popular political movement in Egypt, finally had its fleeting moment of office, but only for a year. And having ridden the wave of democracy into office, it skidded out by trying to reconvert the fledgling democracy into an Islamist dictatorship. We are once again in the ancient Muslim position where the Algerians in particular have preceded Egypt, where the army is the guarantor of democracy, and to carry out that mandate, is required to suppress and remove the people's democratic choice, which is an anti-democratic party.
All evidence is that the Brotherhood's popularity severely eroded in its brief moment of office and certainly, the designated government leader, Mohamed Morsi, was a singularly unprepossessing figure. Western Middle East specialists had dreaded for decades a possible Muslim Brotherhood victory, and no one would have dared hope that when it finally arrived in power in the premier Arab country, its incumbency would be so short and so farcical. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the Egyptian army is any more capable at running the economy and generating economic growth than it was under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. At the end of the Korean War 60 years ago, Egypt had a higher standard of living than South Korea; now South Korea's is almost ten times as great. If General al-Sisi has as much political and economic sense as Augusto Pinochet, he will import serious free enterprise economists and relaunch Egypt as a cheap manufacturer, but there is no sign of any such foresight.
The antics of Iran have aroused the Sunni Arab powers, led by Saudi Arabia, and completely distracted them from their former preoccupation with Israel, and Iran's nuclear ambitions have brought down upon it such opprobrium and sanctions that it has little energy for anything else. Turkey's brief and scarcely credible masquerade as a champion of the Arabs has ended abruptly and Prime Minister Erdogan has been slapped down by his own countrymen from his attempt to engross the powers of his office. Iraq, however far it may have fallen short of George W. Bush's design for it, is no current enemy of Israel, for the first time since the murder of King Faisal and his family in 1958.
Impatience with Israel's gradual encroachment on claimed Palestinian territory with settlements is understandable, but Israel's critics should realize that this is the only card Israel has to play against the Palestinians, who have flaunted their high comparative birthrate for many years and never cease to claim that the demographic balance in Israel and on its borders (however defined) skews the equation of the region's future in their favour. The Israelis demonstrated in Sinai and in Gaza that they are prepared to uproot settlers if there is a real peace agreement. But Israel has been burned too often by these phoney land-for-peace agreements, in which they concede irretrievable expanses of land that Israel gained in wars the Arabs started and lost, in exchange for ceasefires that the Arabs do not observe, and are certainly not durable. By facilitating prosperity on the West Bank, and fencing it off to prevent terrorist infiltration, Israel is giving the Palestinians more to lose from violence and less ability to commit it.
If Palestinians disarmed unilaterally, a durable peace would result. If Israel disarmed unilaterally, the greatest pogrom in history, not excluding the Holocaust, would probably be the sequel. Palestinians could have peace and a state tomorrow, if they would acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, which was what the United Nations created in 1948.
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