Time for America to Befriend Israel

The conflict in the Middle East is not between Israelis and Palestinians so much as between extremists and moderates. And the extremists on both sides have been steadily winning through mutual provocation.
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Has a tipping point finally been reached in the Middle East? Lucy Netanyahu pulled the football away from Charlie Brown Obama once too often. And so now he has to realize, or at least accept publicly, that Israel has no intention of giving up control of Jerusalem, if not the West Bank. Joe Biden even linked Iraq and Afghanistan to the goings on in Israel. Now that's progress -- acknowledging even more of the obvious.

But one tipping point may just expose the next. Even if Netanyahu is dragged to the bargaining table, albeit one that is kilometers long, can anyone believe that he, or any other Israeli prime minister, will negotiate a Palestinian state? How long will it take to reach this obvious tipping point: more days? more decades?

No-one should be surprised by this situation. Had the establishment of the state of Israel required the permission of the Palestinians, there would be no state of Israel. Likewise, should a state of Palestine have to await the permission of the Israeli government? If ever there has been a place in need of binding arbitration on the diplomatic front, surely this is it. There may be a great deal to work out, but can anyone believe more so than with the current expectations of a negotiated agreement?

When America gets this message, all its timid allies will likely fall in line, and the State of Palestine will come into being. And that may be the best thing that can happen to Israel.

Israel was established thanks in good part to the guilt of the western countries over their behavior toward the Jews during World War Two -- and I refer not just to Germany. Surely there must now be enough guilt to go around, especially throughout the Middle East but also in Europe and North America, about the treatment of the Palestinians these past decades. Perhaps it could be put to some good use with regard to the settlements: what if a fund were established to enable Palestinians to buy the settlement buildings for the cost of their construction? That might avoid the debacle of destruction that accompanied the settlers' departure from Gaza, while helping current ones to resettle in Israel.

As for Jerusalem, the tide seems to be turning against Israel's claim to the whole city. This suggests a situation akin to divided Berlin. But there is an alternative; at least with regard to the old city: the Vatican, a religious state within a political one. What if each religion controlled its own quarter and holy sites, while together they formed a common administration around the table? This may be rife with complications, but surely less than two states facing each other across that table?

A brilliant woman named Mary Parker Follett wrote in the 1920s that there are two common ways not to resolve a conflict: domination by one side and compromise by both. The Middle East has had decades of domination and unrelenting calls for compromise.

In the case of domination, she wrote, the defeated side "will simply wait for its chance to dominate," while in the case of compromise, neither side "gets what it wants" and so "the conflict will come up again and again." Here we have the Middle East in a nutshell.

This conflict in the Middle East is not between Israelis and Palestinians so much as between extremists and moderates. And the extremists on both sides have been steadily winning, as they have used each other's outrages to ratchet up their own. The trouble is that while one or other of the extremist sides wins each battle, always at the expense of the moderates, neither side ever wins the war, meaning to dominate the other. Israel will not disappear into the sea any more than will millions of Palestinians leave the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Mary Parker Follett suggested another approach, beyond domination and compromise: "never let yourself be bullied by an either-or situation"; instead "find a third way," which she called "integration," when both sides face what they truly want and find a common solution to that." The basis for such a solution in the Middle East lies in the fact that the moderates want peace and quiet, not settlements or missiles. Indeed there are many examples of moderate Palestinians and Israelis cooperating constructively with each other.

Lord Acton gave us with what is probably the truest law of human nature: that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thanks to the unwavering friendship of America, Israel has been able to exercise near absolute power in its immediate region. It dominates, and its current politics allow precious little space for compromise. Instead it continues to pursue its suicidal strategy of settlements. Remove American support, and watch that house of cards collapse.

Flaubert wrote that "The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously." He might have said that about true friends of a country too. This may be the moment when America can become a true friend of Israel.

Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal.

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