June 11th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Climate Commission's flawed report

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Behind the Liberals' leadership tensions

ELECTORAL REFORM: AEC ignores reports of electoral fraud

COVER STORY: Sydney wins bid to host World Congress of Families

SCHOOLS: Sexual diversity: coming to a school near you

Safety training and anti-bullying demystified

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: The cover-up of abortion's real risks

UK launch of woman's "right to know" campaign

AS THE WORLD TURNS:Taiwanese mothers reject paid parental leave

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Could global tsunami bring down the Eurozone?

MARITIME SECURITY: The growing incidence of piracy on the high seas

DEFENCE: Can Stephen Smith regain defence forces' trust?

MIDDLE EAST: Obama's Middle East reset leaves Israel out in cold

CHINA: One hundred years of republican government in China

COLD WAR: Dupes, useful idiots and fellow-travellers

SCHOOLS FUNDING: Advantages of parental choice in education


CINEMA: The Round-Up (La Rafle)

BOOK REVIEW Where wealth accumulates, and men decay

Books promotion page

Obama's Middle East reset leaves Israel out in cold

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, June 11, 2011

The late Dr Frank Knopfelmacher of the University of Melbourne, one of Australia’s most incisive analysts of socio-cultural and strategic matters, said that the future of Israel would be decided, not on the battlefields of the Middle East, but on the streets of New York.

He said this because no matter how bravely the Israelis fought or how brilliant their generals were, their future ultimately depended on their support in America. If America — or, more specifically, American Jews — abandoned Israel, that would seal the fate of the Jewish state.

So far, the United States hasn’t abandoned Israel, but President Barak Obama’s policy response to the “Arab Spring” has severely weakened the Israelis’ negotiating position.

The U.S. position is based on the assumption that the Arab Spring represents an historic opportunity to reset United States policy in the Middle East. The parallel case is the manner in which the U.S. reset policy towards Russia, which, even if it hasn’t failed, has yet to be proven to be conclusively successful.

Until the Arab Spring, U.S. policy towards the Middle East was fairly narrowly defined towards (a) maintaining the strategic balance by supporting traditional allies, in particular Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; (b) combating terrorism; and (c) maintaining security of energy supplies.

What has caused the friction has been President Obama’s application of the reset principle to Israel, which has the most vocal support base of any ethnic lobby in the U.S.; but this is only one part of President Obama’s reset policy. Arguably, over-concentration on the issue of border security has diverted attention from the fact that the assumptions on which President Obama’s policy is based are fundamentally and fatally flawed.

To understand Israel’s position and the wider Middle East, it is necessary to understand the origins of the Jewish state.

Classical Zionism sought to establish and maintain a homeland and place of refuge for the Jewish people. Palestine, which had maintained a Jewish population since ancient times, was the only option that was consistently supported, although others, including Western Australia’s Kimberley, were at times considered.

Modern Zionism was a political movement supported by secular Jews who were convinced by events in 19th-century Europe that no matter how assimilated they were, Jews would never be completely accepted by their host societies.

Most religious Jews opposed political Zionism. Thus, when the state of Israel was established in 1948, it was a secular state.

Israelis a Jewish state, but it has complete freedom of religion and a legal system that is similar to Australia’s. One in six Israeli residents is an Arab. What governs Israel is a system of citizenship. Israel is so democratic that it is almost ungovernable, but it is held together by a common commitment to citizenship, democracy and the rule of law.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, said Israel should be a normal country and that, once it had a population of five million, it could count itself as “normal”. Israel now has a population of over seven million — it’s bigger than Ireland, Norway and New Zealand, among others.

President Obama’s reset plan assumes that Israel’s neighbours will be normal too, in the sense that they will be governed by the rule of law, develop into civil societies, and live in peace with their neighbours, including Israel, and that they will accept Israel’s right to exist. What’s more, the “youth of today” will do away with hate and prejudice.

As the first step in the reset Middle East policy, President Obama is telling Israel that they should trust him that this policy will work and they should accept new borders.

Let’s look at the situation on the ground. Recent violence against the Copts in Egypt has demonstrated that any thoughts of communal harmony are doubtful at best and fanciful at worst. The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes no secret of the fact that it wishes to impose sharia law, is now just a group of docile social activists with no political ambitions is not worth entertaining. Egypt’s best hope is some sort of guided democracy supervised by the army.

Syriais ruled by the Assad clan. The Alawite tribal group they dominate composes 15 per cent of the population. The security forces and army are almost entirely Alawite. If the non-Alawites win their battle for freedom, the Alawites will be massacred — and they know it.

The two parties that dominate the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Fatah and Hamas, have formed an alliance. Fatah was a useful negotiating partner for Israel. Hamas has intransigently opposed any concessions to Israel and refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, but in Gaza is under threat from even more extreme elements allied to al-Qaeda.

The Middle East is not “normal”. The idea that people ruled for a thousand years by tribalism, clan warfare and blood feuds will become “citizens” overnight and fit subjects for a “policy reset”, while almost incidentally sacrificing a key Western ally, is a policy of delusion.

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