Thursday, June 2, 2011

Freeing Palestinians…to Save Israeli Democracy

A Palestinian state would not only offer justice to Palestinians but restore Israel's weakening democracy and consolidate Israel's security by strengthening the emerging Arab center.

Those Israelis concerned about threats not just to Israeli security but also to Israeli democracy, which finds itself increasingly undermined by rising domestic racist sentiment and apartheid-like behavior, should be begging Cairo and Ankara to get together and make a face-saving compromise proposal for a just two-state solution.

Israel would be able to strengthen its democracy and minimize Arab hostility. Israel would also strengthen its ties to an American public that is becoming increasingly aware of the great strategic cost to the U.S. of maintaining an alliance with an Israel ruled by an uncompromisingly expansionist right-wing faction in an era of Arab democratization. Israel would suddenly look very decent if it accepted a moderate compromise proposed by the new leaders of Mideast good neighborliness. Palestinians would get their state. Egypt and Turkey would get a regional diplomatic victory that would greatly enhance their respective positions as leaders of regional moderation. As for Obama, he would get rid of the most irritating foreign policy problem on his plate, freeing him politically to create a rational policy toward the Mideast without paying an unbearable political price at home.

For the moment, a moderate Arab center is emerging that offers an historic opportunity to Israelis seeking safety in the Mideast. This moderate center could collapse as fast as the Weimar Republic, opening the door to Arab chauvinist militarism, Muslim jihadi victory, or economic collapse. Any of the three would constitute a disaster for Israel.

But support for the emerging moderate Arab center--something hardly seen since, perhaps, 13th century Andalusia can facilitate a victory for Arabs that would also be a victory for peace-loving Israelis. The potent combination of Turkey and Egypt simultaneously moving toward moderation, economic development, and democracy offers a real chance of changing the Mideast:

  • How better might Palestinians be guided toward democracy than by following the rich experience of Turkish and Egyptian societies, with their rapidly growing civil society sectors?
  • How better might Palestinians develop their economy than by integrating it with Egyptian infrastructure and the rapidly progressing Turkish economic powerhouse?
  • What political, religious, and cultural centers are both more acceptable to Palestinians and acceptable to Israelis than the modernizing and Westernizing and democratizing societies of Turkey and Egypt?

Israeli politicians who exploit "existential threats" to maintain their hold on power would of course scream in righteous indignation. In the words of a former Israeli foreign minister:

Binyamin Netanyahu’s furious rejection of US President Barack Obama’s proposal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – frontiers that he called “utterly indefensible” – reflects not only the Israeli prime minister’s poor statesmanship, but also his antiquated military philosophy.

But Cairo and Ankara have an answer: these two large states together have the ability now both to sponsor the development of a stable Palestinian economy and to offer a peacekeeping force more than large enough to guard Israel's legal 1967 borders (not to mention the illegal Israeli settlers temporarily residing in Palestine), if right-wing Israeli politicians truly want to stand up in public and claim that the Israeli armed forces no longer have the capability to defend Israel's security.

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