The sound logic of Zionism, inculcated during the tumultuous period of nationalism and anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe in the 19th century, stipulates that an independent Jewish state is the answer to centuries of oppression, misery, and persecution. In 1948, the Jewish state was established; in the 1960s, work began on the Dimona nuclear program, and Israel obtained the ultimate qualitative military advantage–––which protects its sovereignty to this day.
The threats Israel faced in the 1950s, ’60’s, 70’s were indeed existential. In many ways, particularly in 1967, the Jewish state was alone. The type of thinking that animates Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy today is almost certainly a mixture of these experiences and the Revisionist philosophy he was brought up in. In a recent op-ed in Haaretz, the eminent historian Gershom Gorenberg expanded on this Revisionist belief of (more often than not, artificial) loneliness:
…Netanyahu described Israel as the product of two grand historical forces: “Zionism’s spectacular rise, assisted by the foremost powers of the world, and its equally spectacular betrayal by those same powers.” This is history as tragic myth: Great Power support and their perfidy came into the world as siblings, with little difference in age. The original treachery is that of Britain, starting virtually from the first day of the Mandate, with Britain’s decision not to include the East Bank of the Jordan in the area designated for a “national home” for the Jews.
Observing Netanyahu for most of his second and third terms in office, I’ve concluded, like Gorenberg, that this perverse romanticization of the Jewish plight lies at the heart of the abysmal relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama (and Clinton in the 1990s). The relationship reached its nadir this week with the delaying of U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.
It would be unfair to unload this entire burden on Netanyahu. It was certainly a mistake for the United States to reach out to Qatar and Turkey at the expense of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In harsh realist calculations, the fruits of a ceasefire did not justify the risk taken. But what happened next was absolutely unacceptable. The leaking of the ceasefire document, however flawed, was bound to embarrass the United States; in fact, I can’t think of anything else the leak could have accomplished. There was only one immature actor in this play.
Some of my friends are convinced that it’s all arrogance. Netanyahu believes he can play Congress, the Pentagon, and not worry at all about the White House. In the short-term, this may be true. But in the long-term, Gorenberg is right. Netanyahu’s fatalism does not allow him to see an “unshakeable” relationship between Israel and the United States. To him, the United States is a resource, until it decides to not be one, because that’s the Jewish people’s luck.
This is a perilous way of viewing the world, and will send Israel down a path of tragic self-destruction. It’s even more depressing when one considers the once-in-generations regional score: the threats of Iran and Sunni extremism have moved moderate Arab states closer than ever to Israel’s position. Israel is no longer surrounded by enemies, but by powers who can do nothing but regret the decision they made in 1948. I don’t believe in astrology, but the starts are aligned for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli peace.
Too bad the son of an historian is in power.