Monday, September 19, 2011

Analysis of Joel Brinkley, "Israel And The Arab Spring"

I attended a lecture today at the Commonwealth Club of California by Joel Brinkley, Pulitzer Prize winner and experienced journalist.  His lecture "Israel And The Arab Spring" spent remarkably little time on the Arab Spring's causes and its effects on Israel.  Audience questions drove him to frame everything in terms of the stalled Middle East peace process, which showed the audience's pro-Palestinian bias and covered little new ground.

Mr. Brinkley's opening contention that Israel's foreign policy is the most self-destructive ever was a shocker, depending on your interpretation.  From the perspective of Bay Area idealists who wish Jews and Arabs could lock arms and sign "kumbayah" after forgetting 3000 or so years of tribal conflict, I suppose Israel's heavy-handed approach to cracking down on threats can appear self-destructive.  Mr. Brinkley argued that the Arab Spring's emphasis on nonviolent protest opens a window of opportunity for Israel to engage in dialogue with whomever in the Arab community is leading such protests.  If only life were so simple. 

The Arab Spring has little to do with the Anglo-West's projection of its own pluralistic and humanistic values onto Middle Easterners.  Underemployed Arab youths expressed their anger at largely secular regimes over high food prices and few job opportunities.  There will be precious little diplomatic opportunity for Israel to open dialogue with radical Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood should they come to power in Egypt.  Some in Israel's political establishment should know this already, as Hamas was created from the Muslim Brotherhood and has never wavered from its goal of destroying Israel.  Mr. Brinkley acknowledged Hamas' intransigence later in his lecture.  We could all use some deep background on the larger story of the Muslim Brotherhood's role in the Arab Spring.

Some of Mr. Brinkley's other observations point to further intractability in the Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict.  He noted that Palestinians evicted from their historic homes in Israel proper don't seem to want to return no matter they're offered.  Perhaps the victim mentality of living in occupied camps is so ingrained now that they can't imagine life outside of a ghetto.  He mentioned that Israel, for its part, won't surrender its fortifications on the Jordanian border to allow for a more secure Palestinian homeland.  This is actually pretty reasonable IMHO.  Israel has been repeatedly invaded by its Arab neighbors and its lack of strategic depth means it must position an early-warning tripwire as far forward as possible. 

The whole Israel/Palestine mess won't be resolved the way our tolerant Bay Area audience at the Commonwealth Club would like.  The ultimate solution is really rather simple and won't look anything like the results of a negotiation.  In all of human history, no two tribes or civilizations have ever been able to simultaneously occupy the same piece of real estate.  The stronger civilization always emerges victorious; it can absorb the weaker civilization demographically; it can forcibly relocate the weaker party; or it can pursue a strategy of annihilation a la Genghis Khan.  The stronger tribe at the moment is Israel, but that advantage may not last longer than another generation given the Palestinians' accelerating birthrate.  The water tables upon which both nations must subsist are declining.  That in itself will force a conflict over who gets to live where.  Mr. Brinkley dismissed the final audience question over demographics as no big deal; he may wish to revisit that stance in the years ahead.