What follows is my response to Immanuel Wallerstein’s article, “The U.S. in the Middle East” in the summer issue of the formidable left-wing journal, New Politics. Prof. Wallerstein (a prominent sociologist, currently at Yale, who often addresses global issues) is not as reflexively anti-Israel in the way that New Politics writers generally are, but he establishes his “radical” bona fides by skipping over important details of Israel’s past and present reality anyway. I’ve been informed by NP editor Marvin Mandell that since he is vacationing in the French Alps, I should resubmit this, my letter to the editor, in September (I kid you not) – R. Seliger:
As a left-Zionist, I share most of Prof. Wallerstein’s concerns. I am a longtime advocate for an end to Israeli settlements, for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a viable independent state for Palestinians who are not Israelis. But there were some important lacunae in his recounting of history.
Wallerstein is correct that the course of events changed radically in 1967, but Israel did not attack Egypt merely because Nasser “seemed to be assembling Arab troops for an invasion.” Nasser, in fact, laid siege to Israel. He established an alliance of Arab states – including Jordan, which then lost the West Bank because its army, newly under Egyptian command, shelled West Jerusalem and the outskirts of Tel Aviv. And Nasser assembled 100,000 troops along Israel’s Sinai border, expelled the UN peacekeeping force and announced a blockade of shipping to Israel’s port of Eilat. At the same time, Nasser whipped Arab masses to a frenzy with bloodcurdling rhetoric about a final battle.
There was a small window of time, immediately after Israel’s victory in 1967, when an Arab offer to negotiate a reasonable peace would have likely been received positively. This passed with the infamous resolution of the Arab League at Khartoum of the three “no’s”: No to recognition of Israel, no to negotiations and no to peace. What followed were the years of blindness, self-righteousness and territorial ambitions manifested under Golda Meir, and then more egregiously under a succession of Likud governments allied with the militant settler movement.
Wallerstein barely mentions the Oslo years, which might have borne fruit if not for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in late 1995 and a wave of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv early in ’96, which all-but guaranteed Likud’s return to power. The professor is correct that negotiations might still have succeeded at Taba in January 2001, but the eruption of the second Intifada had already insured Sharon’s election. We need not discuss the complications of Sharon’s efforts at withdrawing from parts of the occupied territories unilaterally, without negotiations, which have been met by the ascendency of Hamas and ongoing attacks on Israel in the face of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (attacks which Israel has responded to in a lop-sided way).
Olmert’s efforts at diplomacy have been more energetic than Sharon’s, but it remains to be seen how serious they will be. As for the role of the US, it is certainly possible that Israel will be in crisis as a result of a distancing in this “special relationship.” It is also possible that
an Obama administration will pursue diplomacy skillfully from day one, as Obama himself proclaims.
Or it may develop that Israel will pull a rabbit out of its own hat, as it did when it won independence without material US support, when it secretly launched Oslo in 1991-92, and as it has recently done in reaching out to Syria via Turkey, and even to Hamas and Hezbollah for limited agreements. Israel’s ongoing success as an economic and military power, even as it remains a very small and vulnerable country, continually defies expectations and confounds predictions.