BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Israel’s Problem – Options

Naked and Screaming
We are born into this world naked, alone and screaming. We have no concept of what is happening, who are all these people gathered around us or what will come next. Then someone turns us upside down and slaps us on the ass. Death is often the same, except that the slap turns into a kick. Too often we achieve little understanding of what happens to us in the intervening years between our birth and our demise. We find ourselves naked, alone and screaming.
This sense of being vulnerable, this sense of being isolated, the screaming at a world that is deaf, is a situation Israel has encountered many times over the last 60 years. In an age in which we are threatened with atomic, biological and chemical weapons it is even worse. There is now a simple truth to the matter. Israel has realized that it is alone in this world, and is finally beginning to work out a strategy to deal with the situation.
This is a frightening realization for all the parties involved in the Middle East conflict. However, there are many paths that Israel might take . . .

Part of the West, kind of
Consider the path that Turkey took from 1923 until the 1990s. Basically, it threw its entire cultural heritage overboard and tried to westernize itself. Everything from how the role of religion in the state, public dress, to education was changed by Kemal Ataturk and his successors. Modern day Turkey would look west towards Paris, London and Washington not out of imperial desires, but out of respect, need to modernize and a sincere desire to become a member of the club.
What did that get Turkey? America brought Turkey into NATO, when the policy toward the USSR was containment. Economically, it was rewarded with various “associate member” status designations as the states of Western Europe slowly evolved into the European Union. However, Turkey has never been considered a full member of the club. Consider:
• April 1987 – Turkey applies to accede to the European Union
• Jan. 1991 – Germany objects to reacting to the potential of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Turkey during the Gulf War as an attack on NATO, despite Turkey being a NATO member.
• 1994 – France and Germany propose “tiered” membership in the European Union; Turkey would be one of the countries in the lowest or outermost tier.
• Dec. 1999 – European Council recognizes Turkey as a candidate on equal footing with other potential candidates (twelve years after its initial application).
• July 2007 – France remains opposed to Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union
Why has Turkey been rejected so consistently for so long? Because it is different. Its people do not speak English, German or one of the Romance languages. It is Muslim, not Christian. It has a tendency to decimate and repress religious and ethnic minorities. Its parliament is dominated by a nationalistic-religious coalition. Israel could opt for the “Turkish Track,” but is bound to meet the same barriers, fears, ignorance and, ultimately, rejection that has caused Turkey to increasingly reject westernization in favor of fundamentalism.

Go East, young man!
With one out of seven Israelis either born in the former Soviet Union or born of immigrant parents, some say that Israel’s future is linked to Moscow, not Washington. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova – has made several trips to Russia and its former satellites over the last six months. Each one has resulted in new memoranda of understanding, treaties and promises of follow-up consultations.
However, there are limits to how far Israelis are willing to go. The general public is still wary of Russia, due in large part to its role in promoting and sustaining the Middle East conflict for nearly forty years. The various ethnic/religious-based political parties also have serious ideological issues and practical political problems with a Russian-oriented foreign policy. The IDF would certainly object to trading F15s for Mig 31s.
Finally, there is the question of whether Russia, which in the past has sought membership in the Western club, would consider Israel’s “application” to a greater Russian co-prosperity sphere. Russia has its own problematic relationship with Muslim minorities and with Muslim-dominated former republics. With its vast reserves of oil and minerals, it could certainly match Washington’s generous military aid packages, but would it? The post-communist regime has shown no indication that it is willing to take on such a commitment.

Modern, but not Western?
Can Israel chart a course that is not Western, but still modern? Can it take part in the global economy; provide economic and social opportunities domestically, without being a part of some alliance? At present, the answer is “no.” However, there is a caveat to this.
Several nation-states face a similar challenge. Japan and India are two of them. There are several Latin American states, led by Argentina and Brazil, that have distinctive cultures, are modern, yet are not firmly identified with the West or any other major political-security alliance. It has been suggested that Israel should form closer bonds with these countries. While certainly Israel has much to offer all of the countries just listed and could benefit from increased trade, none of them singularly or en masse would replace the benefits that Israel receives from its current junior membership.
Israel needs to build upon the relations it has with these and all countries. It cannot survive alone – no nation Israel’s size that is surrounded by such unrelenting enemies could. However, there is no silver bullet that will solve all problems. Like a shrewd investor, Israel must diversify its economic, political and security arrangements in a balanced portfolio of international “investments.” A well-thought out public relations and media campaign, applied consistently, will yield results over time.
The extreme alternative is the model that countries like Cuba and North Korea have taken. These countries survive with autarkic planned economies, extremely limited opportunities for individual growth and advancement, and limited diplomatic contacts. They are bunker regimes, with real and imagined enemies hiding under every rock. It is not the type of society that Zionism has sought to create over the last 150 years, and would be unacceptable to almost all Israelis.

July 20, 2009 - Posted by | Middle East | , , ,

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