A week in Israel makes one wonder why Americans obsessed with the Arab-Israeli pseudo-peace process think they know how to "save Israel from itself." They try incessantly to ram a deal down Israel's throat in which Israel makes concrete, irrevocable concessions up front, in return for abstract, revocable promises from the Palestinians. The formula produced serial disasters for Israel: it traded land for lies in the 1993 Oslo Accords, when it ceded land and got terror in return -- when peace was promised. It vacated southern Lebanon in 2000 and offered the Palestinians 97 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza and three percent of Israeli land adjacent to Gaza, with a land bridge between Gaza and the West Bank, plus shared sovereignty in Jerusalem, only to see the failure to allow Arabs to flood the Jewish state and extinguish it led to the second Intifada suicide-bombing campaign. It vacated Gaza in 2005, uprooting settlers, only to get 8,000 rockets in return.
After land for lies, land for suicide bombers, and land for rockets, you'd think those trying to push Israel to make even more concessions would try something else. No such luck. President Obama added a settlement freeze, the 1949 ceasefire lines as bargaining baseline, and a Palestinian statehood vote at the UN to the pot. In doing so he cratered any serious chance for peace anytime soon. So perhaps we should learn from Israel instead. Maybe, just maybe, they know things we don't. A week in Israel confirms that there is much the locals know that America could learn from.
Start with this: reward your friends and punish your enemies. Instead of rewarding Iran by letting the regime crush opposition in 2009 and pursuing nuclear talks that had no plausible chance to succeed, we could have pressed for regime change. Instead of treating the defense budget as no different in priority than high-speed rail, we could recognize that dangers are increasing; with allies in Europe spending nothing either we shrink commitments drastically or ante up. Instead of seeking the approval of hostile Islamic regimes we could back our true friends to the hilt.
Israel is surrounded by a quarter of a billion Arabs plus other Islamic hostiles. It has no margin for error. It lives under the perpetual prospect of being hanged in a fortnight, per Dr. Johnson. Few Israelis think the Palestinians are ready to make peace this generation. Yet Israel works diligently to improve the economic prospects of Palestinians who fire rockets at them, hoping that rocketeering will lose its allure. It treats the wounded and sends them home, knowing they will live to fight again and probably will do so. It is playing for the long term. Ceding land will only whet enemy appetites. It uses its police presence in the West Bank to discourage terrorist activity by catching or killing those who commit such acts, or attempt to do so. Others may decide to try useful activity instead.
Israel works hand in glove with the American military, to enormous mutual benefit. But American diplomats create lots of trouble for Israel, appeasing Palestinian sensibilities, looking for moderates among Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and waffling on how much pressure to put on Syria (next to none) and Iran (a decent amount, but not enough). In effect, America's left (diplomatic) hand undercuts much of the good that America's right (military) hand does.
We could even learn from Israel's economic miracle. The past decade has seen five percent annual growth, a boom in employment, high-tech world-class leadership and a declining ratio of debt to GDP. Less regulation has produced, among other benefits, a country with the world's highest ratio of cell phones to people -- 9 million phones for 7.5 million people.
The joke a generation ago was that Israel's leaders, in dire straits, came up with a plan: start a war with the United States, lose, and get aid from Uncle Sucker. Twenty years ago there was, after the Gulf war, a t-shirt with a picture of an F-15 and the words: "Don't worry, America. Israel is right behind you." Today our President "leads from behind"; the next t-shirt in Israel should read: "Don't worry, America. Israel is right in front of you." It is.
Maybe America should start a war with Israel, lose, and then apply for aid.