The Kind of Israel the Middle East Needs More Of

Paul R. Pillar in The National Interest:

Israeli%20jordanian The continued demand in Middle Eastern streets for greater political rights is leading to ever more rhetorical scrambling by Israel, and by those in this country eager to come to Israel’s ostensible defense (but who really are defending a certain set of Israeli policies). The backdrop to the scrambling is, as I have described before, a threefold Israeli worry about the regional political upheaval. First, increased popular sovereignty in Arab states gives heightened attention to the lack of popular sovereignty for Palestinian Arabs living under Israeli occupation. Second, continued (and even intensified) criticism of Israel from Arab states that are more responsive than before to popular sentiment belies the Israeli contention that animosity toward Israel is chiefly a device used by authoritarian rulers to distract attention from their own shortcomings. Third, the emergence of new Arab democracies in the Middle East will remove the single biggest rationale—that Israel is the only democracy in the region—for the extraordinary special relationship that Israel enjoys with the United States.

The current rhetoric on behalf of Israel repeats most of the themes that have been heard for years—including the themes about criticism of Israel being a creature of Arab authoritarianism and about how the United States must embrace the only democratic ally it has in the Middle East. But there is a sense of greater urgency in the rhetoric. The articulate Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, recently contributed an argument as an article titled “The Ultimate Ally.” It was a game effort to do part of what ambassadors are supposed to do. But to understand what Oren was talking about, see Stephen Walt’s powerfully argued and thoroughly supported demolition of Oren’s piece.

More here.