Most American Jews will vote tomorrow for reasons other than Israel but few will vote indifferent to it. So let’s be clear what a Romney administration, reaching into the foreseeable future, really means.
My college friend from Montreal, Ruth Wisse, writes in the Wall Street Journal that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for “a strong America” which, given looming risks from Iran and Egypt, Israel especially needs. I suppose there isn’t much point in trying to dissuade Wisse, or anyone else who believes that a century-long crisis can be grasped in terms of strength and warmth. Much of her literary scholarship, beginning with her first book (ironically titled The Schlemiel As Modern Hero, and celebrating Norman Podhoretz), has been a kind of warning to Jews not to overthink things in the face of threat. Let’s just say she’s taken her own advice.
For the strength she is counting on Romney to project is not just against some vague regional enmity but strength in defense of a status quo which Benjamin Netanyahu, now in lockstep with Avigdor Lieberman, is doubling down on—a status quo that is not at all static, indeed, is bound to bring upheavals against which American power will be as helpless as it was against the fall of Mubarak and roadside bombs.
What does Netanyahu’s course, if he's reelected in January, portend for American interests? Many in the Israeli peace camp, J Street, and so forth, have insisted, plausibly, that we are on the road to a Jewish state where democratic standards are necessarily undermined. They point to the dangers of obvious demographic changes under occupation; some even speak glibly of an emerging theocracy. Romney probably thinks in these terms himself, though he draws different conclusions from the changes: that the worst that can happen in Israel and Palestine is a few million Arabs with no real civil liberties, you know, the same unfreedom Arabs suffer in most Arab countries.
This seriously underestimates the Israeli right. Netanyahu and his partners have a long-term vision with no demographic problem because the incorporation of “Judea and Samaria” does not just entail a few more settlements here and there. It entails the upending of the Hashemite government in Jordan, the formation of a Palestinian state in Amman, and the eventual migration—or, in the event of war, forced expulsion—of Palestinians in the West Bank across the Jordan River. Give the status quo enough time and the incendiary conditions laying the foundation for Netanyahu’s policies will be as irreversible as global warming.
And “enough time” in this case means four years, eight at the most. If Romney wins, and reinforces Netanyahu’s position, the Palestinian Authority will pretty much fall apart. Four more years of Netanyahu and Hamas will be the only force in Palestine left standing.
Remember that when Ronald Reagan took office there were perhaps 10,000 settlers outside of Jerusalem. When he left office, there were 100,000. American elections, as it is said, have consequences. Not that the rightists’ policy can succeed, at least not in the way they imagine. The Hashemites will not just surrender power and abscond to South Kensington. West Bankers will fight to stay in their homes, even if the richest among them also keep a home in Amman or Qatar.
But imagine Likudish fantasies coming true. Israel will find itself surrounded, with a Balkan-like insurgency forming in the territories, and a million-and-a-half Israeli Arabs growing sympathetic to a cause promising to remove a self-defined “Zionist” state that treats them like second-class citizens by design. The occupation-cum-settlement project will engender a vicious war, with ethnic cleansing on both sides, Tel Aviv technology entrepreneurs getting out, and the government of Egypt jumping in—a five foot leap over a seven foot chasm, an Intifada stretching from Nazareth to Hebron.
American Jews should care about muscle in the White House but brains and a sense of history wouldn’t hurt. When Romney slyly told his big donors in Florida that, aside from giving up on the 47 percent, he would kick the Palestinian can down the road he was mirroring Netanyahu but doing no favor for Israelis, Jordanians, or Palestinians, for that matter. The Middle East, alas, kicks back.