President Obama Gets Real on Israel
My National Post column follows up on President Obama's visit to Israel:
Nearly four years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to Cairo to deliver a message to the Muslim world: “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.”
President Obama has now returned from a trip to Israel, where he delivered a bookend to that 2009 message: “So long as there is a United States of America, Israel is not alone.”
In between those two messages, the Middle East has lived through a violent upheaval. The rulers of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia were overthrown. Syria has collapsed into civil war. As David Hazony observes in TheTower.org, Israel is “the last country standing … the only one that can be relied upon even to exist a decade from now, much less to maintain both the will and the means to protect American interests.”
Egypt is adding one million people to its population every year.
Once one of the world’s great food-exporting societies, Egypt is now the world’s leading importer of wheat. Which would be fine if Egypt exported other goods or services to pay for its food. But depending on how you do the math, Egypt ranks now as either the 126th or the 148th poorest country in the world. Half the population lives on less than $2 per day. And its single largest source of foreign currency is earned by sending its people out of the country to work in the Persian Gulf.
How would an Israeli-Palestinian peace contribute to redressing any of those problems? How would such a peace end the violence in Syria or stabilize the new government of Libya?
The most sophisticated version of the argument about the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute goes something like this: “Obviously, this local dispute is not the cause of, say, the militant discontent of poor young Algerian males in the suburbs of Paris. But demagogues use the dispute to inflame that anger. If we could settle the dispute, we’d allay anger and thereby prevent terrorism.”
But this argument assumes that the local demagogues who today exploit images of Palestinian suffering could not tomorrow do the same with images of Kashmiri suffering at the hands of India. It’s a big world full of video cameras, and people looking for reasons to justify their rage will always find it. If rage is what worries you, you had better go to work on the sources of that rage — which usually turn out to be related to under-development, poverty and oppression by local power holders.