The Middle East is always a complex part of the world, but never more so than today. One almost needs a scorecard to keep track of the shifting alliances, the new and old players, the longstanding and emerging threats and, of course, the opportunities that abound.
In many of these dynamic cases, the state of Israel is a bystander. But to say it is a very interested bystander is to state the obvious since everything around it in the region has a profound impact on the Jewish state.
As Thomas Friedman recently pointed out, Israel faces a new reality. It is no longer surrounded by hostile states. The new neighbors are voracious, feral and hostile terrorist groups that control territory, have significant armaments, the growing capacity for great destruction and a ruthless willingness to achieve their aims. This makes Israeli security challenges quite different from those in its past and raises questions about how these new challenges affect Israeli decision-making vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the concept of a two-state solution.
The changing landscape of the region presents not only new challenges, but new opportunities for the Jewish state. The clearest expression of that was the behavior of most Arab states during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. Rather than the timeworn reflexive support for the Arab party in all previous conflicts, Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states were either relatively silent or even blamed Hamas for the war.
This was unprecedented, even though, as Henry Kissinger long ago articulated, there is inherent commonality of interest between moderate Arab governments and Israel in opposing radicalism in the region. In the days of the Soviet Union, that was represented by Soviet clients Syria and Iraq. Today it is the ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and, of course, the one state that threatens so many, Iran.
Still, whatever the shared common interests of the past, it was never manifested in public expressions as during the recent conflict.
Whether or not this sharing of interests will translate into better direct relations between Israel and Arab states may still be affected by Israeli positions regarding the Palestinians.
Here it is important to make distinctions. The notion, predominant in certain parts of the international community, that Israel is primarily responsible for the absence of peace is simply false. Palestinians have on three occasions in the last decade and more turned down reasonable offers and steps by Israel to advance toward a Palestinian state, and today Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is doing everything to make peace impossible. He avoids negotiations, goes to the U.N., and now threatens to go to the International Criminal Court in order to weaken and isolate Israel.
And on the matters that would demonstrate real change by Palestinian leadership--the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, the recognition that the refugee problem must be solved through a Palestinian state, and a willingness to state that a solution would end the conflict and end future demands--nothing is happening.
Peace is not happening tomorrow primarily because the Palestinians are sticking to their old playbook – relying on intransigence to run out the clock against Israel. That does not absolve Israel from the need to consider its own initiatives despite the uncertainty in the region. External and internal factors warrant such consideration.
In the world, movements to boycott Israel are moving afoot. These drives are unfortunate and should be condemned, but they are real and growing. Israel needs to take such anti-Israel initiatives seriously and ask what more it can do, without jeopardizing its security, to impress upon the world it is seriously committed to peace.
It is imperative for Israel to look for steps that can enable the parties to separate and ensure that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state.
We in the Jewish community must continue to fight the just fight to defend Israel's good name and, at every turn, counter the distorted view that Israel is responsible for the absence of peace.