Can you feel the world closing in on Israel?

Other issues on the Jewish agenda pale before a series of looming showdowns for Jerusalem, from major addresses by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Mideast, to another flotilla setting sail soon for Gaza, to the Palestinian drive for statehood at the United Nations this fall.

At issue is the very image, status and future of the Jewish state — a subject being debated fiercely within our community as well.

How is it that Israel, with all of its impressive brains and brawn, increasingly finds itself in a defensive stance, seemingly helpless, as a series of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist efforts push forward?

On Sunday we were sickened to see images of thousands of Arab protesters literally coming at Israel from all sides — Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank — with the resulting deaths and injuries after the Israeli Defense Forces opened  fire.

The Nakba protest, marking the day of Israeli independence, seemed all too neat a metaphor for the growing crisis facing Israel, under assault from all sides and damned if it responds to provocation and a multi-pronged attack on its borders, still contested 63 years after statehood, and damned if it allows hostile crowds to literally run over its boundaries.

The nation seemed stunned that its borders were breached, particularly from Syria, which has been careful to maintain relative calm since 1974. But Palestinian activists on Facebook and Twitter had called for such actions for weeks in an attempt to bring the Arab Spring to Israel.

While the media has been careful to note that the Nakba refers to the Palestinians’ perception of “the catastrophe” of Israel becoming a state, few if any have pointed out that the real catastrophe was brought about not by the declaration of statehood but by the Arabs’ refusal to accept the UN partition plan for Palestine, their all-out attempt to destroy the fledgling Jewish state in 1948 and the subsequent military defeat of the Arab armies.

The Nakba could have been avoided had the notion of accommodating a Jewish state in the region been accepted. That refusal remains the crux of the problem more than six decades later.

“The term ‘Nakba’ initially focused on the failure of Arab government and armies to vanquish the nascent state, not on the devastation that befell the Arabs of Palestine,” noted Ilan Troen, professor of Israel studies at Brandeis University, writing in the May issue of the journal Sh’ma.

He went on to point out that “neither early nor recent accounts of the Nakba include self-criticism or critique” for how the situation was tragically mishandled by Arab leaders, who still maintain, according to Troen, that “war was and remains justified; Palestinians were/are victims who bear no responsibility for their situation. What happened to them is the fault of others.”

But that victimhood is paying off. And had Sunday’s protests been peaceful — with none of the rock throwing that was prevalent — they would have been more effective, as was evident during the Cairo demonstrations three months ago. The IDF would have had no excuse to fire on the crowds — a lesson learned for next time, no doubt, by anti-Israel activists.

This week, within days, we will hear from President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, each addressing the nation from Washington on their Mideast views. For all their rhetoric about the unbreakable bonds between Washington and Jerusalem, these two leaders have different priorities.

With the resignation last week of top U.S. Mideast peace negotiator George Mitchell after two years of fruitless shuttle diplomacy, Obama has, in effect, abandoned the Mideast peace process for now. A combination of administration blunders (insisting on a settlement freeze, for starters), urgent foreign policy concerns elsewhere (the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the revolutions sweeping the Arab world), and the lack of trust and willingness to compromise on the part of the Palestinian Authority and Israel made for a dead-end on the path to peace.

But it is clear that Washington wants to see a Palestinian state, and puts the onus on Jerusalem for the lack of diplomatic progress.

Netanyahu is well aware of that perception, but he is not buying it. In truth, his position that Israel has no negotiating partner has been bolstered of late since the PA partnered with Hamas, the terrorist group whose leader praised Osama bin Laden as a holy warrior, and after the Nakba revolt this week.

In a preview of his address to Congress, Netanyahu told the Knesset on Monday that the thousands of protesters weren’t pushing for a Palestinian state but for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish one.

“We must stop beating ourselves up and blaming ourselves,” he said. “The reason there is no peace is that the Palestinians refuse to recognize the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state.”

All true, but the political momentum has shifted under Israel’s feet, and the sense of isolation is palpable and growing. That alone is not a reason to make concessions that would jeopardize the nation’s security, of course. But the government has to decide whether a continued stalemate in the face of international impatience, amid multiple, ongoing efforts to provoke the IDF, will produce more favorable results.

And all the while the middle ground is shrinking in the Jewish community between those on the right, who see Israel as the threatened underdog in an increasingly hostile world, and those on the left, who view Jerusalem as unable to free itself until it frees the Palestinians from occupation.

Until now, Netanyahu has appeared more set on keeping both President Obama and his own political foes in Jerusalem off his back than forging ahead with a bold peace initiative.

It may be unfair and unwise to expect more from the prime minister this week. (His hint on Monday at a readiness to concede more land has already been dismissed by the Palestinian Authority.) But the pressure is on him, even from allies, to seize the initiative and find a way out of the dark corner Israel finds itself in.

 

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