There is a growing sense, at least here at home, that with the end of the Hamas rockets firing on Israel, school starting again and the High Holy Days on the horizon, things are returning to normal.
But that would depend on your definition of “normal.”
While politicians, military strategists and historians argue over who won the brutal, 50-day war between Hamas and Israel, the more practical question is what, if anything, does Israel do now to improve its situation?
The moment seems to call for a dramatic initiative, at least to some.
Washington is pushing for another infusion of diplomacy, including the prospect of renewed efforts to have Secretary of State Kerry press Jerusalem and Ramallah into negotiations. Probably one of the few things Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree on is that such an effort would be unhelpful, and more likely harmful. The disturbing fact is that Israel and many Arab leaders are united in their concern that Washington is unwilling to recognize the most serious threat to the Mideast: Islamic extremism. It’s hard to ignore as ISIS continues to expand its bloody war, Syria’s horror continues unabated, Hamas is planning to re-arm for the next round of attacks on Israel (and possibly on Abbas in the West Bank) and Iran remains convinced that it can outmaneuver the U.S. as it seeks to complete its nuclear program.
While international attention has been on the Israel-Hamas conflict and the frightening growth of ISIS, the leaders of stable governments in the Mideast, from Israel to Egypt to Saudi Arabia, understand that the far greater, if not existential, threat they face is from a nuclear Iran seeking to widen its reach in the name of Islam.
But President Obama seems determined to reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, and he has invested so much time, effort and political capital in the effort that he almost cannot back down from some kind of deal. To do so would force him to confront Iran militarily, and that is something that few, and certainly not the Supreme Leader in Tehran, believe to be realistic.
Israeli experts acknowledge privately that if the U.S. does make a deal it would be a “bad” one — in that it would not end their concerns — and they would be placed in an extremely difficult spot diplomatically. “How could we then take military action against Iran?” an Israeli expert on the subject told us recently. “Washington would be furious, it would jeopardize our relationship.”
In the meantime, when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the conventional wisdom is that “the status quo is unsustainable,” as expressed by President Obama, Secretary Kerry and other world leaders. But some veteran observers of the Mideast, like Elliott Abrams, who served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan White House, note that, like it or not, the status quo has endured for decades while world powers and leaders come and go. In an essay this week in Mosaic, entitled “What Now For Israel?” he questions why it is vital to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem “rather than to defeat terrorism and more broadly the ceaseless Arab and Muslim assaults on the Jewish state. Why are these not the status quo that the whole world agrees is unsustainable?”
The question lingers. The prospect is not promising. It suggests there is no dramatic plan, no practical alternative to grinding out a limited means of ensuring the survival of the Jewish state in the face of relentless efforts to destroy it.
Sadly, that’s what “normal” has come to mean.