It is still unclear what this war will mean for the future of Israel. Many Jews supported war with Iraq because they assumed that a victorious America would look from Baghdad toward Tel Aviv and declare, "This is the same struggle." Those who thought that in the immediate aftermath, the U.S. would enlist beside the Israeli hardliners are simply wrong. On the contrary, it is a delusion to imagine that the Bush administration will continue to give the right-wingers in Israel--that is, the present Israeli government--what amounts to a blank check. Already the Bush administration has begun pushing the 'road map,' the president's Israel-Palestinian peace plan, which requires serious concessions from Israel, including withdrawal from almost all the territories conquered in the 1967 war.
One frequent worry among Jews and others concerned about the region is that an American victory in an Arab country will simply increase the number of angry Arabs who will volunteer to become suicide bombers. That may be true, but it is possible that the decisive American victory in the war with Iraq will instead terrify sufficient candidates for Arab militancy that they will feel themselves forced to be quiet. Let me add an even greater heresy, coming from someone like myself who would be expected to pronounce the usual clichés of the Jewish left. I do not doubt that Arab militants will be transformed into peace-loving people only if their political and economic destinies are changed for the better, but that will take a long time.
But this is not the time for Jewish liberals to become overly joyous either. The post-war euphoria over victory in Iraq is very likely to persuade American policymakers that they need not be guided by any local opinion, wherever they choose to intervene. Despite the seeming even-handedness of the Bush peace plan, this does not mean that the Americans will immediately bring Israel's Likud party and its allies down and produce a settlement with the Palestinians. And this is still an American vision, with the toughest questions, like the status of Palestinian refugees and of Jerusalem left on the table. An American government which might decide to force both the Israelis and the Palestinians to give up their intransigencies might not have deep regard for the political scruples of Israel's leftwing opinion. Who in the Jewish world would hail an American proconsul, perhaps a general of the dignity and reputation of Tommy Franks, who might say as another American, U.N. ambassador Warren Auston, said in 1948, "Why can't the Jews and the Muslims learn to practice Christian charity?" Is it inconceivable that a contemporary reincarnation of such an American straightshooter would see the virtue of a Jewish Arab state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which the democratic principle of "one man, one vote" should prevail? That, of course, would be the end of the Jewish, Zionist state of Israel.
I find myself in the strange position of remaining terribly opposed to Sharon's policy of holding on to the West Bank and to increasing Jewish settlements on its soil (it is one of the lasting enemies of peace) while being unable to criticize his notion that a state must protect its citizens today and tomorrow. The present leaders of America seem to have political minds that think in terms of black and white. The Jewish condition can be understood best by more subtle intelligences, which perceive shades of gray.
I am, of course, glad, as an American and an ex-soldier, that our armed forces came through the ordeal in Iraq with a minimum of damage and a maximum of glory and morale. Perhaps the victory in Iraq will in the long run prove to have been good for America. The jury is still out as to whether this war will prove to have been good for the Jews.
Jewish and Israeli hardliners welcomed the U.S. war in Iraq and aligned behind the Bush administration because they perceived the two countries were fighting the same war against evil. But the result of this war might be that Israel must make concessions to the people the state sees as promoting this evil in order to secure peace. If the Americans insist on the process that they have initiated by publishing the 'road map,' this journey may not end in peace, but Israel will inevitably find itself walking on this road because it dare not have a bruising confrontation with the Americans. This process that has now begun might lead to a lessening of tension, or to détente if not peace, but the price is not likely to be acceptable to the rightwing elements which make up Israel's present government. In the end, we might see that the war was indeed good for the Jews, but not for the reasons that these hardliners believed it would be.