The Israeli Declaration of Independence was issued on May 14, 1948. Eleven minutes after the document was signed, the United States officially recognized Israel, and the world witnessed the beginning of a special and lasting relationship between the two nations. Arab countries were not as accepting, and within a few days, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria invaded, marking the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This was to be the first of many conflicts for the fledgling country and the beginning of the pursuit for a lasting peace.
For the last 62 years, the world has seen "permanent" ceasefires, armistices, peace accords, peace treaties, and even land-for-peace deals fall short. Every American president since Truman has made an attempt to broker peace in the Middle East. A few agreements have been successful, notably agreements with Egypt and Jordan. But true peace has still eluded Israel.
The Pax Romana, or "Roman Peace," is a historic period of peace enjoyed by the Roman Empire lasting more than two hundred years between 27 BC and 180 AD. Most historians qualify the peace as a "relative peace." Prior to 27 BC, the Roman Empire had been in a constant state of war and expansion for at least two centuries. Generations of Romans had never experienced a significant period of peace. To the Romans, peace was not a time without war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down beyond the ability to resist [i].
While hawks may relish the prospect of beating the enemies of Israel into hopeless submission, the civilized world demands a peaceful, non-violent solution. History tells us that since Israel declared her independence, the United Nations has been slow to respond to attacks on her. Today's United Nations seems to wait until Israel begins a defensive military response beginning to demand a ceasefire.
The Israeli Defense Forces are state-of-the-art. Israel's intelligence-gathering ability is second to none. While Iran and others call for the destruction of Israel and rattle their sabers with threats, they know that they are not threatening a paper tiger. The teeth, fangs, and claws are very real. Israel's ability to defend the homeland has been honed by years of attacks and tempered with the reality that the young nation's back is truly against the wall.
President Obama has decided to go through the motions to find a lasting peace in the Middle East like many of his predecessors. Yet Obama is the first American president to attempt peace talks when even his fellow Americans doubt his commitment. According to a World Jewish Congress report:
A plurality of American voters disapprove of President Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, an opinion poll conducted by Quinnipiac last week reveals. Although Obama's handling of foreign policy is approved by almost one in two respondents, the administration's "handling of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians" isn't: 44 percent of respondents disapproved while 35 percent said they supported Obama's stance vis-à-vis Israel. 21 percent said they did not know, or would not answer.
The Obama administration has called for a freeze on settlements in East Jerusalem, a notion Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has both rejected and embraced. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently spoke to CNN:
Barkat unveiled his long-term plan for Jerusalem's growth, which he said has remained unchanged for 10 years despite political realities. He predicts the city's population would grow from 800,000 to 1 million in 10 years but keep the 65-to-35 ratio between Jewish and Palestinian residents. His master plan calls for more homes for Jews and Arabs in east Jerusalem and will not change, he said.
He also spoke of improving the economy of Jerusalem, which he said has become Israel's poorest city. Currently, the city draws about two million tourists a year, but Barkat has a goal of bringing ten million a year within the next decade.
While the settlements are controversial, Jerusalem is growing. It is simply shortsighted to deny a city the right to grow and expand. Barkat is a successful businessman, and he understands this. Others may simply be looking for an argument to deny peace.
Perhaps day-to-day life in Israel could be defined as "relative peace," and this is as close as the Middle East will ever come to true peace. The irony of President Obama and America attempting to broker peace in the region is undeniable. The United States is hardly an example of a peaceful nation. We have few years without some type of military or terrorist action blemishing our record, and we are likely a better example of what not to do if peace is the goal.
The best thing America can do to keep the peace in the Middle East, such as it is, would be to remain the ally and strong supporter of a friend that has stood by this country since their inception 62 years ago. Israeli Intelligence has done more to keep America safe than will ever be revealed. We simply cannot turn our backs on Israel.
President Obama must learn that public criticism of Israel is seen by her enemies as a sign the Obama administration may be unwilling to defend Israel if attacked. The president's reluctance to admit that radical Islam is a threat sends the wrong message to those who would destroy Israel, and it actually does more to thwart efforts for peace than to help.
Pax Israeli may indeed be a relative peace, but it is the only version of peace we can hope for in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. The key to maintaining this peace is a strong Israel and the full support and backing of the United States. Anything less risks a war the likes of which this planet has never seen.
[i] The Peace of the Ara Pacis (V, 1942, pp. 228-231) Arnaldo Momigliano