Israel in a Post-American Era

May 20, 2011 - 4:59 AM

In 1918, the United States proved militarily decisive in the defeat of the Kaiser's Germany and emerged as first power on earth. World War II, ending in 1945, produced two truly victorious nations, the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin and the America of Harry Truman.

Out of the Cold War that lasted from Truman to the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of Ronald Reagan's term came a lone victor: the last superpower, the United States.

Who emerged triumphant from the post-Cold War era, 1991-2011? Indisputably, it is China, whose 10-12 percent annual growth vaulted her past Italy, France, Britain, Germany and Japan to become the world's second largest economy and America's lone rival for first manufacturing power.

If we use a metric called "purchasing power parity," China overtakes America in 2016. Says the International Monetary Fund, the American era is over.

Strategically, too, the United States seems in retreat, nowhere more so than in that region that was the focus of George W. Bush's "global democratic revolution." And no nation reflects more the relative loss of U.S. power and influence than does Israel, whose isolation is today unprecedented.

A decade ago, Turkey, a NATO ally of 50 years, was a quiet friend and partner to Israel. Today, the Palestinians in Gaza view the Turks as among their staunchest friends in the Middle East.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt scrupulously adhered to the terms of his predecessor's peace treaty with Israel and maintained the western end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Since he fell, the interim Egyptian regime has midwifed a unity government of Fatah and Hamas, moved to establish diplomatic relations with Tehran for the first time since the fall of the Shah and begun to lift the Gaza blockade. September's elections are almost guaranteed to deliver to parliament a huge if not controlling bloc from the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the Brotherhood appears to be the strongest party in Egypt, it has held back from openly seeking the presidency or absolute power in the legislature. It appears to be playing a waiting game. After them, us.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader who had looked to President Obama to bring a halt to new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and preside over peace talks, appears to have given up on the Americans.

Though the beneficiary of hundreds of millions in U.S. aid, he has entered a coalition with his old enemy Hamas, and together -- if they can stay together -- they plan to seek recognition of an independent Palestine by vote of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The likelihood is that the overwhelming majority, including many of America's allies, will vote to recognize Palestine and seat it in the General Assembly, where it can make demands on Israel, backed by U.N. sanctions, to terminate its occupation and vacate its national territory.

The General Assembly resolution will set as the borders of Palestine those that existed between 1948 and 1967. But, today, beyond those borders live no fewer than 500,000 Israeli Jews.

While the United States vetoed a recent Security Council resolution condemning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's continued expansion of settlements, we have no veto in the General Assembly. If Obama opposes the U.N. resolution, we and Israel will stand virtually alone.

Nor are these the only crises Israel confronts.

To Israel's north is Hezbollah, which has become the dominant force in Lebanon. To the south is Gaza, dominated by Hamas, which has never accepted Israel's existence. Israel has fought wars with both.

To the east is the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority appears to have given up on U.S.-sponsored peace talks. Beyond lies Jordan, whose King Abdullah rules over millions of Palestinians, who is under pressure to take a tougher stand against Israel and who has no love for Bibi Netanyahu.

And what happened Sunday on the 63rd anniversary of Israel's independence and the Palestinian "nakba," or "catastrophe," where 700,000 fled or were driven into exile, is perhaps the most ominous portent of all.

Palestinian protesters approached the fence separating Lebanon and Israel and climbed the fence on the Israeli-occupied Golan heights to come and reclaim Palestinian lands. Fifteen to 20 were shot to death and scores were wounded by Israeli troops.

Though the White House backed Israel, across Europe what Israel did to these protesters seemed exactly what the king of Bahrain and the president of Yemen had done to theirs.

Given the coordination of the Palestinian actions, we may be on the verge either of a Facebook revolution or a "third intifada," an uprising by Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories, and Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of descendants of the original exiles still live.

Such an uprising would divert the attention of Arab peoples from the failures of their own regimes and isolate Israel and her principal -- indeed, only -- ally, the United States, as they have never been before in the Arab world.