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Is Israel Finished?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

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A dialogue

Jerry Pournelle and Joel Rosenberg

For an earlier discussion (2002) Click Here

See also discussion of the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon

 

 

 

Is Israel Finished?

There is a very good article in this month's Atlantic,

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?
cid=1207238165670&pagename=
JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

the kind of article that keeps me subscribing to the magazine although I don't read more than two issues a year. This one is on the future of Israel and asks the brutal question, is Israel finished? It is very much worth your reading. Israel made some very fundamental errors during its growth. Some were silly: alienating the Christian Arabs and driving them into the arms of the Palestinian Moslems was perhaps the most fundamental. The Christian Arabs would have welcomed the Israelis as liberators had the Israelis cared to take that role. Instead they have ignored the Christian Arab communities at best and persecuted them as about as often as not, with bureaucratic nonsense like losing building permits, and failure to enforce court evictions of Jewish squatters in Christian hospitals; the list could continue.

The settlement issues have brought about an indefensible border: and the Palestinians are out breeding the Israelis. It will not be many years before the Jews are a minority in the Jewish State; at which point it ceases to be Jewish or ceases to be a democracy, since just about all the Arabs will vote en bloc first for a secular state, then...

As to why this is important: given domestic US policies, the US has no choice but to be both a friend and protector of Israel. No other policy is possible. We have and will pledge blood, treasure, military equipment, and just plain subsidies to Israel, and there is nothing that can or will be done about it; take this as a given. This limits the number of real allies we can have in the Middle East to secular Muslims, and few Royal States. The chief ally we had was the Shah of Iran, but Jimmy Carter threw him to the wolves, and we had to try to make do with Saddam Hussein (Baathist; secular). That didn't work in part due to the sheer incompetence of the Foreign Service bureaucracy (See the Iron Law of Bureaucracy), and the result was the first and second Bush Gulf Wars, both expensive and needless and the second leading to the quagmire dilemma in which we find ourselves today. The Second Gulf War might have been won had not the amazingly incompetent Bremer been sent to make sure we would lose. That may not have been the intention, but it was certainly the result. He may be the greatest fool of a pro-consul in the history of Iraq, and that includes Lucullus who lost all his legions.

Thus the US has few possible allies: the secular Turks, who are NOT democrats, being the chief potential allies; but we are alienating them as we continue to try to build a Kurdish state. Kurds and Turks are ethnically very different people. Kurds are not Arabs, nor are they Turks. They are more closely related to the Iranians (Land of the Aryans) than anyone else over there. Saladin, who destroyed the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem established in the First Crusade, and whose interactions with Richard Lion Heart form a sage not forgotten over there -- mothers still frighten their children with threats of Melanch Rich -- is fondly remembered. Saladin united the Arabs under the Kurds, threw out the Christians, and rebuilt some of the lost glory of the Caliphate. This was before the appearance of the Turks.

The Israelis no longer know what their goals are; they are a divided people. Israel was originally to be a safe haven for Jews following the Holocaust. Never Again.

I recommend the article itself, which requires a subscription; meanwhile the Jerusalem Post summary is worth your time. I will try to get comments from Joel Rosenberg, whose views I respect.

==================

Joel Rosenberg Responds

Subject: The future of Israel, lost car keys, and such

Jerry, this is awfully long, particularly for a first round. If you think that it needs to be edited, feel free to either cut out what you think is extraneous, or tell me what sort of stuff you'd like me to cut.

Let's start at the beginning, with your preface/introduction -- I'll get to the Jeffrey Goldberg piece later, and give it short shrift, because you're making a lot more sense and asking much better questions than he is.

The settlement issues have brought about an indefensible border: and the Palestinians are out breeding the Israelis. It will not be many years before the Jews are a minority in the Jewish State; at which point it ceases to be Jewish or ceases to be a democracy, since just about all the Arabs will vote en bloc first for a secular state, then...

As to why this is important: given domestic US policies, the US has no choice but to be both a friend and protector of Israel. No other policy is possible. We have and will pledge blood, treasure, military equipment, and just plain subsidies to Israel, and there is nothing that can or will be done about it; take this as a given. This limits the number of real allies we can have in the Middle East to secular Muslims, and few Royal States. The chief ally we had was the Shah of Iran, but Jimmy Carter threw him to the wolves, and we had to try to make do with Saddam Hussein (Baathist; secular). That didn't work in part due to the sheer incompetence of the Foreign Service bureaucracy (See the Iron Law of Bureaucracy), and the result was the first and second Bush Gulf Wars, both expensive and needless and the second leading to the quagmire dilemma in which we find ourselves today. The Second Gulf War might have been won had not the amazingly incompetent Bremer been sent to make sure we would lose. That may not have been the intention, but it was certainly the result. He may be the greatest fool of a pro-consul in the history of Iraq, and that includes Lucullus who lost all his legions.

Thus the US has few possible allies: the secular Turks, who are NOT democrats, being the chief potential allies; but we are alienating them as we continue to try to build a Kurdish state. Kurds and Turks are ethnically very different people. Kurds are not Arabs, nor are they Turks. They are more closely related to the Iranians (Land of the Aryans) than anyone else over there. Saladin, who destroyed the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem established in the First Crusade, and whose interactions with Richard Lion Heart form a saga not forgotten over there -- mothers still frighten their children with threats of Melanch Rich -- is fondly remembered. Saladin united the Arabs under the Kurds, threw out the Christians, and rebuilt some of the lost glory of the Caliphate. This was before the appearance of the Turks.

The Israelis no longer know what their goals are; they are a divided people. Israel was originally to be a safe haven for Jews following the Holocaust. Never Again.

There's not a lot I'd argue with you in that, but there is some. I'm less certain than you are about the domestic political necessity. Selling out an ally that one has committed to be a friend and protector of is something that the US has done before, and while I wish it were otherwise, I think it could be done again, with Israel. Not easily, and not overtly.

But it's been tried, and recently; the Baker Commission didn't actually do that -- the policies weren't implemented . . . but James Baker sure gave it a good try, eh? Obama's recently-kinda-sorta-fired foreign policy advisor, Samantha Power, went even further -- while she later denied it, she was, at one point, arguing for a US-imposed military solution. Anybody who thinks that, say, dropping the 82nd Airborne in on Jerusalem is going to be good for anybody should only be listened to by her psychiatrist. (And she wasn't fired over that; she was fired over using a mean word about Hillary.)

I think the problem is that too many people who think themselves hard-headed pragmatists don't grasp the import of your last-but-one paragraph, above. In the region the US has very few possible reliable allies, and needs at least one very badly, at least until space-borne solar power satellites come on line. (Neither of us will live to see that; some of our children might.)

As to the allies, I've long been sympathetic to the problems of the Kurds, and it may be my sympathy talking as well as my intellect, but I think that there is a huge opportunity there -- if we stop selling them out, as George HW Bush did, foolishly, at the advice of that same slimy idiot, James Baker (strong language to follow) -- as well as the costs you point to.

I've been saying since 1991 that we have reached the right moment in history to settle the problem of Kurdistan, to the benefit of US security. You argue, and persuasively, that our alliance with Turkey is weakened because of our support for the Kurds -- who they would just as soon wipe out.

I think it's more likely doomed because of the Islamist surge there. Yes, in the past the Turkish army has come out of the barracks, hanged a few folks, and then gone back to the barracks, but unless we see some dangling mullahs soon there, I doubt that we ever will, at least not in time to make any difference.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think that Turkey -- which doesn't share our values, and has been acting for quite some time as though they don't think that they need us -- is heading for the Islamist crapper. That's going to be messy.

The best ally is one who shares our values, has resources of their own that we can use, and knows that they need us. The Kurds score pretty well on that.

Yes, I know I'm advocating a dramatic change in US policy in re: Kurdistan, so let me be specific about what I'm advocating: as Iraq fails (and I think that the Iraqis are demonstrably intent on failure, collectively, although certainly there are some small-d democrats and various leaders who are not), we shift our support from a federated Iraq to the Kurds; if the Turks play nice, they get to keep Turkish Kurdistan, and -- as long as they play nice -- we undertake to keep our Kurdish allies, who need us, from making moves on Turkish Kurdistan.

Yes, there's also Iranian Kurdistan. And, IMHO, while Iran is under the thumb of the mad mullahs -- and with them going nuclear, that's not just a local problem -- I see that as a problem of implementation, not principle.

Which, by a long route, brings me back to what you were asking me about -- the future of Israel, and the Goldberg piece. (Remember when Isaac Asimov wrote a book called "The Neutrino" when it was somewhere like two-thirds of the way through until he got to the chapter "Enter the Neutrino" and his editor wrote, in the margin, and it's about time?)

As I've written more than a few times, the borders are a huge problem, given the neighborhood. You and I live in a country with two indefensible borders. One is, at present, seen as a huge problem in our local politics, not our military planning; the other is, theoretical issues around smuggling of nuclear weapons in, no problem at all.

Why? By and large, it's not because we've got a powerful military. As powerful as the US military is, it can't be used to protect our borders from individual incursions. The Customs folks talk about stopping some percentage of illegal aliens who want to sneak in and pick fruit for cheap, and maybe they'll get better than that, or maybe not -- but they don't have a chance in hell of stopping thousands of self-detonating Mexicans who want to kill a bunch of American schoolkids as they blow themselves up.

Fortunately, we don't have to deal with that problem, at present; we've got good neighbors. My Israeli cousins would purely love to have the worst problem with their worst neighbor being the desire of many of the neighbor's nationals to sneak in and pick fruit. (That is, of course, what the Arabs of Gaza should be wanting to do, but . . . )

Israel's neighbors suck rocks. One is about to start eating those rocks -- Gaza is a demographic nightmare of, well, biblical proportions, that is only getting worse because of the foreign aid; Judea and Samaria are not as bad, but declining. The Gaza border is straight and well-defended; increasing use of counterbattery fire and decreasing worry about the fate of the Gazan human body armor can handle the missiles whenever there's a will. The Judea/Samaria border is twistier, more crooked, and less defensible than a Barack Obama race relations speech, although the Fence is demonstrably helping a whole lot. Transjordan has its own demographic crisis looming -- while the British don't seem to mind being reigned over by those Germans, it's hard to see how the "Palestinian" majority is going to forever consent to be ruled over by the Hashemites. Syria? About the only thing that the Ophthalmologist of Death seems to have inherited from his father is the shortsightedness and the brutality. Lebanon? We've been around the block on Lebanon before; it sucks, and the sucking sound is getting less attention these days, but it's getting louder.

I've been hearing predictions about the demographic doom of Israel since I was old enough to pay attention, which came pretty young. If you plot the trendlines out, there's no question as to whether or not there will be a demographic doom, and it would, at best, be a very small number of years away from arrival now if the influx of Soviet refugees hadn't arrived.

But they did. In a move that seems to repeat itself historically, the Soviet Union made life uncomfortable enough for Jews that the bulk of my people left. (And not all that much later, there wasn't a Soviet Union. Seems I can remember that happening before, from time to time. Historically, that's not quite as foolish a move as trying to murder my people wholesale -- see any Amalekites lately? Assyrians? Yeah, the Philistines are hanging around, but . . . . )

The thing with demographic predictions is that they only affect what happens if you've got all the relevant present factors figured in, and then calculate appropriately. Did Paul Erlich do that? You've got the expertise to evaluate that; I'd love to hear your answer.

But let's assume he was honest in his math. So why aren't those hundreds of millions of Indians dead from famine, and wars around famine? Something significant happened that wasn't in his model: Norman Borlaug.

Significant things are happening every day.

Let me tell you how a significant change could change the whole picture. The Jimmy Carter / James Baker / Condi Rice plan is that (I'm not sure how) an independent Palestinian state can, with enough outside help, and sufficient concessions from Israel, become a viable state, and, as the saying goes, a "partner for peace."

I'll not, for the sake of argument, put an umbrella in George Bush's hand at the signing ceremony for the next list of concessions, and a word balloon over his head that says that he's brought "peace in our time." Instead, I'll assume that it works. The viable state -- don't ask me how a state including Gaza becomes viable, although magic will be required; we'll assume that Niven shows up with a batch of mana to correspond to the mannah that'll fall from heaven during the interim -- establishes itself, and becomes an economic and intellectual powerhouse. Sure, it doesn't achieve carrying capacity in terms of land and fishing -- but New York City, Singapore, and Hong Kong donít grow much of any of their own food, either.

And then, demands for further concessions whither away, and . . .

Well, no, I'm not fooling anybody: the Palestinian state is doomed. The overpopulated death cult can only achieve its ambitions through grabbing more and more lebensraum, and, hell, the Egyptians wouldn't even give them a chunk of Sinai. Transjordan? Over the Hashemites' dead bodies, maybe -- been tried before -- but not otherwise.

So let's reframe the unsolvable demographic problem from 5.4 million Israeli Jews, 1.3 million Israeli Arabs, and 1.4 million Arabs in Gaza, two million more in Judea and Samaria, and accept that the problems of the latter are unsolvable, and not the responsibility of the US or Israel to solve. (Whose job is it to make the horse sing?)

From that frame of reference, the demographics don't look bad. For the Israelis -- Jewish, Arab Muslim, Arab Christian, and Druse -- that is.

The Palestinians of the territories? Yup, it does suck to be them -- and the Gazans are busily demonstrating that at an accelerated pace, but it's still the same trend: every concession -- bilateral, as in Olso, or unilateral in Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza -- that Israel has made to the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza has worsened the situation there. The hated occupation was replaced by the Arafat kleptocracy, which has itself splintered into the Fatah mismanaged Judea and Samaria and the galactically stupidly mismanaged Hamas wasteland of Gaza.

Let me suggest that that's only Israel's problem -- and only the US's problem -- if both of the two countries let it be. The silence of the horse is only an insoluble problem for somebody who agrees that the horse must learn to sing.

I don't think it will. I think that the future of Israel depends on cutting away the Palestinians of the territories and letting them fail to solve their own problems. Because they -- regardless of what help and/or pressure is applied -- will fail.

I've spent most of this talking about the region in general and your framing of the problems -- agreeing in part, and disagreeing in part -- because, well, that's interesting. Goldberg's piece? Enh.

He talked to the feckless Olmert -- once a very good mayor, but who demonstrated during the time of our last dialog on the subject that he was not ready for prime time leadership in a country at war. (I thought otherwise early in the Lebanon War; I was clearly wrong.) And then to a few leftist -- talented -- but reflexively defeatist -- Israeli writers. Amos Oz is a stone brilliant writer, but he's been wedded to the whole "two state solution" thing (which presumes a viable Arab state west of the Jordan) since 1967, and the facts on the ground over forty years haven't wised him up. He still thinks of the problem as a real estate dispute, where you can split the difference and work out an easement, and not an existential matter.

AB Yehoshua? He's got a bad case of the all-too-common Jewish disease of blaming judenhass on Jews. You can get a flavor of it from his Wikipedia entry:

"The Palestinians are in a situation of insanity reminiscent of the insanity of the German people in the Nazi period. The Palestinians are not the first people that the Jewish people has driven insane." Subsequent clarification by Yehoshua: "I ask myself a question that must be asked: What brought the Germans and what is bringing the Palestinians to such hatred of us? Ö We have a tough history. We came here out of a Jewish experience, and the settlements are messing it up."

I submit that looking to AB Yehoshua for political wisdom is like looking for the car keys you dropped outside under a neighboring street's streetlight. Granted, you won't find them there, but the light will be better. At least he sees the Nazi/Pallie analogy.

As to Grossman . . . I'm going to restrain myself. My people have a tradition that when a mourner speaks out of grief, we let it pass.

Well, this is already long enough, and we haven't even gotten to the key issue in all of this: there is going to be a nuclear war in the Middle East in the next five to ten years, and it's probably about time to decide whether, in the final analysis, the US will be worse off with the mushroom clouds going up just over Iran, instead of Iran and other places.

-- Joel Rosenberg
 http://twincitiescarry.com
 http://joel-rosenberg.com

"Miscellaneous is always the largest category." -- Walter Slovotsky

===============

Comment and query by Jerry Pournelle

I do not as cavalierly dismiss Jonah Goldberg's article, but I do understand why you consign Olmert to the dustbin. I am more concerned with how we escape nuclear war in the Middle East. If there are to be mushroom clouds, whose will they be? But that can wait to a later comment.

At one time I advocated a unilateral Israel solution to the situation of the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria, if you will: build a wall that includes everything Israel claims, and get out. Make it clear that attacks from inside the wall will be met with ruthless counter battery fire that will definitely cause civilian casualties; and continued operations against Israel will me met with counter operations that include stealth unmanned aircraft with Hellfire rockets; selective assassinations; and if need be ground incursions by armored columns.

In other words, Gaza and the West Bank are on their own. If they can achieve a state, then so be it; but if they cause Israeli casualties, they will pay for them.

At one time this looked to be the policy Israel would adopt (I doubt they got the idea from me, although I did discuss it with President Weizman); but now there are settlements and outposts beyond the wall.

I do ask you to say more on the subject of Settlements and Outposts.

==============

Joel Rosenberg responds:

Settlements...

I have the strong opinion that when many people talk about settlements they're talking past each other; I'm going to start off with some basics, not because I don't think you know all this stuff -- I know you do -- but because I want to be clear as to what I'm talking about.

One quick side note, before I start: anybody who wants to claim -- as George H. W. Bush and the despicable James Baker did, that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, has to deal with the fact that in all of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Sinai, and the Golan, there was not a single Jewish settlement prior to just about 1968, and there was no peace. There may be some way to explain around that -- but it's worth noting that the people who take that position don't seem to spend any doing with that. They just keep changing the subject, whether it's Baker or Saeb Erakat or Jimmy Carter. Yup; some American politicians do have a fixation about them.

These days, discussion of the settlements is usually divided between three or four sorts: the string around the Jordanian territorial boundary, the expansion around metro Jerusalem, and all the rest lumped together, plus various "outposts". That last is a fairly flexible term that can mean either a fairly large number of very small settlements -- usually established in violation of Israeli law by religious Jews who plopped one or more trailers on top of a hill somewhere other than those places, or all other settlements.

That discussion always omits the two dozen abandoned settlements -- all of those in Sinai, all of those in Gaza, and the several that were abandoned in Samaria in 2005 as part of the Israeli withdrawal. I think there's a lot to be learned from those abandoned settlements. I'll get to some small part of that shortly.

The discussion usually omits three key settlements along the North-South mountainous spine of the area: Beitar Illit, Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, each of which has a very different provenance, but which, I think, are important both in and of themselves and collectively.

The abandoned settlements serve only as a largely ignored historical lesson. Not a simple historical lesson; Israel has had both gains and losses around the abandonment of each of the groups in those two dozen. One theory -- with that least some apparent validity -- is that at least some of these settlements were just too expensive to defend, and unnecessarily provocative. I think the best illustration of how that theory fails is Gaza -- instead of defending the Gaza settlements, the IDF is defending Ashkelon and Sderot. Whatever the gains of the Gaza withdrawal have been -- and, as I said, I think it makes a lot of sense for Israel to cut itself loose from the ongoing Malthusian crisis in Gaza; it's in insoluble problem -- it's hard to justify in terms of lack of military drain. Where have those supposedly freed troops gone?

I think the settlements along the Jordan are utterly essential, for obvious reasons, some of them embedded in 242 and 338. When you have anything but great neighbors, defensible boundaries aren't a luxury. Israel has, on the east, no strategic depth even with the boundary at the Jordan River; the settlements provide at least some tactical depth. It is within living memory when the Jordan River was regularly crossed by fedayeen, supported by the Transjordanian government, and not locking that down so that terrorists and weapons can be smuggled through with impunity would be utterly insane. International control? We've seen how well that works on the Egypt/Gaza border. It doesn't. International monitors have been at best been useless, and when they haven't, the Gaza/Egypt fence has simply been blown up.

So, I think the importance of those Jordan valley settlements is both great, and obvious. That was established, I think, in 1973. It was a close thing as it was, but add a weak eastern border, and the temptation for the Jordanians to get involved again might have been irresistible. Certainly a foolish risk for Israel to take.

The settlements -- and the fence -- protecting Jerusalem are obviously of benefit. The problem here isn't positioning of armies as much as screening out the self-detonating shahids.

Again, my guiding principle in this is that the Palestinian Authority is not merely failed -- that's easy, and obvious -- but doomed, and that Israeli policy must be to insulate Israel from that doom.

But defense alone doesn't win a war. A line defense -- whether the line is Maginot or Bar Lev -- will fail unless accompanied by mobile, active measures, when necessary. It would be interesting to see a Harry Turtledove novel of World War II assuming that the French had maintained the Maginot Line and, instead of letting the Nazis swinging through Belgium, had done the Blitzkrieg in reverse, using their better tanks (yes, they would've had to add radios) and preemptively attacking.

Which is the key point of the -- term used generally -- outpost settlements. In addition to defending themselves, those provide places to deploy Israeli troops for what are going to be necessary attacks on various Palestinian terrorist enterprises. Strategic and tactical depth apply to more conventional warfare; dealing with terrorism is, often, a knife fight, at arms length, and you'd better decide where you want your arms.

And, by the way, in many cases, the settlers themselves do a pretty darned good job of handling low-level terrorist attacks. They'd do a better job if they didn't continually have Israeli governments putting a foot on the settlers' shoulders, but I digress.

Twenty years ago, even, I would have said that the threat of creation and expansion of new settlements could have served as an impetus for the Arabs -- collectively -- to get their act together, on the ground that some sort of encapsulated Palestinian quasi-state might be viable if they acted promptly and intelligently. Actually give up terrorism as an institution of quasi-state policy, get their educational system going, and accept that their dreams of driving the Jews into the sea needed to go on the dustbin of history, along with other misbegotten theories like the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, or the Thousand Year Reich. But I think it's far too late for that. By the time that Arafat turned down just that deal when Bill Clinton offered it to him, it wouldn't have worked. The failure of Oslo had already demonstrated that; repacking the Clinton plan as "the Road Map"? Same turned wine, in a recycled bottle, with a new label.

So, other than the religious components -- which I'll address in a moment -- I think that the key parts of the settlements are essential to Israel's survival, and that the further scattering of settlements -- including the outposts -- are much more of a mixed bag. I think that territorial compactness, to some extent -- with the exception of the three key settlements along the rocky spine -- has both pluses and minuses, but that, considered in a vacuum, the pluses are greater.

That said, I think any new settlements should be examined tactically and strategically; while a few religious settlers putting a couple of trailers on a hilltop can -- and has -- have some definite pluses, the costs are there, too.

But, as you say, it appears to drive the Palestinians of the failed state a little crazy. That said, cessation of settlement activity has never calmed them down. That's one of those concessions I was talking about that has ever and always been met by an increase in terrorism.

So, at last, we get to the new outposts. And there, all in all, I don't see a lot of strategical or tactical advantage.

But I see even less advantage to the Israeli government working as hard as they have been -- much less harder -- on quashing them. As the decline of Judea and Samaria continues -- and all the trend lines are bad -- it's going to continue to be much of a side issue.

In principle? George Will put it well, many years ago, when he said that while there was something obscene about requiring some part of Judea or Samaria to be judenrein, there was no necessary reason that the Jews living there had to be under an Israeli government. A Palestinian government that was prepared to accept a small Jewish minority? I know that sounds strange, given the events of the past many years, but it's utterly strange that it should sound strange. Israel is expected to have a large Arab minority, and the one Israeli politician who argued that that was, in the long run, untenable, was thrown out of the Knesset. If there were to be a viable Palestinian state -- and yes, it's obvious that that will never happen -- as a thought experiment: what would be so very bad about a small number of Jewish residents/citizens? So unacceptable that it's not even possible for the Palestinians to entertain the thought?

But we all know that that wouldn't be allowed. And I think that, in and of itself, even without all of the other mountains of evidence, shows that removing any settlements as a concession to the Palestinians is, on a very good day, counterproductive.

Over to you.

-- Joel Rosenberg

========

Pournelle Responds

First an historical observation. My only trip to Israel was in 1998, when there was something like peace. We were able to travel freely, to Bethany, Jericho, along the Jordan River to Galilee, and generally wherever we wanted to go. It did look for a while as if peace were breaking out.

We interviewed the Mayor of Bethlehem, and I later met with him in his office; there was a portrait of his Chairman Arafat on the wall above him. He was Christian.

His complaints were two: first, the settlements in the Shepherd Hills around Bethlehem. They were simple land grabs with no legal justification whatever and their effect was ethnic cleansing of Christians from Bethlehem. Within a decade, he said, there would no longer be a significant number of Christians in Bethlehem, and he considered the settlements on every hilltop, with outpost connecting them, to be ethnic cleansing.

I note that his prediction was correct. There are not very many Christians left in Bethlehem, and all the productive farmlands -- mostly olive groves -- have been either taken over by Settlements, or destroyed by vandals (the former land owners would say Settlers).

His second complaint was the check point on the highway to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was itself surrounded by settlements. Some of those were the new hilltop settlements around Bethlehem, particularly those between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. These clearly had the purpose of making sure that the region remain in Israel no matter what land concessions might be made. That wasn't the second complaint (it was part of the first). The complaint was the utter arrogance of those manning the check point, and the needless humiliation of those seeking to travel between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I discussed some of this in previous dialogues. There were long delays, most of them pointless, and appeared to be largely for the purpose of humiliating those travelling that road. Our tour bus required only five minutes, but the Palestinian Christian husband -- an MD -- of one of our tour members was delayed two hours getting through that check point; again for no discernible purpose.

Israel could have enlisted the Christian Arabs -- both those in the original Israel and those in Judea and Samaria after that conquest -- as allies. They chose to make them enemies, and drive them into the arms of the Muslim Arabs, which is an unnatural alliance. Whatever the reasons for those policies, Israel will now reap what they sowed.

The Israel dilemma remains: the Arabs are outbreeding the Jews. The exact year in which the Arabs outnumber the Jews is debatable but no one doubts it is coming. When that day arrives, Israel must cease to be Jewish or cease to be a democracy. Either the Arabs must be disenfranchised, or they will vote for first a secular state, then impose by strictly democratic means various Muslim based codes. Of course it will never get that far. Someone will begin shooting.

I have no notion of what Israel must do about this. I do know that their internal policies toward Christian Arab communities in Galilee, are not designed to endear the Christian Arabs to the Israeli government. I have seen that first hand: business permits lost, enormous taxes on equipment donations to Christian colleges (but which would be waived if the donation were to Hebrew University), etc. I doubt any of that will be forgotten.

The original question was, is Israel finished?

The United States cannot allow Israel to be finished; which is why this is an important question for us.

The other dilemma is Iran: the best US policy toward Iran is to have as few confrontations as possible while allowing our Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction to operate. I would add to that: contests which allow Iranian teenagers to win a million iPods and blue jeans and PDA's with web access. The coming generation in Iran is not particularly anti-American and isn't terribly interested in the mullahs. Of course that would change if we dropped bombs on Iran. People resent being bombed. They also resent being invaded. But time is on our side in Iran so long as we don't attack.

The mullahs, on the other hand, are losing, and some of them see that. They would welcome a US attack as a means of consolidating their rule.

How long after Iran acquires nuclear weapons before a mad mullah decides to turn Iran into a suicide bomber by detonating that nuke in Tel Aviv? And can anyone do anything about that?