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The Israel Pathology

When the Egyptian uprising began, many commentators hoped it would finally put paid to the theory that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of the region’s ills. John made that point here; Herb Keinon did it in The Jerusalem Post; even The New York Times’s Roger Cohen, formerly an advocate of this theory, wrote a column titled “Exit the Israel Alibi.”

But these hopes were soon dashed. This weekend, the Quartet proclaimed Israeli-Palestinian talks essential; Quartet member Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy czar, even declared that events in Egypt mustn’t “distract us” from this goal.

Heaven help us. One of the Middle East’s most important countries, the lynchpin of the entire Israeli-Arab peace process, is in turmoil — something even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admits has “serious implications” for the process — and the EU’s top foreign-policy official thinks that “shouldn’t distract us” from Israeli-Palestinian talks?

And yesterday, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, James Jones, similarly asserted that regardless of what Egyptian protesters say is driving them, what really “drives nearly everything, everything else that threatens us, everything that happens in this region” is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To understand why these presumably intelligent people can’t see that the unrest sweeping the Arab world isn’t about Israel, consider a completely unrelated article: Peter Baker’s New York Times magazine piece last month about Obama’s economic policy.

In late 2009, Baker wrote, Obama’s team thought the recession was ending. “Then came a string of episodes that [Rahm Emanuel] and others believe sidetracked the economy: the European financial crisis triggered by Greece, the gulf oil spill, conflict over Gaza and the concurrent gyrations in the stock market.”

Are they joking???

First, the Israel-Hamas “conflict over Gaza” didn’t happen in late 2009, but a year earlier, ending before Obama even took office. Yet even if the date had been correct, the idea of that war affecting the U.S. economy is ludicrous. The European crisis, sure: Europe is America’s biggest trading partner. But the U.S. has no trade with Gaza, while its trade with Israel, at $28 billion in 2009, is negligible compared to its total trade of $3.4 trillion. Nor was oil production affected: Other Middle Eastern countries weren’t involved in the war at all.

In fact, even Israel’s economy was virtually unaffected: while the 2008-09 financial crisis sparked recession throughout the West, Israel’s GDP fell by far less than that of its two major trading partners, the EU and U.S., during both quarters affected by the war (Q4 2008 and Q1 2009). So we’re supposed to believe a war that barely affected even the country that fought it caused an economic crisis in a superpower half a world away?

Only a pathological obsession with Israel could lead administration officials to blame America’s economic woes of late 2009 on a minor war fought by a marginal trading partner a full year earlier. And curing such pathology lies more in the realm of medical science than political science.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand just how deeply it runs. For it is shaping, or rather misshaping, the West’s foreign policy every day.



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