Will Israel Reach Age 100?
The State of Israel turns 68 next month.
Is Israel doomed? Will bad demography, bad neighbors, and bad Israeli behavior turn the once hopeful and idealistic notion of a thriving Jewish democratic state into a veritable Middle Eastern Sparta -- isolated in the international community and struggling to survive in a hostile region even as it occupies a restless and growing Palestinian majority?
Having worked the Israel issue for half a dozen secretaries of state, I certainly wouldn't want to minimize the challenges Israelis face at home and abroad.
Still -- and I concede up front that the view from Washington, DC isn't the same as the one from Jerusalem -- I'm more convinced than ever that Israel is here to stay. I may not be around to mark Israel's 100th birthday. But Israelis will. And here's why.
Highly Functioning State: The region in which Israel lives is melting down at a rate no one would have anticipated. Indeed, if there are any state disappearing acts, these may be on the Arab, not the Israeli, side. States such as Libya, Yemen, and Syria are fragmenting, while dysfunctional states such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt are saddled with political, economic, and identity challenges they just can't overcome. In short, with the exception of the Arab monarchs, a good part of the Arab world, including many of Israel's traditional adversaries, have gone offline.
On the other hand, even with all of their problems, the region's three non-Arab states --Israel, Turkey, and Iran -- are probably the most highly functioning polities in the region. All are domestically stable; all have tremendous economic power; and all are capable of projecting their power in the region. Of these three, Israel by far has the best balance of military, economic, and technological prowess and brain power. The state seems likely to maintain that edge for the foreseeable future. By any significant standard -- GDP per capita; educational assets; share of Nobel prizes; even the global happiness index -- Israel leads the region, and much of the rest of the world, by wide margins.
Security Environment More Favorable Than Ever: Compare the situation Israel faces in 2016 with any other period since the founding of the state, and there is little doubt the country is stronger, more secure, and holds a more pronounced qualitative military edge than it ever has. Furthermore, with the exception of Iran, its traditional adversaries are weaker, and amid their disarray they are falling further behind.
The situation of course is far from perfect, and there are no guarantees it will last long. After all, this is the Middle East. Israelis face a rash of individual attacks by young Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as a more substantial threat of terrorism from groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and aspiring ISIS wannabes in Sinai. But these aren't existential security threats to the state. Iran's putative quest for a nuclear weapon has been constrained for now. Functional cooperation with Jordan, improving ties with Turkey, close relations with Egypt, and an emerging alignment of interests with Saudi Arabia against Iran, all suggest a certain lessening of the Arab state allergy to Israel.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship: There's no arguing that the U.S.-Israel relationship has been through pretty tough times. Still, despite the highly dysfunctional relationship between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the United States and Israel maintain an extraordinarily close bond. The two sides are now negotiating another 10-year security arrangement that will increase U.S. assistance to Israel, and several Republican and Democratic candidates have all pledged they will invite Netanyahu to Washington early on in their administrations.
Tensions over the unresolved Palestinian issue will persist. And even on the Republican side, the next president will find Netanyahu a difficult partner. Still, in a region with not a single Arab democracy, a rising Iran, and threats from transnational jihadists, Washington will almost certainly continue to look to Israel as an ally in a turbulent and violent region. Indeed, a Middle East in meltdown will provide the best set of talking points for the continuation of the U.S.-Israel special relationship. The threat of significant terror attacks on domestic soil in the years to come will only further emphasize the commonality of the challenges that bind the two countries together, even though other issues may divide them.
The real question is not whether the state of Israel will exist at 100, but what kind of state it will be. Much of course will depend on how the two dimensions of the Palestinian issue that threaten Israel's stability, security, and democratic and demographic character play out. Can a national minority of 1.7 million Palestinian citizens be integrated and more readily accepted into an Israeli polity based on the concept of Jewish statehood? Secondly, can a sustainable solution be found to the national aspirations of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians living in territories that Israel either occupies or controls to varying degrees?
Thirty-plus years shy of the centennial, these questions are impossible to answer, and the odds of resolving them anytime soon are long indeed. Still, Israel -- now well into its seventh decade -- isn't some hapless piece of driftwood floating aimlessly on a turbulent sea. It is a highly functional state that has powerful agency, extraordinary human resources, a demonstrated capacity to deal with its security challenges, and neighbors who seem to be growing weaker, not stronger.
Israel will reach its centenary and have many good reasons to celebrate its 100th birthday. But Israel's neighbors, and the challenges that are likely to remain, won't make it an entirely happy occasion, nor allow Israelis to completely enjoy it.