What would Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion have said if, on the day that he declared the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, he had known that six decades thence Israel would be encircled by its enemies, hopelessly outnumbered and fighting for its existence? He would surely have said: so what's new?
On 8 May, Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of that declaration. With every decade that it clocks up, people ask the same question: will Israel still be there for the next one? It is indeed astonishing that it has not only survived but is flourishing. Its situation as a permanently embattled nation is unique. On the day after Ben-Gurion declared its independence, six Arab armies invaded and tried to wipe it out. With the current exception of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab and Muslim world has been trying ever since.
Israel is the only country whose creation was approved by the UN; yet it is the only country whose legitimacy is called into question.
Israel is the only country whose creation was approved by the UN; yet it is the only country whose legitimacy is called into question. It is the only country which the world requires to compromise with its Palestinian Arab attackers and accede to their demands, even while they are firing rockets at its schools and houses and blowing up its citizens. It is the only country which continues to provide electricity and basic services to those attackers and routinely treats thousands of Palestinians in its own hospitals, even those who have Israeli blood on their hands. And yet it is the only country which, in the court of public opinion, is condemned for behaving 'disproportionately' when it uses targeted military means to defend itself, and is accused of causing the very 'Nazi' or 'apartheid' atrocities of which it itself is the victim.
At present, the situation looks particularly ominous. Israel is menaced on several fronts by Iran which, racing to develop a nuclear weapon, is threatening a new genocide of the Jews while denying the last one. In Lebanon Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iranian-sponsored army Hezbollah, which is once again armed with thousands of rockets, says the next attack on Israel is not a matter of 'if' but 'when'. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 Iranian-backed Hamas, which is pledged to wipe out Israel and every Jew, has built a well-trained standing army of at least 20,000 men and a huge arsenal of weapons smuggled in from Egypt, and relentlessly attacks Israel with rockets and bombs.
It is widely expected that, once Independence Day is over and President Bush has returned home from his celebratory visit, Israel will finally mount a major incursion into Gaza to deal with Hamas. If it does, Western opinion, which largely ignores Israeli victimization, can be guaranteed to cry 'atrocity' once again. And just as before, Hamas will deliberately place women and children in the line of fire to maximize civilian casualties in order further to inflame that opinion.
For Israel finds itself trapped by a pincer movement of military and psychological attack from not only the Arab and Muslim world but also the West. And Britain, whose intelligentsia has swallowed wholesale Arab and Muslim lies, is the Western leader of those baying for Israel's head. Thanks to the poison spread by the British media, the universities, NGOs and the churches, Israel has been systematically demonized and delegitimized.
Few are aware, for example, how both Hamas and Hezbollah deliberately position both terrorists and weaponry in densely populated civilian areas, using women and children as human shields. While British headlines scream at Israel for causing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, few are aware that Hamas has been stealing fuel supplies intended for Gaza's population and blowing up the crossing points to provoke Israel into closing them, to escalate the conflict and inflame the world. Even fewer are aware that many of the most inflammatory images from the region are fabricated, since both Hamas and Hezbollah routinely stage 'atrocities' or artificially exaggerate incidents using doctored footage - courtesy of British journalists who are threatened with murder or kidnap if they fail to toe the line.
More fundamentally, the obsessional demonization of Israel is based on a false set of beliefs taken straight from Arab propaganda - that as a result of Holocaust guilt, Israel was created when a load of European Jews with no claim to the land were dumped on Palestine, driving out its rightful Arab Muslim inhabitants.
Ben-Gurion would today be surprised to find, for example, that Israel is regarded as illegally occupying the West Bank (and until 2005, Gaza). Along with modern Israel, this was part of the territory of Palestine within which in 1922 the League of Nations gave Britain the task of re-establishing the Jewish national home because of the unique claim by the Jews - the only people for whom it had ever been their nation state, hundreds of years before the Arabs invaded it. In other words, far from being 'Palestinian land', the Jews are entitled to claim it under international law, which also gives it the right to hold on to it in self-defense. Yet 'progressive' opinion not only denies both law and history but demands (as do the Palestinians) the ethnic cleansing of every last Jewish settler from a putative Palestinian state (just as half Israel's population was created by Jews driven out of their ancient homes in Arab lands). So much for anti-racism.
Scapegoated for crimes of which it is in fact the victim, Israel has become the Jew of the Western world.
The denial and inversion of such facts has singled out Israel for vilification applied to no other country. Scapegoated for crimes of which it is in fact the victim, Israel has become the Jew of the Western world. This is a victory for the Arabs in the new type of war in which they are engaged. Asymmetric warfare, whose principal battlefield is the mind, uses ostensibly powerless people (the Palestinians) who are in fact backed by powerful state actors (Iran). Such an inversion of strong and weak and the systematic use of deception are vital to the principal strategic goal of asymmetric warfare: to confuse and demoralize its victims and suborn world opinion to its cause. Even Israel itself has weakened under this. For it has an intelligentsia which is no longer confident of the nation's right to its own Jewish identity. This has created a dangerous vacuum. In Israeli universities, revisionist historians have told corrosive lies about their country's history, portraying it as having been born in sin. In the schools, children have not been taught Jewish history and parrot Arab disinformation instead.
The country's sense of national purpose has been further weakened by the 2006 Lebanon war, which punctured public belief in Israel's military invincibility, and by the ongoing crisis of political leadership caused by a political system which is endemically corrupt and excludes the brightest and the best from public office.
The result of all this is that at present, both the Israeli Left and Right are consumed by a morbid despair. The Left thinks Israel is doomed to war in perpetuity because there is no prospect of a Palestinian state - which it remains convinced is the prerequisite for peace, despite this being contrary to all history, evidence and logic. The Right, on the other hand, thinks that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is Israel's Chamberlain, about to declare peace in our time by giving away half of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and thus delivering Israel to the wolves of Arab annihilation. But both are surely missing the bigger picture.
Despite entering its seventh decade of living under existential siege, Israel is prospering.
First, despite entering its seventh decade of living under existential siege, Israel is prospering. Its economy is booming, it leads the world in high-tech, and property prices in Tel Aviv rival those in London. Second, having stared over the edge of the cultural abyss it has started to realize the danger. It is beginning to turn education round, with a new awareness dawning among high school principals of the need to teach Jewish history, identity and values. And although unprecedented numbers of mainly secular Israelis now choose to live abroad, there are rapidly growing numbers of the religiously orthodox who know exactly what they are fighting for and are prepared to die for it - as do the majority of middle-of-the-road Israeli citizens.
The same, however, can't be said of the Palestinian Arabs, who are simply falling apart. The rise of Hamas, the progressive Islamisation and terrorisation of Palestinian society and the continued corruption and factional fighting within Fatah are all taking their toll. Increasingly, Palestinians are packing up and leaving. It is they rather than the Israelis who are in despair. Their sense of national identity - always artificial - now lies finally shattered by the death cult that acts in their name. After all, with even supposedly secular Fatah being steadily Islamised, why on earth would any Palestinian in his right mind want to live in a repressive Islamic republic - which Palestine would without doubt become - where dissidents are thrown from the tops of tall buildings?
And here lies the paradox which offers the best hope for Israel's future. For the very Islamism which so menaces it might finally unlock the door to peace. This is because both Islamism and Iran threaten not just Israel but the 'moderate' Arab world too. Accordingly, the last thing those Arabs want is an Iranian-backed, Islamised state of Palestine. Egypt and Jordan simply cannot afford to have Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood on their doorsteps in a Hamas-dominated Gaza or West Bank. Currently, they rely on Israel to prevent it. But increasingly, talk of some kind of Jordan-Egypt-Palestinian confederation is in the air.
As the analyst Jonathan Spyer has noted, Jordan's recent decision to connect Jericho to the Jordanian electricity grid is an example of its increasing involvement in the West Bank. And behind the scenes, the more realistic Palestinians have grasped that their best chance of having any future at all lies in just such a confederation. Such an outcome would have history on its side. Some readers may feel the need to lie down after reading the rest of this sentence, but Jordan is historically the state of Arab Palestine. This was the original two-state 'solution' back in 1921, when Winston Churchill unilaterally gave away three quarters of the original territory of Palestine to the Hashemite dynasty, creating what is now Jordan, with the remainder supposed to go to the Jews.
But this chance of an end to the dispute is currently being undermined by the self-serving meddling of America which, like Europe, falsely casts the Arab war against Israel as a boundary dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and is trying to force the agreed outline of a Palestinian state by the time President Bush leaves office.
It is even pressuring Israel to accept Hamas's 'truce' - by which Hamas means a period when Israel doesn't attack it so it can equip itself for war undisturbed - so that on his visit to Israel next week Bush can pretend that Middle East peace in our time is imminent. But this is a virtual reality peace process, since even the 'moderate' Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has said in terms that he will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state. So what's to discuss?
The future of Israel is the future of the West.
Despite its sham nature, however, this appeasement process has had two baleful consequences. It has caused Olmert, under pressure from the Americans, the Israeli media and powerful Israeli oligarchs who want the economic advantages of peace at any price, to destroy checkpoints, release prisoners and float the possibility of territorial concessions - all of which promote and incite further Arab violence. And it has caused Jordan to put its own confederation idea on ice. Thus meddling America is destroying the best option for the Middle East to resolve its core dispute - that it is left to sort it out by itself.
Indeed, much of the responsibility for these six decades of conflict lie with a Western world which, from 1921 onwards, has chosen to appease Arab violence while shedding crocodile tears over its Jewish victims. But the future of Israel is the future of the West. If the front line in Israel were to go down, the West would be next. Given its current internal appeasement of Islamism, however, the West may go down anyway. At least Israel knows it has to fight to survive. As a result, in 60 years' time it will still be there. Can the same be said for Britain or Europe?