For a new regional order

Perry Anderson in 2001:

Israeli power will never yield to anything but strength. But its own has an Achilles heel. It remains a state still ultimately dependent for its defence and prosperity on the United States. Its fortune has always been a function of foreign protection, and could not survive its subtraction. If American support were ever withdrawn from Zionism, its intransigence would swiftly erode. The rigidity of public opinion in Israel, whose condition has long been its assurance of the American placet, is in this sense more brittle than it seems. If Washington were to pull the rug from under Jerusalem, unexpected changes of heart would not be long in coming. But how could America ever contemplate such a betrayal? The answer lies, as it has done ever since the fifties, in the Arab world. So long as both of the key Arab powers—Egypt with its population, and Saudi Arabia with its petroleum—remain client-states of America, the Middle East and its oil are safely in US hands, and there is no reason to deny Israel anything it wishes. But should that ever change, the fate of the Palestinians would instantly alter. America has invested enormous sums to sustain Mubarak’s moth-eaten dictatorship in Cairo, cordially despised by the Egyptian masses, and spared no effort to protect the feudal plutocracy in Riyadh, perched above a sea of rightless immigrants. If either of these edifices were toppled—in the best of cases, both—the balance of power in the region would be transformed.

The dismal political history of the Arab world over the last half-century gives little reason for thinking this is likely in the short-run. Nor is there any guarantee that successor regimes would improve on the record of Nasser and the other failures of his time. But no stasis is permanent, even in the Middle East. Any real break in its regional system of power will set the US compass quivering. Genuinely independent regimes on the Nile or in Mecca would soon put the importance of the Zionist connexion into perspective. Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than either. The captivity of the Palestinians is a consequence of a larger submission of the Middle East. The day the Arab world stops scurrying to Washington—should that ever come—Israel will be forced to disgorge its incommensurate gains. Short of that, Zionism is not likely to be moved.

Tip o' the hat: Sans Everything

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.