Andrew Sprung highlights the following statement from Daniel Larison’s post on “Israel’s Unsurprising Response to Crimean Annexation“: “It would be odd for Israel to condemn another state for laying claim to territory outside its recognized borders.” Max Fisher summarizes the post with a sarcastic question that subtly shifts terminology: “Who could have guessed that Israel would shrug at a powerful country annexing part of a weaker neighbor[?]” In attributing to Israel a purely national-imperial policy, Fisher and Larison misstate the peculiar sovereignty problems as they have developed in relation to Israel, its neighboring states, and the international community or world state of states such as it is.
Israel as a new state was a state with “recognized borders,” solemnly recognized borders, that fought a series of wars against other states that specifically did not recognize either those particular borders or Israel’s right to any borders at all, or the right of the world state of states to designate the borders and confirm the right. Support for Israel by other states, especially by the leading protector of the international system of states, is predicated on the notion that it deserves to have not just its borders respected, but its right to have them at all also respected, and specifically by states as well as by non-state actors that have hitherto respected neither the borders nor the right.
Fisher’s use of the word “neighbor” is as deceptive in this context as Larison’s loose reference to recognition. Israel has frequently, more or less continually since its founding, been engaged in military actions up to and including wars of bare survival across variously recognized or contested borders, but, rather than annex parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, or Jordan – its neighboring states – it has withdrawn from territories it has conquered, where possible negotiating agreements one sovereign state to another under the tutelage of leading states in the world system of states. The main and in some respects trivial exception among actually existing and recognized states is Syria, which was and remains a member, one of the least wavering of all members, of the rejection front, the group of states that still refrain from fully and irrevocably acknowledging Israel’s right to any borders at all, an acknowledgment that would entail full diplomatic relations, end of boycotts, end of legal state of war, and many other alterations in conduct and language. As for the Palestinians, the precise problem is that they have not ever achieved the status of “neighbor” as in “neighboring state,” as in fellow “sovereign state.” Israel has played a highly criticizeable role in ensuring that they could not do so, but it is not clear whether Larison has any consistent basis for making that criticism. If states are simply to do as they will, then Israel will do as it will, just as Russia will, including by subverting the national projects of others, against or without regard to any expressed will and acknowledged interest of the states of the world taken together or as an international community or world state of states.
If Larison does not acknowledge or if we do not have a vital or overriding interest in supporting Israel, then neither Larison should find nor do we have any vital or overriding interest in criticizing Israel either. If we have no interest in criticizing Russia, then we may have no interest in criticizing Israel, and vice versa. As for Israel in particular, if Israel has reached the point where it is unable meaningfully to recognize in Ukraine at this moment at least a reflection of Israel at its founding moment and at other moments of peril, including potential future moments of peril, to its fraught national project, as equally an Israeli and international project, then the basis of American support for Israel dissolves as anything other than a material calculation, one state in regard to another in shifting alliances in the eternal war of all against all. In short, Israel would be revealed as no longer an ally or at any rate a trustworthy one in the American international project, which is a simultaneously moral or humanitarian, legal and political, and economic project whose validity or wisdom Larison may not recognize, but which Fisher and Sprung, to whatever extent they remain liberal internationalists with a reason to criticize Israel in Israel’s own enlightenable self-interest, still support. The White House officials whose reported discontent with Israel Larison finds so mystifying would be reacting to the sense that Israel has, once again, gone over to the other side on the American project or is not or is less an ally on it. Sprung and Fisher should sympathize with them, even if Larison does not.