Monday, November 16, 2009

Thinking the unthinkable

The ritual has become inescapable. Even those who question most radically the policies pursued by successive Israeli governments are required to affirm, as fervently as possible, the "right of Israel to exist."

Why must one say this? Certainly the right to exist of all the individuals living in Israel/Palestine, whether Jews, Muslims, Christians, or others, must be defended. Not to do so would be to approve of murder. Indeed, all these persons should thrive, being encouraged to achieve all the dimensions of human flourishing to which they rightfully aspire. But must these persons all continue to exist under present circumstances?

Well, one might say, the international order requires the maintenance of existing national boundaries, even for countries like Sudan and Burma, where the policies of the government are deplorable.

However, I can think of three nations in Eastern Europe that no longer exist: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. No one would want to see anything like the horrors that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia be repeated elsewhere. However, no such atrocities occurred during the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, where the two halves went their separate ways. As far as I can tell, almost everyone there seems to be the better for the separation. The USSR is admittedly an intermediate case, but on the whole the result has not been too bad. Why then should not the state of Israel be added to the list, if circumstances so warrant?

The reality, an inescapable reality, is that no nation has an a priori right to exist forever--including quite possibly our own. The Italian Institute that I go to here in New York has as its motto: Res romana stat. But in fact the Roman Empire no longer exists.

If it comes to it, the only appropriate question is how orderly and successful the dissolution is going to be.



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