Monday, June 18, 2007

Dismal realities in Israel/Palestine

While not entirely unexpected, the violence accompanying the Hamas takeover in the Gaza strip is deeply disquieting. It calls for a major reassessment.

While my political views are eclectic, it is fair to say that my approach to the I/P problem has been in broad accord with the more moderate elements of the international left. In these circles a variation on the Rodney King principle has prevailed: “Can’t they all just get along?” Since the Israelis hold most of the cards, it seemed to follow that they should grant concessions in order to make a solution work. Regrettably, the continuing establishment and enlargement of the settlements on the West Bank, together with the accompanying system of highways and checkpoints and the fence, constitute major obstacles to an agreement.

That agreement, as even the Bush administration has conceded, would require a two-state solution. Yet that goal no longer seems possible, as we now have three states. Or to be more accurate, one real state (Israel) and two that are disastrously failing.

As I have emphasized in previous postings, poorly designed Israeli policies have contributed to this failure. One must ask, though, whether, even under the most benign conditions, the Palestinians would be able to get their act together. The problem transcends the Palestinians as such. There are more than twenty Arab states. Yet not one has a decent government. Today, with the collapse of the hoopla about spreading democracy, there is talk about settling for “consensual authoritarianism,” that is, the system that prevails in Egypt and the Gulf monarchies. What is “consensual” about these states?

The real truth is an ugly one. In the Arab countries self-rule entails misrule. It means suppression of freedom of the press and expression, limitation of the rights of women, and persecution of homosexuals. The reasons for this dismal situation are partly to be sought in history. For centuries, most of the Arabs were ruled by the Ottoman Turks, an autocracy with an elaborate caste system (the millet). In 1920 the British and French took over. They did no better.

One reason democracy was able to reassert itself in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Hungary after the end of Soviet domination is that many people there could remember a previous system of pluralism under conditions of civil society. Arab countries, dominated by a fanatical bodies of religious savants known as the ulema, have no such heritage to fall back on.

So even if the Israelis were simply to turn over the keys and walk away--a solution covertly desired by the crazy faction of the international left--conditions for the Palestinians would not be promising. In the light of what is happening in Gaza, their situation might well turn out to be worse, as gun-toting factions fought over the spoils. From the Israeli point of view, then, there can be no other solution than containment. Those of us like myself, who were formerly in the Rodney King camp, need to acknowledge this necessity.

Just as with individuals, every country has an inherent right to assure its own survival. Doubtless this possibility will still not be conceded to Israel by the extremist in the “anti-imperialist” camp. It remains a foundational truth. But by the same token, no country, including Israel, should have an unchallenged right to subordinate another to its foreign policy.

And that subordination is what we have seen all too often in the US. Criticism of policies of particular Israeli governments is automatically equated with anti-Semitism by the Alan Dershowitzes of this world. Such slurs are likely to increase, rather than diminish the number of real anti-Semites.

Particularly disquieting is the current agitation in Israel for bombing Iran. This sentiment plays into the hands of the Cheney gang in Washington, which is relying upon an armed showdown with Iran to mask our failure in Iraq, and to lock us into a Middle Eastern imbroglio that will last for generations. We must not allow that outcome to happen.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Resentment over eviction may not evaporate for eons. When America "exports" freedom and democracy, and the "Natives" choose Hezbelloh and Hamas, which America and Israel then reject, can Arabs do anything right?

10:04 AM  

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