Sunday, January 09, 2005

A World Without Israel?

This evening, I went into Border's on Liberty St., after dining at the Madras Masala.  I had parked in the parking structure, but had no money in my wallet, for some reason. (I had given it to my teenage son, for a wild night on the town.)  I needed to get the parking stub validated.  Otherwise I would be embarrassed at the ticket booth.

On the magazine rack, there was a copy of Foreign Policy.  FP, by the way, is one of the most influential publications in the world.  The cover was rather startling:

Now, Foreign Policy is not something I profess to understand.  But I had though it was a field populated by serious scholars, not science fiction writers.  In the SF genre, one often encounters "future histories," basically "what if..." stories: projections about what the world would be like, if such and such either happened, or did not happen.  So the title story is something one would expect in SF, but not FP.

I did not buy the magazine.  Instead, I came home and read the online version.  What I found was that the author, Josef Joffe, has adapted the SF subgenre of "future history" to perform a thought experiment; basically, he explores the current status of the impact of the existence of Israel using a fictional device. 

His conclusion is that much Mideast strife would exist even without the State of Israel:
Let us start the what-if procession in 1948, when Israel was born in war. Would stillbirth have nipped the Palestinian problem in the bud? Not quite. Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon marched on Haifa and Tel Aviv not to liberate Palestine, but to grab it. The invasion was a textbook competitive power play by neighboring states intent on acquiring territory for themselves. If they had been victorious, a Palestinian state would not have emerged, and there still would have been plenty of refugees. (Recall that half the population of Kuwait fled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s “liberation” of that country in 1990.) Indeed, assuming that Palestinian nationalism had awakened when it did in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians might now be dispatching suicide bombers to Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere.

Let us imagine Israel had disappeared in 1967, instead of occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were held, respectively, by Jordan’s King Hussein and Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Would they have relinquished their possessions to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and thrown in Haifa and Tel Aviv for good measure? Not likely. The two potentates, enemies in all but name, were united only by their common hatred and fear of Arafat, the founder of Fatah (the Palestine National Liberation Movement) and rightly suspected of plotting against Arab regimes. In short, the “root cause” of Palestinian statelessness would have persisted, even in Israel’s absence.
Dr. Joffe goes on to illustrate the rationale for his conclusion ("Israel’s elimination from the regional balance would hardly bolster intra-Arab amity."), using a series of "what if" scenarios.  It appears, to this relatively naive reader, that his main point is this: there is no pan-Muslim unity; there are numerous factions that would be at each other's throats regardless of the existence of an Israeli state.  For example:
Ideologies vs. Ideologies: Zionism is not the only “ism” in the region, which is rife with competing ideologies. Even though the Baathist parties in Syria and Iraq sprang from the same fascist European roots, both have vied for precedence in the Middle East. Nasser wielded pan-Arabism-cum-socialism against the Arab nation-state. And both Baathists and Nasserites have opposed the monarchies, such as in Jordan. Khomeinist Iran and Wahhabite Saudi Arabia remain mortal enemies. What is the connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Nil, with the exception of Hamas, a terror army of the faithful once supported by Israel as a rival to the Palestine Liberation Organization and now responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel. But will Hamas disband once Israel is gone? Hardly. Hamas has bigger ambitions than eliminating the “Zionist entity.” The organization seeks nothing less than a unified Arab state under a regime of God.
Of course, all of this raises the questions: Why should someone in Midwestern United States care?  Does this have any significance for the US?  Although Dr. Joffe does not pose this question directly, he does provide an answer:
Finally, the most popular what-if issue of them all: Would the Islamic world hate the United States less if Israel vanished? Like all what-if queries, this one, too, admits only suggestive evidence. To begin, the notion that 5 million Jews are solely responsible for the rage of 1 billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assigned to it. Second, Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the U.S.-managed coup that restored the shah’s rule in Tehran in 1953, or the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As soon as Britain and France left the Middle East, the United States became the dominant power and the No. 1 target.[...]

Take the Cairo Declaration against “U.S. hegemony,” endorsed by 400 delegates from across the Middle East and the West in December 2002. The lengthy indictment mentions Palestine only peripherally. The central condemnation, uttered in profuse variation, targets the United States for monopolizing power “within the framework of capitalist globalization,” for reinstating “colonialism,” and for blocking the “emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power toward multi-polarity.” In short, Global America is responsible for all the afflictions of the Arab world, with Israel coming in a distant second.
What this implies, is that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will do little to ease the tension between the other Mideastern countries and the United States.  All it would do would be to remove one excuse for the tension. 

I do not mean to argue that the USA should not invest substantial time and money to finding a resolution.  The peoples of Israel and Palestine have suffered plenty, and anything we can do to help is worthwhile.  But we should help with an understanding that the goal is an humanitarian one.  If Dr. Joffe is correct, resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will do little to enhance our own security. 

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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