Originally published in Blogspot 03.16.2013 by author.
Two columnists in the NY Times bring the contrast between the different world-views of Palestinians and Israelis into sharp focus. (“Is Any Hope Left for Middle East Peace”? The New York Times Wednesday, March 13, 2013.) Rashid Khalidi, presenting his view of the Palestinian position on the peace process, exuded anger and frustration while denouncing the Israelis as oppressors and Americans as their enablers. In a telling, and highly significant, statement, he says of the Palestinians, “(d)espite the complicity of some of their leaders in a process that has left them stateless while the unending colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues, they deserve to be more than prisoners in their own land.”
Ari Shavit, writing of his view of the Israeli side of the peace process, begins with a brief history of the process from the Israeli perspective. His tone is more subdued, less passionate, almost despondent. He speaks of “bad news” and “good news.” The bad news is his overview of the history of hopefulness and failure, bringing that history to the uncertainty of peace emerging from the on-going turmoil of the “Arab Spring.” In this moment of history, however, he manages to find an inkling of good news. “a New Peace(sic) is now a promising option. Having brought down tyrants …the peoples of the Arab world are focusing on the internal problems of their societies: poverty, corruption, lack of freedom and opportunity and an overall failure to establish a decent, functioning Arab modernity.” He couples this with the emergence of a social justice movement in Israel which, he believes, is capable of “quietly changing the political system.”
Rashid Khalidi’s argument begs the question, when have the Palestinians NOT been “prisoners in their own land”? The “two-state solution” was originally proposed by the UN in 1948, and was vociferously rejected by the Palestinian Arabs and their, then, recently-post colonial supporters in the surrounding Arab countries. The result was a war won by the Palestinian Jews, now Israelis, and the land not assigned by the partition plan or captured in the war by Israel now occupied by Egypt and the newly minted Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
What the Palestinians call “their land” had been ruled by Ottoman Turks, the British, the Egyptians and the Jordanians. It had never been “their land” in the sense of recognized sovereignty, until Israel seized it from Egypt and Jordan in 1967. It would seem that the issue is not one of occupation, as much as who occupies. Clearly, the less-than benign and undemocratic rule by Moslem Arabs is preferable to the less-than benign and undemocratic rule by Jews. The unspoken truth is that the original goals and purposes of the Palestinians and other Moslem Arab countries in the region, i.e. the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of the Jews, remains a core element of Palestinian motivation. Any thought to the contrary should be seen as an accommodation to reality, rather than an ultimate goal.
By the same token, Ari Shavit’s hope for a real peace process, proceeding by small steps of accommodation and trust to a final goal of a utopian peace between good neighbors is equally flawed. As Khalidi fails to take into account the realities of history, Shavit fails to take into account the realities of the societies involved. Shavit, sitting in westernized, modern, democratic Israel, looks around and sees the potential of a westernized, modern, democratic Palestine as part of a westernized, modern, democratic Middle East. If Khalidi’s dreams are angry nightmares. Shavit’s are psychedelic hallucinations. Shavit fails to take into account the nature of Arab society, now forcefully pressed into the world’s face by the lines of conflict emerging in the turmoil of the Arab Spring. All Arab societies, in various forms and to varying degrees, revolve around loyalty to and conflict between clans, tribes, ethnicity and sectarianism. Compounding these divisions are distinctions based on class, wealth and political power which sometimes crosscut the boundaries of traditional groupings, especially in the realm of political power. Without political institutions capable of subsuming these fault lines, refocusing them as political interests played out in structured forums, the likelihood of any accommodation between perceived divisions as all- encompassing as that between Arab and Jew is slight indeed.
I suspect that Khalidi, deep in his heart, understands that for Jews to rule over Arabs, especially Moslem Arabs, is an affront to the order of the universe. As bad as being ruled by non-Arab Moslems might be, the insult to the dignity of even the lowliest Palestinian to be ruled by “dhimmi,” protected second class members of society (as the Moslem defined Jews and Christians during their domination of the Middle East) is unbearable. In a society in which concepts such as “dignity,” and “honor” are more common that concepts like “liberty and” “freedom,” where the concept of “justice” still means “revenge” and where feuding is not a metaphor, finding a road to peace with a “westernized, modern, democratic” society can be a herculean task.
Similarly, I believe Shavit fails to understand that the Enlightenment never quite got to this part of the world – until very recently. The ideas that emerged from that fecund period of Western history have yet to penetrate the cultures, and influence the thinking, of the peoples of the Middle East. Much as influence flowed the other way in history, but took centuries to change the cultures of Europe, so, now, the positive ideas of Western cultures cannot be expected to produce profound changes in the thinking of Middle Eastern peoples overnight.
Before anything can be produced by a “peace process,” as discussed by these authors, Khalidi needs to look at Israelis and not see dhimmi ruling Arabs, and Shavit needs to look at Palestinians and not see “people just like us, but a little different.” In one case a little introspection would be helpful, in the other; a little more reality-testing would be beneficial.