Those of us who had hoped the “Arab Spring” would usher in a period of liberal democracy are devastated that the spring has evolved into a long, dark winter. The Arab world is rife with strife and there is no end in sight.
The civil war in Syria has taken over 100,000 lives with a greater number of wounded. Several million people have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of Syrians are living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. Thousands more have fled into Europe.
Egypt, though not as bloody, has been unable to sustain even one election. The Moslem Brotherhood thought its electoral victory gave it the right to rule without checks or consideration for the large minority who did not vote for it. Millions rioted in the streets and squares of Cairo and Alexandria, encouraging the army to take over. Now, the Moslem Brotherhood is rioting. Similarly, in Iraq, when the Shi’ite party won the election, it used its newfound power to suppress the Sunnis, leading to more bloodshed as the Sunnis terrorize the ruling Shi’ites.
In Yemen, Al Qaida Islamists are attacking the army and engaging in terror throughout the country. Jordan is hanging on by a thread as it is being forced to play host to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees while the oil-rich Saudis and Emirates fear a backlash from the very Islamists that they are supporting.
The one exception to the Middle Eastern upheaval is the State of Israel, seemingly secure with its great military strength and economic prosperity. It has closed its gates to Syrian refugees though it has treated hundreds of Syrians in its northern hospitals.
This must be very strange for those who have insisted on the “truism” that the key to peace in the Middle East is the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now we “discover” that conflicts in the Arab world — in some cases dating back more than a thousand years, others quite recent — undermine a peaceful Middle East every bit as much as the Palestinian issue. These conflicts include the Shi’ite/Sunni clash; the struggle between secular Arabs who wish to pursue a Western model and Islamists who wish to revert to Sharia law; and the battle between Al Qaida — which strives to restore the Caliphate — and the nation states of the region.
With all this tumult, it was surprising to find a lengthy essay on page one of the New York Times Sunday Review section titled “Two-State Illusion.” Written by Ian S. Lustick, a professor at Penn, the essay maintains that the negotiations currently being held by Israel and the Palestinian Authority are, like previous ones, doomed to failure. He makes several preposterous claims without citing sources such as, “Many Israelis see the demise of the country as not just possible but probable.” He sees Israel as a colonial power similar to Great Britain ruling Ireland and France ruling Algeria, without acknowledging the blood, sweat, and toil invested by Jews who literally drained the swamps of a land partitioned with international approval. He says that while the Palestinians have a legitimate right to a state, no such right is bestowed on Israel. Finally, he attributes U.S. support of Israel to the “Israel lobby” without acknowledging that there may be other reasons, such as shared values, a common religious tradition, and great admiration for Israel’s many accomplishments.
Lustick’s solution is a single state, not in the interest of “democracy,” but in order to force Israel and the United States to give up the “illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict.” Under this scenario, he predicts, the Palestinian Authority will fall, leading to Israel’s rule over the area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. This will “lead to ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, Jewish and Arab emigration and tides of international condemnation of Israel.” Perhaps then the Palestinians will get their independence.
But there’s more. Lustick appears to prefer not two states for two peoples, but perhaps a bi-national “confederation…more attractive than narrow Israeli nationalism.” Under such an arrangement, “secular Palestinians…could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists, non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants, foreign workers and global-village Israeli entrepreneurs.” Jews who made aliya from Arab countries “will find new reasons to think of themselves not as “Eastern but as Arab.”
The stench of anti-Semitism makes one wonder why the Times would feature such an essay. Does Lustick really believe that the grandchildren of North African Jews would want to consider themselves Arabs? Will Tel Aviv’s upper-middle class form a common identity with West Bank Arabs? Are the Jews the only people not entitled to self-determination?
Lustick is not the first “intellectual” to advocate Israel’s disappearance into a one-state solution. Noam Chomsky has been doing it for years. I am not among those who see the Times as an enemy of the Jews. There have been many excellent articles favorable to Israel as well as correspondents whose identity with Israel was such that their children joined the IDF. Yet one can only wonder how such an intellectually slip-shod article could have evaded an editor’s eyes, or why “nationalism” becomes a dirty word only when applied to Jewish aspirations.