Yet again, the Middle East is in the news. Hamas and Hezbollah captured three Israeli soldiers between them and that is simply not allowed. Israel exclusively reserves to itself the right to pursue its interests by all means, fair or foul. For over fifty years it has followed the same self-defeating strategy; hit them hard with all you have. The fact that the strategy has not worked for so long does not seem to have penetrated the minds of Israeli leaders.
This anomaly is understandable to an extent; the abused often become abusers. And Jews have been abused for many centuries. Their most painful experiences in modern history were inflicted by Europeans: The process that started in the fourteenth century gathered momentum in the fifteenth century when Jews were ejected from many western European cities. The exile of Jews from Spain after it was recaptured by the Christians under Ferdinand and Isabella was particularly vicious, meted out by the brutal Inquisition. Jews drifted east to Poland and eastern Europe and more so to the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Following several centuries of reasonably harmonious relations with Muslim authorities in Andalusia and elsewhere they were prepared to put their trust in Muslims more than Christians. Persecution by Europeans continued up to and including the Nazi period that saw the extermination of about six million Jews.
Generalisation has its pitfalls, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that persistent pain and suffering endured for many centuries radically changed the outlook of a large proportion of Jews. As a group they exhibited symptoms of deep psychosis. In addition to clear signs of chronic persecution complex, they became highly self-absorbed with their misfortunes. The end result was inevitable: people determined that the world should make atonement and reparation and equally determined not to become victims of any form of injustice ever again.
Atonement and reparation
The solution was obvious: a homeland for the Jews in which they could live in peace and out of harm’s way. Jewish activists who worked towards that end were on the whole secular in outlook and left of centre politically. They were well-organised, well-connected, and well-funded. The process started in the nineteenth century and by the early twentieth century the idea of a Jewish home in Palestine was accepted by the leading power of the day as the following document dating back to November 1917 (known as the Balfour Declaration) clearly demonstrates:
“Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour”
Progress was slow and mainly took the form of mind-making through the use of highly effective public relations on an international scale and less obvious inward migration and purchase of land from Arab owners. Activities recognised nowadays as terrorism were also adopted on a wide front. However, the Nazi atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s provided the most effective impetus to turn the Balfour Declaration into reality; at least the Jewish homeland part.
Looked at dispassionately and in a broad historic context, the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine while doing nothing “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” had obvious merits.
The difficulties associated with settling hundreds of thousands of Jews into Palestine without causing substantial harm to the interests and sensibilities of the indigenous population were simply awesome. This was foreseen by the Zionists decades before the event. They adopted several stratagems that proved disastrous in retrospect. Partly, the effort was designed to assuage Jewish unease at what had to be done to create a Jewish homeland on someone else’s lands. In the main, however, it was intended to convince the world that harm to the indigenous people would be negligible. Massive public relations effort was expended from the early days to promote the strategy and this continues unabated to this day.
First, it was argued that Palestinians were simply ‘Arabs’ who could go and live in other Arab countries. The thought that this might not be acceptable to either Palestinians or their potential hosts obviously did not trouble advocates of the concept. The second strand was so unwholesome as to verge on being racist. The idea was put about that Arabs, including the Palestinians, were simply uncivilised people of little education, culture, or worth. Their rights and feelings could be discounted from the equation for all practical purposes. Western films, produced by Jewish talents and money, were used at every opportunity to promote this myth. Other avenues were utilised to the same end. Interestingly, this belief is still being peddled now. During the current turmoil in the Middle East, a Jewish entertainer appearing on a serious BBC television programme suggested that ‘to these people life does not have the same value as it does to us’, or words to that effect. This preposterous notion is not worthy of further comment. The third and final strand was equally brutal but had the merit of a grain of honesty about it. Yes Palestinians will suffer but, as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. In time the Palestinians will come to accept the status quo. This part of the policy relied on the ready availability of Arab leaders who are prepared to tacitly condone Israeli actions while mouthing weasel words of sympathy to the Palestinians and their cause. Moreover, this line of thought required overwhelming Israeli force and a government prepared to use that force without pity to convince Palestinians, Arabs, and others that ‘resistance is futile’, as the Borg repeated over and over again in the popular TV series of Star Trek. Above all else, this last part of the strategy relied a powerful ally that would deflect criticism in all quarters. The US; government, businesses, and media performed this role perfectly.
What went wrong?
Basically, the age of mass enforced ethnic cleansing is well and truly over. Regardless of power and influence the project is not sustainable in the long run. Yes, the need to create a Jewish home was and is self-evident. Yes the Jews suffered terribly for centuries; mostly at the hands of Christian Europeans. Yes again, Jews will not forgive and forget. Why should they? Sadly, in their high state of anger at the world, Jews forgot that others can and do have exactly the same feelings and aspirations. Once you think of Jews and Palestinians as two sides of the same coin, the strategy on which the Zionists based their plans crumbles.
People who have suffered extreme levels of anguish cannot think rationally. Jews fall into this category as do the Palestinians. In the process of creating Israel, the founding fathers needed sympathetic supporters to advise them to moderate their actions. For a short while that was the case, but once the project of turning the USA into the latest hegemonic empire began, roughly in the Eisenhower era, views changed. Regimes traditionally loyal to Britain were toppled and replaced by new ones inclined to follow the US line. Additionally, American interests in the Middle East grew exponentially as the demand for oil mushroomed.
The USA needed a totally reliable and reliant ally in the Middle East and Israel became America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. Turmoil in the Middle East generated through the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict was essential to US global interests. The human and economic development of Arab countries rich in resources was reduced to a snail’s pace.
Israel’s worst enemy
The US project was designed to promote US interests and no one else’s. This lies at the heart of the realist school of the international political economy. Kissinger was and is a devotee of this respected school of thought. Critically, the concept does not recognise other nations’ interests. The primary contest is over power and influence based not on an international view (as the US is fond of suggesting) but on a strictly nationalistic perception of life. Israel’s interests are secondary to those of the USA.
After over half a century, Israel has a shattered economy, a fragile social structure, and a population riddled with fears and tensions. Military power is acquired from the USA at a heavy price: Israel is totally reliant on the whims of the USA. New, as yet unforeseen, conditions could alter the equation radically. Israel, furthermore, is a minute country with very limited natural resources surrounded by countries potentially rich in natural and human talents and resources. It has to find a way to live with these neighbours on an amicable basis rather than brute force. To do otherwise is simply unsustainable
In the long run the Arabs will develop and they will acquire effective representative governments. This is not wishful thinking. It is inevitable. Will the Arabs forgive and forget? I doubt it. The Jews did not. Will past enmities disappear? Historic evidence does not support this possibility either. Yet Israel continues to make enemies at every turn, aided and abetted by the USA.
In closing I would like to suggest a scenario for readers to contemplate. What would have happened if Israel had taken a positive and constructive stance in relation to the Palestinians and to its Arab neighbours? Would Israelis be living in fear? Would they have squandered the widespread sympathy they enjoyed in 1948? I venture to suggest that Israel would have been the leading economic power in a Middle East inhabited by prosperous and not so introverted Arab and Jewish nations.
But, and it is a huge but, where would this have left US interests? Think of this other scenario: powerful and well-led Arab and Jewish Middle East running an economic, and oil, policy to serve the interests of the region. The ultimate doomsday scenario for the USA and its businesses, Jewish and non-Jewish. Does Israel still think the USA is its best ally? Do the Arabs share this belief? I certainly don’t.