Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Israel and the Changing Face of Antisemitism

For a powerless, stateless people, it is really amazing how much hatred was directed at the Jews during the Diaspora. Despite a relatively tiny population and virtually no political power, Jews were vilified across the world for their purported role in killing Jesus Christ, for their failure to accept the Qu'ran and the teachings of Muhammad, for their unwillingness to conform to the culture and language of the lands they inhabited. Additionally, Jewish success in the fields of business and education inspired disdain from people who perceived that Jews had some unfair or improper advantage. Over the centuries, antisemitism perpetrated some incredibly hateful and vile lies about Jews, including the blood libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Antisemitism during the Diaspora focused significantly on blaming Jews for local problems, a phenomenon that reached its peak in the late 19th century during the Russian pogroms and during the 20th century during the Holocaust. Even earlier, nationalist revolts in Ukraine in the 17th century featured distinctively antisemitic elements, as Jews were accused of being in cahoots with the landed aristocracy.

Antisemitism during the Diaspora thrived in many ways because Jews were powerless to resist it. It was easy to Hitler to blame Jews for Germany's problems because the Jews could do nothing to fight back and because no nation in the world represented Jewish interests or was even willing to take on Jewish refugees (famously shown at the Evian Conference). In a state of powerlessness and highly visible because of their distinctive culture, dress and language and tendency to congregate together in neighborhoods and villages, Jews presented the ultimate scapegoat and a people who had refused to assimilate to the two major proselytizing religions: Islam and Christianity.

The establishment of the State of Israel brought many changes to the ancient practice of Antisemitism. While some countries immediately evicted their Jews (primarily Islamic nations), other nations refused to let their Jews depart (such as the Soviet Union). The Islamic world, which treated Jews as second class citizens at best because of their refusal to support Muhammad after he was expelled from Mecca. When Jews were in the Diaspora, they could be controlled, subjected to the jizya (poll tax), restricted in their ability to build synagogues and forced into undesirable neighborhoods of cities like Istanbul and Baghdad. The creation of Israel and the subsequent expulsion of 700,000 Jews from the nearby Arab states created a situation which the Islamic world had never experienced: Jews having power over themselves, in a place that the Islamic world considered "theirs."

After 1948, the focus of Antisemitism changed. Few if any Jews living in Islamic lands, and they could not serve as internal scapegoats. Their state, however, could be attacked and blamed for the problems plaguing the Middle East. For good measure, the blood libel was brought back to force with accusations that Jews killed Arab children and stole their organs. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fabrication of Tsar Nicolas II's Secret Police, was imported and became a best seller in the bookstores of Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. Most significantly, the Islamic world began a strong global campaign, backed by their oil wealth, designed to show that Jewish self determination was racist against the Arabs of the British Mandatory Palestine. This attempt succeeded, as the UN passed a resolution stating that Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement, is racist. No other nationalist movement has been so labeled. And while the Protocols of the Elders of Zion accused the Jews of Diaspora of being global puppetmasters who ran the world by manipulating financial institutions. That type of antisemitic imagery has been unchanged, with many people contending that there is a vast Jewish conspiracy to manipulate global financial market for Jewish gain, that AIPAC and Israeli lobbying groups control or exert undue influence over the U.S. government, and, most significantly, that Israel and its behavior are the determining factor of whether there will or will not be peace in the Middle East.

Of course, in recent years, as Jews have woken up and realized that attacks on Israel and demands that it take detrimental or even suicidal actions for the benefit of its enemies are grounded in antisemitism, the anti-Israel crowd has raised the banner of "being anti Israel does not make you anti-Semitic," using formalistic and superficial contentions to try to distinguish their attacks on Israel from attempting to deny Jewish sovereignty and self determination. Obviously, there are people who legitimately criticize the Israeli government and its policies and are not antisemitic nor trying to deny Jewish sovereignty. Israel is not some perfect or ideal nation that is above reproach or beyond criticism. However, given its unique circumstances as a nation surrounded by many countries who do not recognize its right to exist and that have launched several wars against it, criticism of Israel that focuses on its need to give up land, allow for the right of return of hundreds of thousands of Arabs refugees or re-divide Jerusalem need to be taken with extra scrutiny considering the well established intentions of Israel's Arab neighbors.

And let's be honest, there are those in the West who view Israel as a mistake, a nation created before the end of colonialism and a country whose existence is as desirable as that of apartheid South Africa. Those people, insofar as they mask their disdain for Israel's existence by couching it in terms of support for groups like Hamas, Hizbullah and PLO and by seeking liberation of Palestine "from the river to the sea" are committing an antisemitic act. For a person to say that they do not harbor discriminatory views against Jews but at the same time to contend that Jews should be deprived of their right to self determination in favor of the rights of another people is an Anti-semite and there is no way around that. We Jews now live in a time where many of the most vile and heinous antisemitic lies are being redeployed by people who wish to see us return to being stateless dhimmis whose continued existence is based on the whims of others.

As Rosh Hoshanah comes, I think that 5772 needs to be a year where Jews across the world realize and take a stand against the antisemitic aspects of much of the anti-Israel rhetoric out there in the world. Zionism is being portrayed as a global conspiracy similar to that described in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and it is up to us to stand up and defend ourselves in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile and increasingly willing to take the side of the Arabs. Part of ending the Diaspora was taking our lives, our future and our destiny into our own hands for the first time in 2000 years. Now is the time to seize that opportunity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Histories of Israel's Judges

As the UN Security Council considers whether to pass another anti-Israel resolution, this one granting the illegitimate government of the Palestinians control over a state in the West Bank and Gaza, I find it interesting to look at the nations doing the deciding, especially the permanent members of the UN Security Council: France, Great Britain, the People's Republic of China, Russia and the United States. Looking at these nations' recent history is interesting in context when considering what the UN-backed creation of Palestine would mean.

Russia - Russia has endured a number of localized nationalist insurrections since the Soviet government collapsed. Ignoring some of the horrific acts of the Soviet governments against other "nations" within their borders (such as the forced deportation of the Chechens and many other groups), the Russian governments operations against the Chechnya, Abkazia and South Ossetia show a huge nation that is unwilling to oblige the separatist and nationalist aspirations of a variety of its ethnic groups. Russia has suppressed these attempts at independence with extreme violence, repeatedly demolishing Grozny in Chechnya, killing thousands of Chechens and invading Georgia in 2008 as a result of Georgia's unwillingness to support the independence of Abkazia and South Ossetia.

China - While China's most notable anti-separatist movement began with its 1951 invasion of the heretofore independent nation of Tibet, China too has acted to significantly reduce the power of supposed nationalist movements, especially those in Xiajiang that seek greater independence. Of course, Tibet must be the major focus, as the PRC government has absolutely refused to acknowledge political independence for Tibet, has jailed Tibetan activists, chased the young Dalai Lama from Lhasa and continues to hold the current Panchen Lama in a Chinese prison. The standard of living for Tibetans and many other minority ethnic groups is quite low compared to that of the majority Han Chinese, and many lack the limited political rights that the Chinese enjoy.

France - I would say that in many ways, France is post-colonial in name only. The French have gotten their fingers into many African nations' soups, most recently playing a key role in resolving the Guinean presidential conflict in favor of French-back Alassane Ouattara and against the more independently minded Laurent Gbagbo. In the more distant past, French commandos overthrew Central African President (and Emperor) Jean-Bidel Bokassa to place French-backed David Dacko back in the CAR presidency in Operation Barracuda. After the collapse of its colonial empire, the French have continued to involve themselves in the internal affairs of their former colonial possessions, often to the detriment of those developing nations.

Great Britain - Great Britain, like France, has continued to involve itself in the internal affairs of its prior colonies. More significantly, the last century of English history has involved significant action by the British to stifle Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish efforts at greater sovereignty and independence from the British.

The United States - Ah, the big kahuna. I always find American support for the Palestinians interesting when thinking about what would happen if several Native American tribes (a) started firing rockets into major U.S. cities and stating that they were doing so because their attempts to regain their independent lands were being usurped by the United States and (b) that they were going to the United Nations to seek approval of an independent state. I guarantee that Iran, Syria, Venezuela and a host of other nations would vote in favor of such independence, arguing that the white Americans stole the land and illegitimately took the land of Native Americans through war, deceit and outright slaughter. Of course, it doesn't need to stop with the United States...why can't all "native peoples" demand to parts of ALL North and South American nations that were conquered by the French, British, Spanish and Portuguese. Surely their claims are no weaker than those of the Palestinians, who at least have a nation where they represent a national majority in Jordan.

The point here is not to validate the actions of any of the above nations or indeed to pass judgment on Israel. The point, quite simply, is that those who are throwing stones at Israel are far worse sinners than the Israelis vis-a-vis the Palestinians. In fact, other Middle Eastern nations have treated the Palestinians far worse than the Israelis have. No one now mentions how the Kuwaitis orchestrated a Soviet-style mass deportations of Palestinians after the PLO openly backed Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait. Only slightly more remembered are Jordan's actions during Black September in 1970.

It is truly amazing that Russia, China, France, England and the United States, powerful nations that fought and continue to fight tooth and nail to keep upstart groups seeking self determination from "liberating" even an inch of their land are more than willing to give away tiny Israel's land to its enemies. At least the subnational independence movements in those nations still allow for their continued existence, whereas both the PLO and Hamas view the destruction of Israel and the Jewish homeland as their primary goal. The irony and hypocrisy are palpable, but the focus on the UN vote is far too narrowly focused on the supposed "merits" of a Palestinian state without considering the irony associated with who is actually voting on whether or not to "grant" such a state.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How did the Palestinian National Movement Get to Center Stage?

Many years ago, nobody had heard of the Palestinians. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the idea of an independent Arab state in the British Mandate was non-existent, as all that land was controlled by Israel, Jordan and Egypt. After Jordan formally annexed the West Bank, there was still a significant rift between the Arab population of the British Mandate and the Hashemite rulers of Jordan. This conflict culminated in the assassination of Jordan's King Abdullah I in 1952 by a "Palestinian" nationalist, that is a man motivated by a desire to create and Arab, not Hashemite, controlled state in the British Mandate. Of course, at that time, the Arab nationalists who took up the mantle of Mandatory Arab leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini were a major nuisance to both the Israelis and the Jordanians. Moreover, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, the prevailing thought was that the most effective way to eliminate Israel from the region was through nation-state conflict and economic pressure, leading to a chain of events that culminated in the Six Day War in June 1967.

It was that catastrophic defeat by Arab forces coupled with the abortive attempt by the PLO to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy in 1970 that finally brought the Palestinians onto the world stage. After the Six Day War changed the "occupiers" from Jordan, Israel and Egypt to just Israel, the PLO took decisive action. From 1967 to 1972, the PLO and their Fatah wing, along with several smaller groups like Black September, undertook a series of airplane hijackings, embassy attacks and suicide bombings, which culminated in the live execution of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics after an amateurish attempt by West Germany to save the athletes. Several other high profile attacks, including the murder of two American diplomats at the Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, the seizure of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, and the murderous rampage of Japanese Red Army member at Lod Airport in 1972. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973 failed once again to eliminate Israel, the PLO kept up their attacks, culminating most famously in the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight that was rerouted to Entebbe, Uganda.

These events are all long past, as are the subsequent Intifadas and dozens of terrorist attacks. What we take for granted from these attacks is that the Palestinian narrative has become such a central part of the fabric of international relations, we don't even think about why. Mahmoud Abbas disengenously reminds us that it has been 63 years of "suffering" for his stateless people, even though his people chose statelessness by rejecting the 1947 Partition Plan and starting a war with Israel. But that is not the point. Before their commencement of high visibility terrorist attacks in the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians were no different from the Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, East Timorese, Kosovars or Kurds. At some level, events like the Munich Massacre and the Entebbe hijacking caused Westerners to ask themselves "how bad must their lives be that these people are willing to commit suicidal terrorist acts to gain recognition?" The supposed desperation that led them down the path of terrorism paradoxically justifies the terrorist behavior and encourages it because the more spectacular and deadly the terrorism, the worse the underlying ill must be. A question asked far less frequently might go something like "What is it that the Palestinians have done to Israel that successive Israeli governments have been unable to make peace with them?"

The Palestinians have taken it to a whole new level. While the Tamils achieved some level of recognition through their military conflict in Sri Lanka, they were simply unable to promote the same type of colonialist narrative that the Palestinians have been able to by portraying Israelis as "European" Jewish invaders of native Arab land. And while Tibet is undoubtedly a well known and often sympathetic example of a people militarily deprived of its nationalist dream, the People's Republic of China is simply too politically powerful and economically hegemonic to openly criticize in the same way. The Palestinians had one major fortune: their supposed oppressor is a country that is small and is the homeland of a people that many other nations either hate, fear, distrust or all three.

We have reached the culmination of the Palestinian narrative. Not only have the Palestinians convinced the world that the Israelis are the party that does not want peace despite ample historical evidence of Palestinian leaders turning down Israeli peace offers, but they have essentially managed to put Israel on trial before the entire world to essentially answer for its continued willingness and desire to exist. For, unlike the Tamils, the East Timorese and the Tibetans, the realization of the Palestinian nationalist dream as presented by Mahmoud Abbas' PLO and Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas necessarily requires extinguishing the Jewish nationalist dream. Mr. Abbas can spin wonderful webs of living side by side with the Jewish state, but his silence and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state say far more than his flowery promises of peace. International approval for a Palestinian state has only a single, and frankly unsurprising, conclusion: that the nationalist goals of another amorphous group of Arabs is more important than the recognition of Jewish sovereignty over a tiny strip of land in the Eastern Mediterranean. While this statement may seem dramatic at first, consider that the same United Nations now voting on the formation of Palestine also voted to condemn Zionism, the movement for Jewish sovereignty, as racism. No other nationalist movement has ever received such a label, certainly not the Palestinian national movement that demands the expulsion of all Jews from its newly formed state.

The Palestinians got to center stage by using terrorism to make people believe that they were a beleaguered people who had done nothing wrong but hand landed in their unfortunate position as a stateless people. Those terrorist attacks blinded the world to the underlying causes of their statelessness: their abortive attempt to destroy Israel in 1948, their abortive coup in Jordan in 1970, their driving Lebanon into a 15 year civil was in 1975 and their assassination of the majority of moderate Arabs who genuinely considered living side by side with Israel as a desirable outcome. Highly spectacular terrorist attacks proved very useful in making the Palestinians look like desperate victims who had no other option. Of course, the Arabs always had the option of recognizing Israel and receiving the benefits of peace.

Mahmoud Abbas' central thesis must be that for 63 years it has been absolutely impossible for the Arabs to make peace with Israel, even when Israel did not control any of the territory Mr. Abbas now seeks for his state. Indeed, the sheer chutzpah of going back to the UN 64 years after the Arabs rejected essentially the exact same Partition plan is bizarre to the extreme. In the 64 years since the Arabs chose war over peace with the Jews, the Palestinians have given the world terrorism, fear, death and oppressive religious fundamentalism. Yet, the overwhelming power of the terrorist narrative is so strong in the liberal mind that is incapable of assigning blame to the criminal for his crime (instead of blaming "society" or "the Man") demands that we focus more on trying to figure out what Israel did to cause an Arab suicide bomber to blow up a bus full of children than on condemning the suicide bomber. However, we focus far less on why Israel killed a militant in Gaza or built the separation barrier and instead only view the act in a context-less vacuum. The hypocrisy is palpable.

And so the three ring circus at the UN rolls on. As Mahmoud Abbas is cheered in New York City, where the Twin Towers fell to Muslim terrorists 10 years ago, we are seeing the victory of Islamic terrorism over the West because Western societies feel so guilty for their past misdeeds that they now view terrorism against Western societies as a legitimate means of expressing discontent. Of course, the Western liberal mindset not only views terrorism as legitimate, but it also refuses to question the extent to which the Palestinians or any other subnational group using terrorism is responsible for their present state of affairs. So Mr. Abbas, take a bow, as your speech at the UN today is the culmination of a 63 year campaign that turned a marginal group of Arabs seeking to destroy the fledgling Jewish state into the darlings of the world media.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Real Reason Negotiations between Israel and Palestinians Fail

One of the central misunderstandings of decades of negotiations between successive Israeli governments and the PLO are that the negotiations involve parties that are negotiating at arms length or that the parties have similar things to gain or lose from the negotiations. Let's examine the positions. The PLO's stated desired negotiation outcome is: (1) the establishment of an Arab State in the West Bank that contains no Jews in it (2) repatriate all Palestinian Arabs living in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan that have any claim to ancestry in British Mandatory Palestine and (3) the existence of "Israel" as a country that is not a Jewish state and that has status as a Jewish homeland. This is not controversial, this is stated PLO policy and the explicitly recognized PLO negotiating position. For most of the world and for leftist Israelis, they would settle for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders that promises peace and stops rocket fire.

In the context a basic understanding of negotiation and leverage, Israel is being asked to give up all the valuable assets (land) in exchange for the least valuable asset (essentially, a verbal promise). Of course, Likud governments have increasingly walked away from negotiations and have been blamed in the global media for being obstructionist and a roadblock to peace. However, the evolution of the Israeli/Palestinian negotiation framework sheds light on why all but the most leftist and deluded of Israelis inevitably conclude that negotiations with the PLO are fruitless and destructive.

The PLO wants the following issues to be up for discussion in any bilateral negotiations: Israel's existence as a Jewish State (and by extension, the right of Jews to national self determination), the rights of Palestinians to freely move back to Israel (while it is illegal for Jews to live in many Arab states and it is acknowledged by PLO leaders that Jews would not be welcome in Palestine) and whether Israel should be able to retain any control over its capital and most important city: Jerusalem. Basically, the PLO wants Israel to sacrifice many of its most basic and fundamental features for the sake of peace. The only basic and fundamental feature the Palestinians are asked to sacrifice is their desire to murder Israelis and Jews around the world. But more importantly, when Israel is asked to put those fundamental issues for negotiation, it is logical that Israelis feel like their entire nation is up for negotiation. When has another country been asked to negotiate away the right of its people to have national self determination? We have become desensitized to it now, but how insane is it that Israel's status as a Jewish state is open to negotiation? How can Israelis feel like the Palestinians, who demand that no Jews live in their midst, are partners in peace when they want to deny Jews the right to self determination? What Israeli government could ever agree on that issue?

Of course, decades of Arab campaigning and media blitzes have convinced much of the world that it is perfectly acceptable to demand that Israel give away anything and everything for peace. Of course, we forget now, decades later, that the peace was broken by the Palestinians, or at the very least, by both sides. In the latter scenario, if both sides broke the peace, shouldn't both sides have to give up something of real value? The Palestinians even refuse to adopt certain fairly rational positions, such as agreeing to a state in the 1967 borders in exchange for renouncing their fabricated "right of return." But even that would not require them to give up anything real in the way that the Israelis are asked to give up land. For example, the PA should have to compensate families killed by terrorist attacks, or, better yet, Palestine must absorb a certain percentage of Arabs living in Israel since Israel must absorb Jews living in the West Bank. Maybe then both sides would be bringing something tangible to the table and allow for a real negotiation. Negotiations with the PLO as they are framed now allow for attacks on Israel and its fundamental features. By continuing to put issues of Israel's Jewishness on the negotiating table, Israeli Jews naturally become very defensive and reactionary because they (rightly) perceive that their self-determination is now up for barter. The same mindset applies to negotiations about dividing or ceding Jerusalem.

If nothing else, by raising issues like whether Israel should be consider a Jewish state, the unelected Mahmoud Abbas, who does not represent that majority of Palestinians, is putting up obstacles to make sure no negotiated settlement is reached. Indeed, Abbas is essentially recreating 1948 and hoping that the outcome will be different. The problem for Abbas is that when he started down the unilateral statehood path, the geopolitics of the region were different. However, Abbas' real hope is that international pressure on Israel will be so strong that the Israelis are essentially constricted from taking effective action like they did in 1948. Back then, Israel was a scrappy underdog that people could cheer for without actually believing they could win. Now, Israel is perceived as a big bully on the block trying to keep the Arabs down. While Abbas may have been banking on Arab military support and now realizes it is not forthcoming (as evidenced at least by the significant shortfall in Arab donations to the PLO this year, which have significantly hampered Palestinian government function), he may be able to ride a wave of anti-Israel feeling in the world's corridors of power to pressure the Israelis to sit idly by as the PLO consolidates its position in the West Bank.

The take home lesson here is this: negotiations will fail no matter how much Israel gives on issues it can actually give on, the UN General Assembly will vote in favor of a Palestinian state, and it will be up to the PLO to decide whether to attempt military actualization of a Palestinian state in the West Bank (Hamas may act, but not as part of any UN-sanctioned process). If it does, we will be going back to the future, essentially recreating the UN Partition and hoping that things go better this time then last time. Somehow that seems like a fairly foolish assumption, but that never bothered Europe and America's leaders before...

Friday, September 16, 2011

What if the Arab Spring takes Jordan?

Jordan, much like Syria and Morocco, is a country where a minority group rules over the majority. In Jordan, Hussein, the son of the Hashemite Sharif Hussein bin Ali, received control of the British Mandate of Palestne east of the Jordan River essentially as a reward for his family's instigating the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks during WWI and for his agreeing not attack French forces in Syria, control of which had been promised to his brother Faisal..Faisal eventually received control over British Iraq, but was overthrown shortly thereafter. The Hashemite rulers of Jordan, like the Alawis in Syria and Morocco, have no heritage in the region and are in many ways foreigners ruling over the local populace.

Now, many intelligence agencies have released information detailing just how dangerous and unstable the situation is for the Hashemite monarchy. Of course, the Jordanian monarchy has been surprisingly risilient. In 1952, a Palestinian probably working under orders from the Grand Mufti of Jeruslam, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, assassinated King Abdullah, in part as revenge for Abdullah's expansionist policies during the and after 1948 Arab-Israeli War (specifically his annexation of what became known as the "West Bank"). His son, Hussein, who came to power after his father Talal abdicated due to mental health problems, became a fixture in the Middle East for decades and was a political chameleon. After the monumental defeat in the Six Day War, many Arabs fled the previously Jordanian-controlled "West Bank" for the eastern side of the Jordanian river, saddling the already unpopular Hussein with hundreds of thousands of disaffected Palestinian Arabs. The failure of the Six Day War to accomplish the Arab goal of destroying Israel briefly shifted the focus of the Palestinian nationalists, now based in Amman, to overthrowing the Hashemite monarchy. Things came to a head in 1970, when Hussein ordered the Jordanian army to dismantle the Palestinian nationalist movement in Jordan and expel them. In September of that year, now known as Black September, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed or evicted from Jordan, and the PLO was forced to flee for Lebanon. Their tumultous time in Lebanon led to the 1975 Lebanese Civil War and Israel's invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982, as well as numerous Syrian invasions.

But the central issue from both a counterfactual standpoint and a contemporary standpoint is what would have happened and what will happen if Jordan's Hashemite monarchy had been overthrown and replaced with, say, the PLO under Yasser Arafat in the 1970s or Mahmoud Abbas in the 2010s? Since Jordan's population is acknowledged to be majority Palestinian Arab, what would be the ramifications to the Palestinian nationalist cause in Israel if Jordan suddenly became a Palestinian-run government? Considering that the Arab Spring has taken down long tenured Arab leaders like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Quaddafi and threatens to bring down the Alawite al-Assad dynasty in Syria, there is no reason to believe that Jordan's monarchy could not possibly collapse. The lack of discussion of this possibility gives rise to another interesting question: why are the nationalist aspirations of the Jordanian Palestinians not being discussed in the context of the PLO's bid for statehood at the UN? In the same way that Hamas-controlled Gaza's status in any future PLO run Palestinian state is ambivalent at best, the fate of Jordan as a Palestinian homeland is not clear. Hypothetically, if a Palestinian state is formed primarily in the West Bank, would it unify with a now Palestinian-run post-Hashemite Jordan? While amicable union is unlikely because the political players are different and each leadership would have different agendas, there is certainly a scenario in which these two entities could engage in armed conflict over control of a joint East Bank-West Bank Palestinian state. This scenario does not take into consideration either Gaza or, more relevantly, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Lebanon and Syria.

Indeed, even without considering the Jordanian scenario, there is an open question of what happens in Gaza and with Hamas. In reality, Hamas, which opposes the UN  statehood bid, is the democratically elected representative of the Palestinians. Few realize that Mahmoud Abbas' term of office expired years ago and that he is not an elected representated of the PLO and that Ismail Haniyeh or Khaled Mashaal is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinians. More significantly, if Hamas continues to oppose the re-partition of the Mandate, then doesn't the world face a partial recreation of the 1947 scenario in which some parties have accepted the partition (in this case, the PLO, in 1947, the Jews) and some parties opposed the partition (in this case, Israel and Hamas, in 1947, all the Arabs)? That disagreement led to a major war in 1948 that involved six nations engaged in battle and recreated facts on the ground in a way that bore no relationship with the UN sanctioned partition. These days, imagine if the PLO attempted to impose its will on Gaza. Or if Jordan's monarchy collapsed. Or if Jordan voted against Palestine's independence only to face the potential for border conflict across the Jordan river. Or, more realistically, if conflict arose over King Abdullah's attempt to expel Palestinians in larger numbers than in the past to head off a West Bank-Palestine sponsored insurrection against him?

Of course, nobody, certainly not America and Europe's politicians have even remotely considered these scenarios when making blanket assertions about the propriety of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians are not a people isolated to Israel, what happens to them in Israel can have significant ramifications in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, all nations that are teetering on the brink of government overthrows and full on civil war. The simplistic views of a Palestinian state ignore the ripple effect that such a state could have on large populations in very unstable countries at a time when uncertainty is the best word to describe the region.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hypocrisy...Turkish Style

As Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan completes his whirlwind "Arab Spring" tour, I am really taken aback by change in Turkey's place in the world. Less than 10 years ago, there was talk of Turkey joining the EU because of its increasingly close ties with Europe. With Erdogan's rise, Turkey has undergone a political reorientation almost as significant as the replacement of Ottoman Turkey with the Turkish Republic after World War I. Turkey has completely reoriented itself as a rising power in the Middle East while at the same time increasingly moving away from the secularist political structure that has been at its foundation since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk's rise in the early 1920s. Much of Turkey's reorientation and its political stances on Middle Eastern issues, especially on the issue of Palestinian rights, are quite surprising when looking at both historical Turkey and modern Turkey. Turkey's reorientation show clearly that the current Turkish government is simply not the same nation that Israel established ties with and that Israel can no longer expect fair treatment from Turkey.

At a basic level, the very idea of Turkey supporting an Arab nationalist movement in Palestine is quite bizarre from a historical perspective. Since the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517, Turkish rulers of the Middle East have spent centuries attempting to suppress Arab nationalism and attempts to reorient the Caliphate from Turkey back to the Arab world. Indeed, when T.E. Lawrence helped orchestrate the Arab Revolt in 1916, he was attempting to raise Saudi-based Arabs against the Ottoman Empire. Most 20th century Arab nations came from under Turkish yoke and it was the crumbling Ottoman Empire that tried to keep its possessions together and put down Arab hopes of nationalism. More interestingly, it was under Ottoman control that Jewish immigration into "Palestine" began, expanding the Jewish population of the region beyond the Old Yishuv. Some of the most important Zionists, including Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the creator of Modern Hebrew, came to Palestine under Ottoman control. Moreover, Ottoman and post-Ottoman Turkey both took incredibly hard lines against subnational movements brewing within its borders, notably crushing nationalist movements by the Armenians and the Kurds, with catastrophic results for both peoples.

But let's talk modern Turkey. The history is fascinating, but Tayyip Erdogan is not Mustafa Kamal. Turkey's support for the Palestinians is interesting to view in the context of Turkey's own attempt to create its own partitioned state on the island of Cyprus. In 1974, the Turkish government invaded Cyprus under the pretense of protecting and supporting the nationalist desires of Turkish Cypriots and created "facts on the ground" by functionally partitioning Cyprus and creating the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a nation whose existence is recognized only by Turkey. Ironically, while Turkey criticizes Israel for its "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza and defying the international community's demands to return to the "pre-1967 borders," Turkey has for 30 years refused to adhere to international demands to return land it conquered from Cyprus in 1974. While fighting for Turkish Cypriot rights, Turkey has also fought hard against the nationalist aspirations of the Kurds, alongside Iraq and Syria.

Where does all this leave us? While many unquestioningly view Turkey's stance on the Israel/Palestine issue as the unsurprising result of Turkey's standing by their co-religionists, the history, both distant and recent, make Turkey's behavior a bit surprising. Of course, Tayyip Erdogan may be the most significant political figure in Turkey since Mustafa Kamal, a man whose long time in power has allowed him to push Turkey further and further away from its Kamalist origins and away from the secular nationalism that allowed Turkey to economically and politically advance far beyond its Arab neighbors. As the Arab Spring has overturned many secular authoritarian governments and as more theocratic and populist governments take control, the entire region's balance of power shifts. Indeed, Turkey's own history has featured numerous coups, but all of them were military in nature. The removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq continues to have ramifications by opening the door to more theocratic states to seize power and has generally upset the balance of power in the region, much the way Muammar Quaddafi's removal in Libya creates a substantial power vacuum in the Magreb. Aside from Saudi Arabia, Turkey is perhaps the most significant Muslim regional power that counterbalances Iran. However, Turkey's significant move away from Israel and its support for Palestinian nationalism are a radical departure from Turkey's governmental roots and especially ironic given its own history with the Kurds, Cyprus and the Arabs.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back from Hiatus...A discussion of questions we ask ourselves

I've been on a monthlong hiatus due to an increased workload at my job. The last month has been an exciting one, we've seen the downfall of Muammar Quaddafi's 42 year rule in Libya, continued on Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, a major terrorist attack in Eilat and Southern Israel, renewed rocket fire from Gaza (or maybe even Egypt), the failure to form a Palestinian unity government (an underreported development), the slow progression toward a UN bid by the PLO in violation of Yasser Arafat's promise at the Oslo Accords and, of course, the ten year anniversary of the Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

All of these developments have made me want to get back into the blog by taking a step back and think about our analytical framework. In the aftermath of 9/11, many Americans asked (and many continue to ask themselves), what did we do to cause this attack? In Israel's context, many people ask, "if Israel did this differently, would there be peace?" The framework in which we analyze our foreign relations is in the context of actions and consequences with a focus on our actions. Indeed, in the post-colonial world, there is significant self-imposed pressure in Western Europe and the United States to assume significant blame for the troubled state of affairs in many countries of the world. Ironically, it is this very post-colonial self blame that in fact causes the US, the UN and NATO to involve themselves in nations' internal conflicts, under the assumption that we mucked things up decades ago and allowed X dictator to come to power, so now we need to aid the opposition to depose him.

Our mindset has led many to ask the following questions: What did the U.S. do to cause 9/11? How are Israel's policies preventing peace in the Middle East? Why do Jews insist on having their country on Arab land? Why did Christendom ruin its relationship with the Islamic world with the Crusades? These questions and more take a very unified approach to the current state of tension and conflict between the Western world and the Islamic world: that the West has, through a variety of misdeeds, caused irreparable harm to Islamic nations and has thus brought about the inevitable response of terrorism.

What is most interesting to me is the questions that are not asked. Questions like: Why is Islam one of the only ideologies to give rise to suicide terrorist attacks? Why did the Islamic world ruin its relationship with the Western world by invading Spain and France in the 8th century and why did Ottomans as the premier Islamic empire of the Middle Ages ruin its relationship with the West by invading the Balkans, Russia, Hungary and Austria? And lastly, and most interesting to me, why do Islamic opponents of the West levy the accusation of "infidel" at the Western world, an accusation that is wrapped up in the Western belief system, not in Western actions. We don't ask these questions because we have placed ourselves in the driver's seat of history and have viewed the last 150 years of Western dominated colonialism as the determinative factor in our relationship with other peoples. Of course, while we in America generally have a very limited sense of history, many peoples with longer histories than ours have a greater context in viewing their relationships. This is the case with Israel and a look at Jewish-Islamic relations.

There is a real push now to say that the primary cause of anti-Israeli sentiment in the Middle East is because Israelis "stole" Arab land and displaced Arabs from their homes. Recent events, however, strongly indicate that this is not so. I would compare the categorical opposition to the establishment of Israel to the mixed Arab reaction to the independence of Southern Sudan. Southern Sudan, too, involved the founding of a non-Islamic state in a historically Islamic territory. Yet, while there was some opposition to South Sudan's secession, notably from Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Southern Sudan has not faced nearly the same type of threats that Israel did. Of course, one needs to look deeper. The question we should be asking is not "What is Israel doing to cause the Arabs to oppose it?" but "Why have the vast majority of Islamic states been categorically unwilling to accept any Jewish state in their midst?" The Arabs made war on the Jews of the Middle before 1967 and even before 1948, launching pogroms as early as 1920 against the Jews of the Yishuv.

We have gotten away from this line of questioning because the central question has become about the Arabs who were displaced during the 1948 War. Of minimal importance are questions about the Jews displaced in that war or about why the Arabs rejected the founding of any Jewish State to begin with. The most probing question that I believe needs to be asked is this: How did historical Islamic anti-Semitism become adapted and redeployed to the Arab-Israeli conflict and how have we allowed that anti-Semitism to enter into our discourse and imagery about the conflict.

The answers are out there. Media in the Arab world still uses the blood libel and accuses Jews of stealing the organs of Arab children and baking Matzah with the blood of Muslim babies. The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, that eternal work of Tsarist antisemitic propaganda, and Mein Kampf are best sellers in the Islamic world and were before 1948. Jews are portrayed alternatively as schemers, deceivers or Nazis. Tiny Israel, a country of six million that had to fight for its very existence since its first day of existence, has been reportrayed as a big bully who wants to take over the world, despite the fact that it has given because large tracts of land in exchange for peace treaties that are dubious at best. And most of all, only during the Arab Spring, a categorical failure in itself, did people in the West finally begin to question the idea that Israel was the roadblock to peace in the Middle East and realize that maybe, just maybe, it's not our fault that many people in the Islamic world live in squalor, without rights, freedoms or hopes. Once we realize that we are not to blame (or certainly, not solely to blame) for everything wrong with the world, then maybe we can make some headway in allowing things to get better.

Anyway, it's good to be back. I hope I can start posting against more often. There are a lot of fascinating and significant events on the horizon, so I am looking forward to discussing them.