Friday, May 18, 2012

When the Jews Go Away


This is a short story from a close friend of mine. While it entirely fiction, I think it is very realistic in its portrayal of the intra-Arab antagonism between Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Arabs. While the Arab world portrays Israel as the stumbling block to peace, the truth is that the Arabs would immediately commence to bicker and fight amongst each other. When they did, I think it would be quite similar to what the story discribes. So, I give you "When the Jews Go Away."

It was the morning of Nakba Day.

Sami Haddad lay awake for several minutes. The hot summer sun streamed in through a crack in the drawn curtains. Outside the open window, down in the street, the bustle of daily life had already begun. Sami braced himself. This day was always difficult. As usual, he would meet up with Bilaal, his friend since childhood days, in the coffee shop downstairs and they would proceed to the rallying point, from which they would be divided into groups and driven to a drop-off site near the checkpoint. From there they would approach the Israeli fence and the organizers would make sure the rally became a mob. Someone would throw stones and as soon as that happened the Israelis would retaliate with tear gas, rubber bullets and the like. It would all end up a bloody mess. Sami, who had never had to go the hospital after a confrontation with the Zionist soldiers, knew his luck had to run out sooner or later. Still, despite the hesitation and the feeling of precariousness, Sami felt growing within him the resolve, the sense of national purpose, that always pushed him to go in the end.

After his prayers, Sami quickly dressed and went downstairs. The city street was bustling. People were holding signs and shouting slogans. Sami couldn't join them quite yet. Coffee first.

Sami entered the cafe. Bilaal had not yet arrived. There was a woman sitting alone at a table. There was nothing illegal about this, but if her man did not show up soon chances weren't bad the police would begin to harass her. As it turned out, her man had merely popped into the toilet and he was back within a moment's time. Sami took a seat and looked around. There was a commotion in the back of the cafe. Something was happening. Sami was not yet alert enough to care very much.

At that moment, Bilaal arrived. He looked as though he had been running. His breath was labored and his brow was wet.

“Sami, we're going now! Something has happened!”

From the back of the cafe, where the commotion was unfolding, a man noticed Bilaal's frantic state and piped in, “Is it true?!”

Bilaal replied, “Let's go, brothers! Let's see for ourselves!” He grabbed Sami by the wrist and pulled him outside. Within minutes, they were on the road, heading toward the checkpoint. Sami knew the road well. He knew how close cars with Palestinian license plates were allowed to proceed and he was very much aware when they drove past the spot. Bilaal, who hadn't said a word since the cafe, just turned to him and smiled a knowing smile.

The checkpoint was only a few hundred meters away. There were no soldiers in sight. The truck kept racing. Fear and excitement swelled in Sami's chest. He was utterly bewildered, but something told him that today – right now – he was on the brink of a historic moment.

The crossing was open. Without any ceremony, without any resistance, the truck sped through. Could it be? thought Sami. “Are we in Israel?” he asked.

“Look around,” said Bilaal. Do you see any soldiers? Do you see any Jews? Do you see any Israel?” And he was right. They drove and drove along the north-bound road. No one stopped them.

“But... how?” asked Sami. No one answered. The answer didn't seem very important at the moment.

After an hour, taking in the sights of his historic homeland, Sami thought to ask, “Where are we going?”

“Jaffa,” said Bilaal, gravely.

“Why Jaffa?” asked Sami.

Bilaal produced an ancient key from his pocket. “For my grandfather.”

The highway to Tel Aviv was completely deserted. The truck took the exit as they approached the southern neighborhoods of the metropolis and headed west, toward the sea. The streets were empty. IT was eerie, yet wonderful all the same. All the while Sami kept thinking he would soon wake up and he had to keep pinching himself to affirm the reality of the situation.

The slightly dilapidated neighborhoods of south-Tel Aviv made way and revealed the cream-colored stones of Jaffa. As they entered the ancient port city, the caravan was suddenly greeted by unexpected signs of life. The Arabs of Jaffa seemed just as shocked by the sight of the trucks. The members of the rally descended from their vehicles and tentatively approached the locals. They were in front of the Aboulafia bakery and they asked for a cool drink and some bread. Sami joined Bilaal as he approached the bakery's owner and patriarch. He invited them to sit with him over coffee.

“What happened here?” asked Sami.

“Have you been north to Tel Aviv?” asked Aboulafia.

“No,” answered Bilaal.

“A ghost town.” Aboulafia did not betray any emotion. He might have been happy or extremely depressed. His expression revealed nothing. “They simply vanished.”

“So what does this mean?” asked Bilaal. “What does this mean for Palestine?”

From Jaffa they group pressed east, into the hills, up to Jerusalem. The western, Jewish neighborhoods were beautiful in their stillness. It wasn't like a traumatic, conquered city in the wake of a war. There were no bullet-riddled and pockmarked walls. There were no bodies strewn about. Only the birds sand and the tree branches rustled as they swayed in the hot, summer breeze.

The Old City was an entirely different matter. The streets were full of gaiety and deafening proclamations of joy and victory. Banners were strewn. The residents had wasted no time. Here, the Gazans encountered their Jerusalemite brothers, as well as their fellow refugees from Ramallah and Nablus. A sea of humanity was proceeding, as though carried by a tide, to the Dome of the Rock. Sami feared that he might be trampled, but by the time they reached Al Aqsa, it appeared his luck was still holding. As they made their ascent, Sami looked down at the Western Wall Plaza. The residents of Jerusalem (or perhaps it had been the young men from the West Bank) had wasted no time in marking up the wall with graffiti. From atop the Temple Mount, individuals threw rubbish into the Jewish Quarter... the former Jewish Quarter. This left a strange taste in Sami's mouth. He could hardly have been accused of caring for the well being of the Zionist oppressors, yet he felt that this was, nonetheless, undignified behavior on a day that ought to have represented the redemption of a nation.

Sami's thought quickly shifted elsewhere. The crowd atop the Temple Mount began praising Allah and the furor of it all swept Sami into a euphoric state of ecstasy. There would never be a better day in all his life.

*                                  *                                  *

It was the week after Nakba Day.

Sami was dead, so was Bilaal.

On the first day, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank took pause to figure out exactly what had happened. Hamas, taking advantage of the PA's hesitation, threw all of its militant might into a race to secure as much territory in the west and south of what had been Israel as possible. This had stretched its limited forces into an incredibly thin line. The PA, caught off guard, began a large-scale assault into the Galilee and west. Hamas had advanced as far north as Ashdod. The PA made a mad dash for Tel Aviv-Yafo. They had greater numbers and American-trained soldiers. In the south, West Bank soldiers confronted Gazans at Beersheba as both sides struggled to gain control over Dimona. Jerusalem had been quickly and easily swallowed up by the PA, which wasted no time in proclaiming an indivisible capital. In the meantime, the Arabs of Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and other Israeli cities petitioned the UN and other international agencies to intervene, lest they come under the control of the PA – or worse yet, Hamas.

On the second day, Hezbollah poured over the northern border into Galilee, to the international community's resounding silence. Syrian troops took back the Golan Heights and raped over one hundred Druze women. Iran proclaimed the greatness of Allah, who had mysteriously and gloriously saved the Near East from the Zionist cancer. The CIA informed the President that Iran and Hezbollah were already discussing a shared condominium in the Galilee. The White House quickly informed the Kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who signed a hasty alliance and began to secretly mobilize.

On the third day, the PA and Hamas, in an act of superficial pragmatism, told their troops to hold fire and to respect their Palestinian brethren. They preached the message of unity and national liberation for all Palestinians. However, behind the scenes, the struggle over the reactor in Dimona continued, with the very real encouragement of both governments. Hamas took advantage of the official truce to demand access to Jerusalem. The PA failed to reply immediately. In Amman, the national liberation of the Palestinian people created a maelstrom of political activity, as disenfranchised Palestinians took to the streets of Amman, defying the bone crushing tactics of the King's Bedouin army, to demand their rights in Jordan. The death toll was incredibly high, prompting a condemnation by the UN, the EU, the United States and other international organizations.

On the fourth day, the death toll rose in Jordan, as the previous day's disaster had only spurred wider protests. Hamas declared that, unlike the hesitant PA, it would take “all necessary measures” to liberate the Palestinians of Jordan and any neighboring states where they might be persecuted. Although the King of Jordan would normally have ignored such threats, Hamas simultaneously announced with suggestive language that it had just secured a strategic goal in the Negev desert. This statement was untrue and the neighboring Arab states knew it to be untrue, but the pronouncement only encouraged them to make sure that Dimona would NEVER enter Palestinian hands. The Jordan-Saudi alliance made contact with Egypt, promising it vast territory in the Negev in return for military assistance in Gaza. Hezbollah came into conflict with the PA in Galilee, prompting incendiary words from the Iranian President.

On the fifth day, Jordan invaded Palestine with two armies. The northern army entered the West Bank via the Allenby crossing; the southern army invaded just south of the Dead Sea and set a course for Dimona. A Saudi division invaded the Galilee from Jordanian territory. Egypt began moving greater numbers of troops into the Sinai and began an aerial bombardment of Gaza. The Rafah crossing was shut and the tunnels into Egypt were blown up. Hamas initiated a reign of terror within Gaza and its holdings along the coastal strip of what had been Israel. It conscripted men and boys of all ages into the Holy War against the aggressors. Sami and Bilaal were among them. Syria remained neutral, having won its prize in the Golan – although pressure from Iran to join in on the side of Hezbollah against the Jordan-Saudi alliance was great. The UN demanded a ceasefire from all sides which was ignored. Then the UN declared a humanitarian crisis. Palestinian activist groups on American college campuses held demonstrations blaming Israel for the mounting death toll. 

On the sixth day, Sami and Bilaal, who through it all had somehow remained together, found themselves surrendering to a Jordanian division. They removed their keffiyehs and waved them in the air to signify their lack of resistance. They hadn't even been given weapons with which to fight. The Jordanians tied them up and were about to take them as prisoners behind the front line, when a massive militant attack caught the division unaware. The Jordanians moved out with haste, abandoning Sami and Bilaal. When the Hamas militants found the two, they beheaded them for treachery. An hour later, the Jordanians retook the position.

At this point, the PA petitioned the United States for assistance. Jordan and Saudi Arabia had already demanded American neutrality. Both the White House and Congress made a great deal of noise over the  “situation” in the Middle East, but stayed their hand when it came to taking action. The President knew, however, that the current developments were untenable and that sooner than later he would have to make a decision.

However, that was not to be. On the seventh day, as quite often happens in Near Eastern history, the people were granted a rest. Jordan held a jagged line, extending from the southern end of the Dead Sea, between Oron and Dimona, south of Beersheba, up to the Gaza Strip. Egypt held the Gaza Strip and the Negev, south of Jordan's line. In the north, Jordan held an arched line which hugged the south-western coast of the Sea of Galilee, encompassed Tiberias and met the Mediterranean Sea at Haifa. Most of the Galilee was held by Hezbollah, which in coming years would try to establish itself as a respectable, sovereign country between Jordan and Lebanon, but this would ultimately lead to a conflict with Iran, which did not want any pretense of Hezbollah autonomy. Jordan and Egypt would scuffle about who deserved to hold Dimona. Ultimately, both caved to international (American) pressure to internationalize (Americanize) a corridor, beginning at the port of Gaza and running through Beersheba, ending at Dimona.

The issue of water for the surviving residents of Palestine became contentious. Egypt and Jordan became too preoccupied with their border dispute on the Gulf of Aqaba to cooperate on desalination and other purification schemes. Life in Palestine became quite backward and disorganized. Aside from Jerusalem, in which the Jordanians took special pride, the development of the land became a distant after thought. The port cities along the coast were of some tourist value, but tourism waned in the wake of the war and in lieu of any credible infrastructure. The economy tumbled and many residents began to leave for other parts of Egypt and Jordan. Roaming Bedouin tribes spread into the dangerous passes of the Negev and eastern Sinai.

On the whole, the Arabs of Palestine were contented to accept Jordanian citizenship when it was finally offered them on the condition that they recognize no sovereign or autonomous Palestinian authority.

Syria, from its position on the Golan Heights, began shelling Tiberias and creating a general nuisance in the region. This, coupled with the persistent launch of missiles into Haifa from the Hezbollah/Iran-dominated Galilee, led to numerous wars. Some of these wars demanded American involvement. As a result of these wars the cost of oil continued to rise. All the while, the land that was once Israel continued to become more and more bare, emptying of its inhabitants.

A century later, when the land had only a few hundred thousand people living in it, something happened. One day, as mysteriously as they had vanished, the Jews suddenly reappeared.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Musings on the Nakba

It's mid-May, which can only mean that the annual collective lamentation of the Arab populace about the successful creation of Israel in 1948 reaches a fever pitch. This manifests itself in the characterization of Israel's independence as the "Nakba" or "catastrophe" for the Palestinian people. Palestinian national identity is inexorably tied to reversing the effects of the Nakba, beginning with repatriating Arabs into Israel and ending with the termination of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.

Of course, the Nakba narrative is a relative late comer to the party. As with most aspect of Palestinian nationalism that laid dormant after Egypt and Jordan occupied the majority of territory allotted to the Palestinian state in 1948, the idea of the Nakba as a rallying cry for Arabs can be traced to the late 1960s or early 1970s, with its use increasing after the Yom Kippur War. Until that time, the issue of Arab refugees was discussed, but only in the context of where certain Arabs would live after Israel was destroyed. Neither Egypt nor Jordan realistically considered the possibility of an independent Arab state where Israel presently existed, since they did their best to stifle the actions of "Palestinian" nationalists operating within Egyptian controlled Gaza or Jordanian controlled Judea and Samaria. The dominant rhetoric at the time, the rhetoric of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, focused on protraying Israel as the primary obstacle to the achievement of the pan-Arab state that would recapture the glory of the caliphate with, of course, Nasser at the helm. The dominant ideology at the time was categorically opposed to the type of microstate nationalism that the Palestinian leadership sought. Closer to home, King Hussein of Jordan historically viewed Judea and Samaria and the Arabs therein as part of Jordan's dominion. His father Abdullah annexed the West Bank after the 1948 War precisely because he sought to exercise control over, not enable the nationalist aspirations of, the Arabs living west of the Jordan river.

The Nakba idea came about after the Yom Kippur War due to a radical change in tactics in the Arab world. Seeing the failure of conventional attacks on Israel, the Palestinians were put together as a national identity which needed to have its nationalist aspirations satisfied from Israeli territory. Never mind that these same Arabs were denied the same nationalist aspirations or even basic political rights when they were under Egyptian and Jordanian control. A further never mind that the advancement of Palestinian nationalism ran in stark contrast to the dominant political ideology in the Arab world of only five years prior. It was Nasser's spectacular failure during the Six Day War that pushed him and his pan-Arabist ideas from the forefront and opened the door for men such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas to take up the anti-Israel mantle.

Of course, to be successful, the Palestinian narrative had to be compelling to the Western world. Israel's success in the Six Day War opened it up to being portrayed as an incredibly powerful, almost unbeatable military power, despite the significant vulnerabilities exposed in the Yom Kippur War. Moreover, the Palestinians took the crucial step of identifying themselves as an ethnicity and nation separate from Jordan, Syria or Egypt. This step also reacquainted the world with "Palestine," the Arab state that was meant to occupy 45% of the territory of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River, which the Arab delegation rejected in 1947 and which never came into existence as a result of the 1948 war.

As the story went, Jewish forces evicted Arabs from their homes during the 1948 War and ethnically cleansed the region, doing such an effective job that 20% of Israel's population remained Arab (this percentage will likely higher until the large scale immigration of Soviet Jews into Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s). The only way, therefore, to solve the intractable conflict between all Arabs and Israel was to recreate the state whose existence the Arabs rejected the first time around. Moreover, other Arab states unaffiliated with either the 1948 war or the subsequent conflicts began to view  the creation of this state as a necessary condition to the recognition of Israel.

There are, of course, numerous holes in this story. The first and main hole is that the British Mandate already had a state for the Arabs, called Jordan. Indeed, for many years, the Jordanians asserted that their state satisfied Palestinian nationalist aspirations and that Jordanian national identity was not distinguishable from Palestinian identity. In reality, the reason why Palestinian leaders would and have disagreed with this assertion has nothing to do with their satisfaction with whether Jordan is or is not their state, but has everything to do with their rivalry with the Hashemite King and their disapproval of him (as a foreigner) as Jordan's leader. Soon after the Six Day War led to the eviction of Palestinian leaders from Israel, they were quite content to attempt to take over Jordan after already carving out a microstate from the refugee camps across Jordan. The situation compounded an already tense political situation in which one third of Jordan's population were Palestinians in the West Bank, one third were Arabs who crossed the Jordan River after the 1948, and only the remaining third were the original inhabitants of Transjordan when it became independent in 1946. After Black September, when Jordanian forces defeated and evicted PLO forces and leadership from Jordan, the same scenario played out in Lebanon, as PLO forces entrenched themselves in bases south of the Litani River and threw the fragile Lebanese balance between Arabs and Maronites into chaos, triggering a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990, coupled with two Israeli invasions and eventual occupation by Syria.

The Nakba narrative is intended to create sympathy for Palestinians and establish the belief that if only Israel allowed them to realize their national dream, there would be peace. While the examples of Jordan and Lebanon (and also the lesson of Israel's own experience) show just how destabilizing and indiscriminate Palestinian nationalists have been in attempting to overthrow governments, there is a more stark question that must be answered in order to truly understand the meaning of the Nakba narrative.

The question quite simply is: What was the Nakba? What about the 1948 War was so catastrophic? Proponents of the "two state" solution will usually characterize the Nakba as being the destruction of "Palestine" or whatever the Arab state proposed in the 1947 Partition Plan would have been called. Mahmoud Abbas himself recently claimed that it was a significant error for the Arab delegation to reject the 1947 Partition. However, with a little probing, it become abundantly clear that the "Nakba" is not the destruction of the Arab State, but the formation of a Jewish one on any borders.

The truth about the Nakba that must constantly be explained is that the the Nakba is not about lamenting the destruction of "Palestine," the eviction of Arabs from villages or even failure to achieve Palestinian nationalism. The idea behind the Nakba is to create a narrative that justifies the rejection of Jewish sovereignty, any Jewish sovereignty, over "Arab" land.

Palestinians have been evicted from Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait in large numbers and have been forced into refugee camps because those nations (correctly) viewed them as an incredible destabilizing political force if they ever achieved any political power. Yet, one rarely hears the lamentations of the evictions from those countries, most notably Kuwait's expulsion of almost 400,000 Palestinians after the 1991 Gulf War, a wound much fresher than the 1948 War.

The creation of "Palestine" as the state was demarcated in 1947 cannot be the cause of the Nakba. It was the Arabs, not the Jews, who rejected the state and attacked Israel. If the Nakba related to the failure of Palestine as defined in the Partition, then the complaints of the Arabs should be directed at their own historical leaders (as Benjamin Netanyahu recently pointed out) not at the Jews, who accepted the partition.

Last, and certainly not least, Palestinians have tried no less than three times to form states with in a state in the Middle East and failed each time. In Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, Palestinians failed. Yet, again, Black September is not viewed with remotely the same lamentation and anger as the 1948 War and Israel's independence even though the Palestinians lost their chance to control their own destiny in Jordan.

The core of the "Nakba" is not of a failure to compromise with the Jews, it is anger and frustration that the Jews were able to form a state, any state, at all. What the Nakba narrative doesn't tell us is how the Arabs not only rejected the 1947 Partition, but actually rejected the 1937 Peel Commission partition, which proposed to give the Arabs approximately 80% of "Israel" and which could have saved millions of Jews from the Holocaust.

The Nakba, at its core, represents the Arab belief that a Jewish state along any lines is a catastrophe for the Palestinian (Arab) people. Knowing that this is a core believe and dogma among Palestinian leadership and many of its people, how can it be a surprise that the Palestinians have refused multiple attempts to compromise with the Israelis?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Israel, Lebanon and Arab Nationalism

Starting in the 1930s, there came into existence an assumption that there needed to be two Arab states in the former British Mandate of Palestine, which has through today led to a fundamental assumption that the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs can be satisfied only on the territory for the former British Mandate west of the Jordan River.

The question is, how did this assumption come about? This question is especially fascinating considering that in the original 1920 League of Nations mandate over the British Mandate of Palestine called for and contemplated the establishment of two states: one for the Arabs east of the Jordan River and one for the Jews west of the Jordan River. The Mandate for Palestine sought to fulfill the nationalist aspirations of both the Arabs and the Jews living in that area, which appropriately granted the Arabs larger territory, 70% of the land of the Mandate, for their state. Yet, despite the establishment and promise of this state for fulfill the Arab nationalist desires in the British Mandate, circumstances led to the creation of a second Arab state.

Interestingly enough, there were two other states, in the French Mandate of Palestine, that had a similar demographic and religious makeup. In Syria and what later became Lebanon, the French faced a similar mix of Alawites, Phalangists and Muslim Arabs. The establishment of Syria and Lebanon reflected the creation of two states within the French Mandate, one for the largely Arab nation in Syria and one for the largely Maronite population but that grew to contain a larger Muslim population. The formation of Lebanon and Syria reflected an attempt to fulfill the nationalist aspirations of the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of the French Mandate.

In the South, the promise to the Jews of a State ignited a mass rebellion, led by Hajj Amin-al Husseini, the leader of the prominent al-Husseini family of Jerusalem. In Amman, Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, took control of the British Mandate east of the Jordan River, which the British had promised to his family as repayment for Sharif Hussein's launching the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. The installation of a leader from the Hejaz Region of Arabia as the leader in "Palestine" created a fundamental problem for the local Arab and historical leaders of the region, who were left out of the leadership structure created east of the Jordan river. Therefore, the Arab revolts in Jerusalem and other cities west of the Jordan river had a dual message: (1) Jews should not be allowed to move to or have any political power in "Palestine" or certainly over Muslim Arabs and (2) that the local Arab leaders, specifically the al-Husseini family, must be given political power and control over the territory. In reality, while in later years the al-Husseinis were regarded as a vanguard of the creation of Arab nationalism, they were in reality a power hungry family that sought to retain its regional hegemony in the region. Al-Husseini, using his power and influence as the Mufti of Jerusalem, galvanized the local population to attack the Jews in the region. However, the intent of these rebellions were not simply to terrorize and intimidate Jews. The real goal was to show the British that the al-Husseinis could cause the British significant trouble if not given leadership control and that they were not satisfied with the Hashemite leadership in Jordan.

To the north, the French carved "Lebanon" out of the Syrian territory of the French Mandate, which coincided with old Ottoman territorial breakdowns that saw Lebanon as satisfying the nationalist aspirations of the ethnic minorities from the Ottoman Empire, including Maronites and Druze. In Damascus, Sharif Hussein's other son, Faisal, established a government in Damascus as France upheld its end of the bargain to Sharif Hussein and installed his other son as King of Syria. Faisal's rule was punctuated by significant revolts against his rule due to his cooperation with Chaim Weizmann and his recognition of the legitimacy of the Balfour Declaration. Faisal was met with significant resistance both because of this and because of dissatisfaction with his and French rule, which culminated in a major revolt from 1925 to 1927. Across the region, different groups, Druze, Maronites, Arabs and Alawites, strove to establish autonomy and independence for themselves. In Palestine, the different Arab groups and leaders similarly strove to break themselves out.

In many ways, as a result, the establishment of Lebanon in 1946, a nation that broke away from majority Arab Syria, mirrored the establishment of Israel in 1948.  While Israel's establishment was immediately marked by war with its neighbors, Lebanon's reckoning came in 1975, when the continued presence of Palestinians and PLO fighters who fled Israel after the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War finally tipped the balance of power in Lebanon, exacerbating the ongoing tensions between Maronites and Arabs. In 1958, conflict between Western allied Maronite Christians and pan-Arabist Nasser supporting Muslims erupted but was quickly quelled in Operation Blue Bat, when American forces landed in Beirut to support the Maronite Christian government.

In 1975, the presence of Palestinians finally boiled over in Lebanon as the PLO and Christian contingents came to battle. Over the next fifteen years, Lebanon was marked by two invasions by Israel in 1978 and 1982, occupation by Syria under the pretense of protecting Palestinian interests in Lebanon.

What does Lebanon's lesson teach us about Israel? The primary problem in Lebanon is that the presence of Palestinians and a change in the demographic makeup of Lebanon created the circumstances for civil war. Since then, Hizbullah has sought to carve southern Lebanon out from Lebanon itself and establish a separate microstate. Arabs in Lebanon, much like Arabs in Israel, are not satisfied with the existence of Syria or Jordan to satisfy their nationalist goals. The desire to establish an Arab rump state in Lebanon as the solution to Lebanon's demographic problem reflects the long term unwillingness of Muslim Arabs to live under non-Islamic control (Maronite in Lebanon, Jewish in Israel). In both cases, each Mandate provided for a state for the Arab majority and carved out a small state for the local minorities. In both cases, the Arabs remaining in the smaller state sought to either overthrow the minority state or to attempt to carve out a smaller rump state as the way to usurp either the Lebanese or Israeli state.

The fundamental question in both Israel and Lebanon is fairly simple, how is it best to balance the nationalist aspirations of the Arabs, Maronites and Jews? The Lebanese and Israeli experience has proven the extreme difficulties with managing Arab minorities in these nations. In both cases, the fundamental issue is whether Muslim Arabs who have a state in both Syria and Jordan (even though those states are governed by non-Muslim Arab monarchies - Alawite in Syria, Hashemite in Syria) should be able to overthrow the power of another state or carve out territory from a much smaller and strategically disadvantaged state. The fact that Arabs in those states have led numerous violent uprisings to try to quell the nationalist aspirations of Jews and Maronites in the Middle East does not show the correctness of their cause or justify their nationalist aspirations. In the the case of Jordan and Israel, the fact quite simply is that whatever deficiencies in the realization of the Palestinian nationalist aspiration through the establishment of an Arab state east of the river Jordan, the fact quite simply is that the full realization of Arab nationalist aspirations would require the destruction of Lebanon, Israel and any other non-Muslim Arab state. With only two small states in Lebanon and Israel carved out from the Muslim Arab world, the Arabs have largely realized their nationalist aspirations. Their desire for complete victory would require all others to relinquish any autonomy and self-deterimination. 

The Politics of Walls

I am back posting after a lengthy, work induced hiatus.

I wanted to take a view at an issue that is often described (though less so recently) as a major roadblock in the "peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians: the separation fence. Indeed, the separation fence, along with the blockade of Gaza, represent the difficult situation of separating Israelis and Palestinians.

The idea of separating two groups of people with a wall is not novel or unique to Israel. The United States built a significant length of wall along its Southern border to stem the tide of Mexican immigration. However, such walls are often used in the case of two hostile people who simply need to be separated. In Cyprus, after the 1974 Turkish invasion, the Turkish military constructed significant fortifications separating the Greek majority Republic of Cyprus and the occupied Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Indeed, between the separation barriers between the Turks and the Greeks and the walls separating Cyprus from the three major British military bases on the island, Cyprus is an island of walls and barriers.

In the Western Sahara, Moroccan forces spent decades constructing barriers across the desert region to prevent the Polisario Front from expanding its influence and control in the region and to limit its ability to operate against Moroccan forces and hold on to Western Saharan territory. In Northern Ireland, "peace walls" separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods with the idea that separating these historic antagonists will keep the peace. More recently, Saudi Arabia has begun construction along its southern border with Yemen and Oman to prevent movement into the Kingdom from those poorer neighbors and because of the increased al-Qaida presence and political instability in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates has followed suit in building walls on its border with Oman.

When the separation barrier in the West Bank began, it was the subject of extreme criticism and a worldwide outcry. Over many years, the wall has been plagued by protests, court cases and international condemnation. However, there was one overwhelming reason that silenced a lot of the protests: the wall worked. Whether it worked because it restricted terrorists' operating space and making it easier to catch them or whether it worked by causing the Palestinians to decide to shift away from suicide bombings because they believed the likelihood of success is reduced, the wall coincided with a substantial reduction in the number of suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Interesting, the wall's purpose, which in many ways was to effect the physical separation of Palestinian Arabs from Israel, is largely consistent with the Arab goal of separating Jews from Arabs. For all the criticism of the wall as a separation barrier, Fatah leaders in the West Bank (and Hamas leaders in Gaza of course) want to ensure that any Palestinian state or locality is devoid of Jews. The notion that the presence of Jews in the West Bank (as opposed to the presence of Arabs in Israel) is a primary obstacle to peace is a decidedly racist idea. Fatah believes that Arabs should be able to live in Israel, indeed that Arabs must be allowed to return to Israel, but that Jews should be forbidden from living in any Arab state.

One of the continued criticisms against the separation fence, which was the subject of numerous lawsuits, was the path of the wall. The lawsuits and rerouting are part of the ambiguous land control that is at issue in Israel. Indeed, the question of who owns which land has moved significantly based on Arab tactics based on the varied success of certain military and public relations strategies.

From 1948 to 1967, the primary assertion from the Arab world was that the Israel itself was illegitimate and would be militarily defeated. After the Six Day War, the focus was on the restoration of Arab pride, but the military confrontation was not focused on liberating Palestine. After the mixed success of 1973 and the Egyptian decision to make peace with Israel, Israel's enemies adopted the cause of the Palestinians as the most effective means to attack Israel. It became about specific bits of land and chipping away at Israel bit by bit, and the attacks became about removing Jews from specific parts of the land, namely the West Bank and Gaza.

Indeed, criticisms of the wall and of settlements are based on assertions of illegitimate ownership. This became the case when the wall proved to be effective and coincided with a reduction in terrorist attacks,  Palestinians hastened their attempts to slow down the wall's construction with a variety of lawsuits and protests. Of course, the amount of condemnation over Israel's wall is orders of magnitude beyond the criticisms leveled at Morocco for its barrier construction in Western Sahara and at Turkey for its construction and separation of Cyprus and the eviction of Greek Cypriots.

The new Arab assault on Israel has focused on rolling back Israel's territorial gains from many years ago. The Arabs bring extreme pressure to bear on those who support Israel, which culminated historically with the 1973 Oil Embargo and which has also led to boycotts and divestment efforts. The idea, of course, is that Israel's withdrawal from lands illegitimately acquired since 1947 would create the conditions for peace, even though Israel's existence within those borders directly led to war in 1948 precisely because the Arabs felt that the fledgling Jewish state could be easily destroyed in such insecure borders.

Mahmoud Abbas himself has contended that Israel should return not the 1967 lines from before the Six Day War, but to the original 1947 lines as presented in the UN Partition Plan, which never actually existed in reality. While Abbas' assertion is ludicrous from a historical perspective, it underscores the idea that the Arabs will take whatever land they can take from the Israelis and empty those territories of Jews, squeezing the remaining Israelis into less defensible borders. Given this idea and the fact that this "two state solution" has received significant support in the international community, it is entirely understandable that Israelis would build walls to keep invaders out. For anyone doubting that the Arabs intend to breach Israeli borders for either political or military reasons, one need only look to the recent border crossings in the Golan and the terrorist attacks in Eilat and Beersheva originating from the Sinai Peninsula to see that infiltration of Israel's borders is a very real and serious threat.