As I write these lines, there are reports of peace talks in Amman between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, under the auspices of King Abdullah. Notwithstanding my very pessimistic view of such talks, which I will explain in this posting, I certainly hope that I will be proved wrong, that my pessimism is misplaced. Time will tell.
As for now, I hold to a view that took firm form after the Palestinians’ definitive rejection of the Camp David – Taba peace efforts of 2000 and 2001. It then became obvious to me, as indeed it did to the Israeli public, that the Arab elites and the Arab “street” will not tolerate a Jewish state, no matter how small, anywhere in what the prevailing Arab view holds to be sacred Arab land, namely Israel.
In brief, I would accept what Professor Richard Landes has described as the Honor/Shame-Jihad paradigm:
The Arabs’ total rejection of any kind of Jewish presence in the Middle East is often hidden by a pervasive policy of forked tongue: peaceful phrases in Western languages directed toward the West, violence of action and incitement to violence in Arabic-language pronouncements.
In the territory of the Palestinian Authority, streets and other public places are regularly named in honor of suicide-terrorists who have died, thus honoring the deeds of Jew-killing as much as the terrorists who gave their all to banish the Jews from the Middle East. The Palestinian Media Watch
(an absolutely indispensable resource) has documented this ongoing PA practice. Israeli spokespeople have rightfully pointed out, repeatedly, that the PA here incites to murder, that it thereby contradicts its own verbal professions of non-violence.
Holocaust-denial, currently the most practiced of the anti-Semitic propaganda tropes worldwide, is pervasive in the PA territory as it is in the media of the Arab world. The PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, has a PhD in Holocaust-denial, awarded by a Soviet university:
The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism (Arabic: al-Wajh al-Akhar: al-‘Alaqat as-Sirriya bayna an-Naziya wa’s-Sihyuniya. Publisher: Dar Ibn Rushd, Amman, Jordan. 1984) is the title of a book by Mahmoud Abbas, published in Arabic. It is based on his CandSc thesis, completed in 1982 at Patrice Lumumba University (now the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia) under the title The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement (Russian: Связи между сионизмом и нацизмом. 1933–1945), and defended at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
In the book, Abbas argues that the Nazi Holocaust had been exaggerated and that Zionists created “the myth” of six million murdered Jews, which he called a “fantastic lie”. He further claimed that those Jews which were killed by the Nazis were actually the victims of a Zionist-Nazi plot aimed to fuel vengeance against Jews and to expand their mass extermination. (Wikipedia)
One of the most symbolic actions of the Arab elites is the annual observance of “Nakba Day” (Day of the Catastrophe) to mark the establishment of Israel in 1948. Contrary to verbal declarations that PA demands could be satisfied by a return to 1967 borders, the staging of the annual Nakba event consitutes a rejection of Israel even if it were confined to its most limited borders, i.e. those of 1948. These Nakba observances send a powerful message to the Arab “street”: the existence of Israel itself is a crime, no matter how small Israel might be; and our cause today is what it was in 1948, when the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded Israel, with material help from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Lybia.
In the Muslim world, it appears that the word “normalization,” when used in connection with Israel, is the equivalent of treason to the faith. Despite the fact that both Jordan and Egypt, alone in the Arab world, have peace agreements with Israel, civic groups like unions and professional organizations in these countries routinely refuse any formal or informal relations with their Israeli counterparts. Again, it is the PMW
that has documented this phenomenon.
Violent Hatreds in the Muslim World
These Islamist manifestations of hatred against the Jews are very disturbing, but they must be seen against the larger, equally disturbing background of Islamist hatreds and violence that have nothing to do with Israel or the Jews, but which nevertheless have a bearing on the conflict between the Arabs and Israel. The point here is that if the Arabs (and the Muslim world) behaves so violently in its internal conflicts, what hope is there for more pacific behavior when it comes to the Jews ?
First and most conspicuously, there is the conflict in Syria. The Assads’ regime, which from its very inception in 1970 declared itself as among the most implacable of foes of Israel, today kills thousands of its own people. This development, unlike some of the others I am about to relate, has been well reported and needs no elaboration here.
The Iraq-Iran war of 1980 to 1988 was among the most savage in history. Here is part of Wikipedia’s description:
The war came at a great cost in lives and economic damage—half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers as well as civilians are believed to have died in the war with many more injured—but it brought neither reparations nor change in borders. The conflict is often compared to World War I, in that the tactics used closely mirrored those of that conflict, including large scale trench warfare, manned machine-gun posts, bayonet charges, use of barbed wire across trenches, human wave attacks across no-man’s land, and extensive use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas by the Iraqi government against Iranian troops and civilians as well as Iraqi Kurds. At the time, the UN Security Council issued statements that “chemical weapons had been used in the war.” However, in these UN statements it was never made clear that it was only Iraq that was using chemical weapons, so it has been said that “the international community remained silent as Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian as well as Iraqi Kurds” and it is believed that the “United States prevented the UN from condemning Iraq”.
The bloody warfare by the Arabs of the Sudan against its fellow religionists in Darfur (as well as against the Black population of the South) is still ongoing. It has received some Western attention, but the fact that most of the aggression emanates from Arab sources is not often mentioned. (There are now some new reports of warfare within the South, involving the Nuer and their neighbors, none of which are Muslim.)
And then there is the bloody repression of the people of Iran by its own government.
The violence in Somalia — perhaps the most unfortunate country in the world — seems mostly initiated by the Islamist Al-Shabaab, although it would take a specialist to sort out the various actors in that continuing disaster.
Of very great relevance here is the bloody story of intra-Palestinian violence. Here is an account from Wikipedia:
Intra-Palestinian violence was a prominent feature of the Intifada, with widespread executions of alleged Israeli collaborators. While Israeli forces killed an estimated 1,100 Palestinians and Palestinians killed 164 Israelis, Palestinians killed an estimated 1,000 other Palestinians as alleged collaborators, although fewer than half had any proven contact with the Israeli authorities.And then there are the very frequent mutual killings by Fatah and Hamas.
In short, over and above its violent Jew-hatred, the Muslim world harbors a virulent culture of internal violence. One would think that this topic should be of interest to would-be peacemakers like Peace Now and JStreet, but — guess what — these and allied groups are generally mum on the subject.
Which brings us to
The Evolution of bien-pensant thinking on Israel
The intransigence of the Arab elites would matter less if it were not for the support it receives, at least implicitly, from an apparently growing anti-Israel current in the liberal/left circles of the West.
Today we are used to seeing more than a few committed enemies of Israel in academia and in the high-brow punditry, whom Schleiermacher might have called the cultured despisers of Israel and Jews. That was not always the case. For the first twenty years or so of its existence Israel generally enjoyed, if not approbation, at least a modicum of good will among such classes.
A detailed, probing history of the evolution of such bien-pensant views remains to be written (are you listening, Mr. or Ms. Recent Graduate ?). Suffice it to say, while objectivity (at least) could be counted on in the past, this is no longer the case. Of course it is easy to exaggerate the importance of figures like Tony Judt, Mearsheimer, Walt, etc.: when I attend AIPAC conferences, I find the most liberal members of Congress come out very strongly for Israel, no less so than the conservatives. Nevertheless, it would seem that strongly hostile views and strongly hostile action are fairly common in liberal-left circles, especially so in the more activist groups like Occupy Wall Street (on this, see my piece here) and the politicized Lesbian groups.
While the overall picture of changes in the bien-pensants’ viewpoint remains to be examined, the position of one part of this public — that of the Communists, their followers, and their lineal descendants — is clear. The Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 War, on June 10, 1967, and, for geo-political reasons, aligned itself with the Arab enemies of Israel, especially with Syria. I happened to have been in Paris at the time, and I well remember the shock of French Jewish protesters at a demonstration against the sudden change of the line of the French Communist Party (PCF). “We will not forget this,” I remember one speaker declaiming, addressing the Party hacks. Annie Kriegel has provided us with the text of a surprisingly anti-Semitic speech delivered by Benoît Franchon, Secretary of the Communist-controlled CGT union, one of the top PCF leaders, at the Thirty Seventh National Congress of the CGT, held in Nanterre from June 12 to 16 of 1967:
They [war correspondents] have shown us — replete with the details that go with a great demonstration of faith — a ceremony at the Wailing Wall…. The presence of certain high financiers conferred upon it a significance that had nothing to do with the religious fervor which the true believers who participated thought to find in it. The spectacle makes us think that, as in Faust, it was Satan who led the dance. Nor was the golden calf missing; there it was, just as in the Gounod opera, standing up contemplating its feet, amid the blood and the filth, the results of these diabolical machinations. And indeed, we are told the two representatives of a cosmopolitan tribe of bankers attended this saturnalia, people well known throughout the world: Alain and Edmond de Rothschild. At their feet lay the dead, still bleeding. Among them were Jewish workers, who died for them; Jordanian workers and peasant, who also died for them. (from l’Humanité, June 17, 1967; reproduced in Kriegel, The French Communists, p. 163-4).
I believe that, with all the marginalized anti-Semitism that could be found in the Stalinist movement for years before, the decisive turning point came at this point, in 1967. The upshot of course is well known: how the “German Democratic Republic” became a bastion of “anti-Zionism;” how the Lumumba University in Moscow turned out doctors of Holocaust-denial (see the case of Abbas, above), etc. etc.
The Soviets’ 1967 line, to which they held to the end of their existence in 1989, had a tremendous effect on the broad spectrum of liberal/left opinion. The Soviets’ fiercest opponents on the Left, the Trotskyists, followed their Stalinist enemy/friends in the decisive turn against Israel after the ’67 War. The Trotskyists saw themselves in competition with the Communists for the pool of left-leaning “militants.” As a result of the Soviet position, it became more and more required for the “revolutionary socialists” and the “anti-imperialists” to include a fierce opposition to “Zionism” in their propaganda. The Trotskyists could not afford to be outbid in the left-wing marketplace. (Of course there were earlier reasons, primarily the inherent Marxist anti-Semitism, that made them vulnerable for this shift. I have discussed these matters here
As for the descendants of the old Stalinist movement, most strikingly The Nation magazine of the United States, it is the Soviets’ turn against Israel in 1967 that still seems to weigh heavily in its hysterical campaign against Israel. (See my blog on this here). Obviously there are other reasons as well for the liberal/left “anti-Zionism” of our day. Just what these are awaits the careful study of a historian yet to appear.
There is little hope for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the foreseeable future. The reasons for this pessimism lie mainly in the Muslim culture of hate and violence. The “anti-Zionism” of parts of liberal/left opinion in the West — giving support to the Islamist anti-Israel project — contributes to the difficulty of finding a solution.