If there is one thesis which is shared by the U.S. State Department, the British Foreign Office, most of the European governments and, above all, the Arab nations, it is that the single root problem, the source of all present sorrows, the key to future peace and prosperity in the Middle East is putting an end to the so-called Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the creating of a Palestinian state. The State Department would have this alongside Israel in all of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza. The Arab world would have it in place of Israel. But whether it is the minimalist version of the compromisers or the maximalist version of the absolutists, the idea is that once the Palestinians are happy, all will be well in the Middle East.
This simplistic and even dangerous thesis is adopted not only by primitive anti-Semites, but by many of the as-it-were most sophisticated commentators on the Middle East. For instance, it is pretty much the party line of the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and, above all, the New York Times.
The simplicity of this thesis is in its ignoring the deep divisions, grievances, and failings within the Arab world as a whole, and in each Arab society in particular. The U.S. is now itself seeing in Iraq that even with the best will, the warring ethnic groups of that society cannot necessarily be made to cooperate and work together. The economic failures of the Arab world, including the loss of the window of opportunity given by the ‘70s oil money bonanza have only increased frustrations throughout the various societies. The recent Arab failure of arms against the U.S. is one of a long series of such failures and humiliations. The fundamentalism raging throughout the Islamic and, most especially, Arab world is a retreat into an xenophobic narrow-mindedness, which can only ensure these societies continued backwardness.
The problems of the Arab world require long-term processes of re-education in values. The Arab world needs to learn more about, and gradually adopt, democratic values - such as freedom, tolerance, voluntary citizen action, respect for the civil rights of others - that it presently ignores. It also needs to learn one fundamental principle, which would enable it to overcome its tendency to always find a scapegoat for its problems: the value of accountability, of taking responsibility for one’s own failures and faults.
When the outside powers, whether it be in the State Department or in the European community, join the Arabs in naming Israel as responsible for Arab problems, they injure the Arab world in a deep way. Their pandering and flattery in an effort to win short-term advantage enables the Arab world to ignore its own real problems. It prevents it from making real reforms, real changes within itself, which will enable it to one day engage in true economic and social development.
As for the Palestinian state, an incipient Palestinian state called the ‘Palestinian Authority’ has existed for ten years and has brought only terror to Israel, and disaster to its own people. It is doubtful that any real problem will be solved by such a state, no matter what its size. The Palestinians’ problems, including the refugee problem, can only be solved through a regional approach involving negotiations between Israel and all the Arab states. Such a prospect at present seems unlikely, but unless such a broad approach is taken, there is no real hope for solving that set of Middle Eastern problems.Shalom Freedman is a freelance writer in Jerusalem, whose work has appeared in a wide variety of Jewish publications.