Alternative Insight

A return to the natural course of history might resolve the Middle East Crisis

The Middle East crisis, originally a struggle between native Palestinians and early Zionists for control of a land, has grown into a battle between Israel and the Arab world. A solution to the conflict has defied resolution - and for good reason - the imposition of artificial factors after World War I contradicted a course of history that predicted the Palestinians would control their destiny and form a nation in lands they had owned and occupied for centuries. This contradiction defied previous shapings of the Middle East which always coursed into a return of lands to the native inhabitants.

The Shaping of the Middle East
Assyrian, Babylonian, Phoenician and Persian empires shaped the early Middle East and started its history. Foreign invaders - Greeks, Romans and Mongols - were eventually displaced by native movements. Indigenous Arabs ruled for centuries until replaced by nomadic Turks who formed the Ottoman Empire. Each of these civilizations impelled a thrust of history that did not degenerate until the last decades of the Turks' Empire. From the final gasp of that empire, the victorious allies carved out a complement of nations at the end of World War I. Decades of painful struggles subdued French and British spheres of influence and the lands returned to the sovereignty of Arab peoples. After more than several decades, the borders of these nations have been generally accepted, except for those who want to divide Iraq, those who believe in a Greater Syria and those who don't accept the extended Israel.

Each new Middle East nation found its peoples. Not all peoples found their nations. The Kurds remained divided among several nations. Palestinians were forced to share their land with settlers from western nations, who arrived with a Zionist program - a national home for Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine and supported by the Balfour Declaration.

Balfour Declaration, 2 November, 1917
His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, 24 July, 1922

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country...

The inhabitants of Palestine refused to accept a Balfour Declaration that lacked legal force. Nevertheless, the League of Nations' approval of the British mandate in Palestine prevented the formation of a national Palestinian governing body. Overlooked, is that history would have pursued a less confrontational course if the early Zionists used the opportunity to solicit the North African and Middle East Jews (Mizrahim), many who considered themselves Arabs, to move to Palestine and establish a homeland together with the Palestinians. Instead the Zionists promoted the immigration of European Jews, some of whom came to work in the British administration together with Palestinians. The large number of Jewish immigrants from western nations provoked a conflict. If Mizrahim had originally settled in the area, the conflict might have remained a more manageable dispute between Middle-East populations.

The two pronouncements diverted the natural course of history and unleashed hostilities that have grown with each decade and have reached a perilous state.

The Course of History
The Zionist entrance into Palestine changed the course of Middle East history and with dubious benefit. Despite the propaganda and rhetoric, an analysis of the settlement of Palestine and the creation of an Israel state does not validate a successful result of the original Zionist mission or the creation of a state that is Jewish and protects Jews. The principal result of the original Zionist agenda is that people of uncertain circumstances and favored by the Zionists have been transferred from their home countries to a new land, while people of more certain circumstances and not favored by the Zionists have been displaced from their homes. The less favored have become refugees and, in many cases, been reduced to poverty.

Relatively few Jews who consider themselves ardent Zionists have left their homes and immigrated to Israel, which indicates that few Jews are active Zionists. The Jews who immigrated to Israel after 1948 arrived for mainly economic and political reasons and not to fulfill a Zionist agenda. Zionism has not persuaded Jews to leave their western nations, not deterred them from greatly participating in their nations' economic and social gains and not prevented them from integrating themselves into their nations' cultures. The Economist (Jan.11, 2007) mentions that only 17% of American Jews today regard themselves as pro-Zionist and only 57% say that "caring about Israel is a very important part of being Jewish."

Israel is the most obvious place in the world where Jews are less safe; attacks against Israel are common. A November 2003 European Union poll selected Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. Overall, 59 percent of Europeans placed Israel in the top position, ahead of Iran and North Korea. Verbal and physical attacks against Jews are increasing in many countries and the principal reason for the attacks is the antagonism towards Israel being deflected from Israel and to its Jewish supporters

It is difficult to characterize Israel as a Jewish nation. Avraham Burg, former Knesset speaker and former head of the Jewish Agency has been quoted as saying, "to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end." The term 'Jewish nation' has never been adequately defined and there is nothing exceptional in Israel that identifies a specific Jewish morality, culture or Judaic atmosphere. There are some, but relatively few foods, architectural styles, songs, dances and landscapes in Israel that are not related to the Arab Mediterranean Twenty percent of Israel's population are Arabs and a portion of the citizenry, such as the Ethiopian Falasha and Russian immigrants, have dubious relation to world Jewry. Many of the Mizrahim immigrants to Israel, who constitute a great part of Israel's population, can be considered Arab - having previously spoken Arab, adopted Arab customs and culture and lived for generations in Arab nations.

Denominating Israel as a Jewish nation beckons a definition of a Jewish person. A Jewish person has been variously defined as a person who practices Judaism or is a member of a group that has a specific ethnic identity. In the disparate Israeli population of multi-ethnicities many non-Arab Israelis, technically certified as Jews, don't fit either category. Many Jews, even in Israel, are secular, and not dedicated practionishers of Judaism. The most accepted Talmudic laws of the Judaic religion were not codifed until the IV to V century of the Common Era, and that was accomplished in Babylonia.

Israel has Israeli citizens but no Israeli nationality. The Ministry of the Interior specifies either Jewish, Arab or Druze, or country of origin for nationality. These specifications don't define a 'Jewish nation' but allow Israel to operate as a nation that gives special privileges to its Jewish nationality. This is comparable to the United States having a Christian nationality and non-Christians being grouped into Oriental, Arab, Native American or Other. Few nations have characterized Israel as a Jewish state. It is not well publicized in history that President Truman had doubts about specifying Israel by a denomination. When he signed the document that asserted United States recognition of the new state of Israel, the U.S. president inserted the word 'provisional' before state, and deleted the word 'Jewish' from Jewish state.

So, why not either a bi-national state or two independent states? Israel cannot and will not accept either suggestion. Since 1948, all Israeli governments have promoted polices of gaining more territory and, after the 1967 war, advancing more settlements. Acceptance of a bi-national state will be an admission that Israel's policies have been in error, and Israel will lose its raison d'être. No Israeli leader wants to be perceived by history as having interrupted Israel's self-chosen destiny. Israeli leaders might pay lip service to an independent Palestinian state but they won't allow a viable Palestinian state, and for well-chosen reasons; fear that the Palestinian state will harbor militants or grow sufficiently strong to challenge Israel.

The danger that Israel will use a bi-national state as a cover to dominate of all of Palestine and then slowly exile the Palestinians deters the Palestinian leadership from accepting a single state. Many Palestinian leaders also doubt Israel will allow a viable Palestinian state. One reason for this belief is that land requires water, and Israel has demonstrated it intends to maintain the water for its own use. These Palestinian leaders feel they have no choice but to battle until events force Israel into an acceptable compromise. For Israel it is an all or nothing proposition. For the Palestinians it is nothing if they don't obtain all.

The problem for Israel is that wherever it extends itself it will meet an adversary. Even if the Arab nations accommodate Israel's expansion, it will only be a temporary maneuver. The Arab nations will never forget the humiliations, the intrusions, the many lost wars and their casualties. Israel has nowhere to go, and this creates a major dilemma. When Israel is too extended to satisfactorily defend itself, it will use the threat of its mightiest weapons, which includes its nuclear arsenal. The power of this threat is the principal reason Israel is concerned with Iran gaining nuclear weapons. Israel does not fear Iran will use these weapons - that will be suicide - it fears that an Iranian nuclear bomb will neutralize Israel's nuclear threat.

Demographics might provide the catalyst that reverses history. Immigration to Israel has slowed. The Jerusalem Post newspaper claims 19,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel last year, compared to the previous three years, in which there were between 21,000 and 22,000 immigrants annually. Emigration from Israel proceeds at a quickened pace each year so that present emigration exceeds immigration. The prediction for year 2007 expects 14,400 immigrants to arrive in Israel and 20,000 Israelis to leave the country.

Many Israelis, although technically still considered Israelis and recorded in the population statistics, have citizenship and residency in other countries. Although exact figures are not available, Israel's absorption ministry estimated in 2006 that about 600,000 Israelis had left the country to live abroad. Since many Israelis carry dual passports and return to Israel only for brief interludes, that total can probably be doubled. It has also been shown that Israelis of Arab nationality who trace their heritage back more two generations might be comparable in numbers to Israelis of Jewish nationality who also trace their heritage back two generations.

Future demographics favor the Palestinians. The trend is towards an Israel that has decreasing Jewish dominance. This phenomenon might stimulate an increase in Jewish emigration. If the moment approaches when Israel proves to be reverting to the conditions in the period before Zionism diverted the course of history, the world's collective institutions will ponder if the only choices for obtaining a solution to the Middle East crisis are either a bi-national state or two independent states. Legality might finally find its rightful place in the discussion - who owns the land; who possessed the land for centuries; who occupied the lands for centuries? The choice for obtaining Middle East peace then becomes either forcing the return to the conditions when the Zionist thrust deflected history or allowing a trajectory to increased destruction and possible nuclear annihilation. This choice is neither a recommendation nor a prediction, and those who believe in peace with justice must continue their struggle. Nevertheless, the inexorable and natural course of history might speak for everyone and patiently resolve the Middle East Crisis.

august, 2007


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