July 29, 2006

"Will Israel Live to 100?"

That's the title of an article, by Benjamin Schwarz, published in The Atlantic in May 2005. It's currently #1 on the "Top fifteen most-read articles online this week," according to email I just received from the magazine. Conclusion:
[I]n conversations with Israelis on the left and the (moderate) right in academe, the military, the government, and the security services, I've been struck by their grim declarations that they as a people aren't going anywhere, but also by their foreboding about the country their children will live in. Most of all, though, I've been struck by the frequency with which these men and women—patriots all—have wistfully said, "We should have taken Uganda" (which Britain offered to the Zionist leadership in 1903). History shows that many problems have no solution—a fact all but unfathomable to Americans. Nevertheless, the century-long Palestinian-Zionist conflict is a story of two peoples, each with reasonable claims to the same piece of earth; and nearly every aspect of that story suggests that in the end—and to the detriment of those peoples, their region, and perhaps the entire world—their aspirations are not amenable to compromise.


JP said...

If Israel's shown us anything since 1990, it's that with the right leadership, such aspirations most certainly are amenable to compromise.

Crucial to "Will Israel Live to 100" is the other question: Will we have a Palestinian Rabin/Peres/Barak figure in the foreseeable future?

johnstodderinexile said...

This reminds me of a piece I read in the Financial Times 3-4 years ago by, I believe, Ron Unz (the guy who bankrolled an initiative in California to end mandatory bilingual education).

A strong supporter of Israel, Unz believed the country had a dim future because the implacability of Israel's enemies would eventually wear down the resolve of its citizens to stay there. Unz, who I'd call an economic determinist, saw the disincentives of staying in Israel as ever-rising, and that this would chase away, over time, a critical mass of the population needed to sustain a country.

Plus -- now this is me talking -- I see much despair among the Israeli left and its peace movement, as it has now sunk in that there is little hope of their preferred method of dealing with Israel's enemies ever working out.

In the US, 9/11 convinced a few leftists that anti-Americanism could be, under certain circumstances, evil. But not many American leftists were heavily invested in reaching accomodation with radical Islamists, so the disappointment wasn't too severe. In Israel, elements of their left saw accomodation and negotiated peace as the centerpiece of their political identities. With that gone, what has taken its place is not a conversion to Likud-nik-ism, but a kind of gaping chasm of existential despair. In the U.S. former liberals feel a little lost and confused, but there is room for us in the massive grey areas of American politics. In Israel, one can't take moral comfort in saying things like "well, I'm a hawk on the war, but I favor gay marriage and the environment, so I'm still not a right winger." There is one issue; to be wrong on that one issue is to be cast out of your own life history.

amba said...

About ten days ago one of the other Richard Cohens wrote in the WaPo:

The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism . . .

He took a lot of flak for that. I can remember thinking the same thing way back, though -- that the Europeans out of guilt for letting the Jews of Europe be slaughtered had now displaced another people to give the remaining Jews back their Biblical homeland -- an act so artificial and so bloodstained that it was bound to trigger a long and perhaps finally circular fall of karmic dominoes -- circling back, one fears, to another slaughter of Jews. There's something in that structurally like the story of Oedipus who, fleeing from the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, on the road accidentally killed his father and married his mother. Trying to make the best of amends to the surviving Jews has only put them in death's way again.

Daryl Herbert said...

If Israel took Uganda, it would have gone down in flames with Zim and South Africa. The "anti-colonialist" movement would have targeted them for being white people in Africa.

The Jews would have been greedy enough to use cheap black labor, instead of keeping the country all white, so there would be a large number of poor blacks inside the country and around it with a sense of entitlement to the Jews' land and wealth.

And of course, none of the geographical limitations that keep the Palestinians from amassing too many weapons against the borders, and without a port (unless you count on lake Victoria).

Give me a break!

Knowing what we know today, maybe Jews could have established a country in Uganda by relying on foreign labor (such as Filipinos). They would have had to keep all non-white/non-Asians out, and all Muslims out.


It's absoultely f---ing ridiculous that anyone would portray what I'm saying as racist, given how sanctimoniously the anti-Israel crowd repeats the point that occupation is bad and national aspirations are powerful motivators/justify terrorist violence. How is it that Arabs have a right to Israeli land, but blacks would not lay claim to Uganda? Do we believe for even a second that these lying peace freaks would support Israel's right to exist in Uganda? No, they would probably whine that Israel should have been located in Palestine (which would, if Israel hadn't been there, still be a total dump today). They would say, "look, Palestine is practically empty and Arabs are practically white. What are Jews doing in Africa? It's colonialism."

tjl said...

According to Schwarz' article,

"The century-long Palestinian-Zionist conflict is a story of two peoples, each with reasonable claims to the same piece of earth; and nearly every aspect of that story suggests that in the end—and to the detriment of those peoples, their region, and perhaps the entire world—their aspirations are not amenable to compromise."

There is ample precedent in the 20th century for solving similarly intractable land disputes by relocating some or all of the populations involved. Two notable examples: Greece and Turkey exchanged their ethnic minority populations after World War I; and after World War II the Czechs expelled the Sudeten Germans. In neither case was full justice done to everyone, but war was averted and the displaced persons moved on with their lives.

In contrast, the displaced Palestinians of 1948 were permanently consigned to squalid refugee camps. Barred from ever having productive lives, the Palestinians were artificially maintained as tools of grievance and revenge, first by corrupt Arab governments, and then by extremist religious movements.

How different the Middle East would be now if Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon had absorbed the first generation of Palestinian refugees and let them lead normal lives.
If the problem now has no solution, the blame should lie less on the founders of Israel than on the intransigent Arab response.

Daryl Herbert said...

How different the Middle East would be now if Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon had absorbed the first generation of Palestinian refugees and let them lead normal lives.

To take this a step further, tjl, the Arab leaders knew this. The Palestinian situation is not an accident. They wanted to create an open sore on Israel, to keep anti-Israel sentiment alive. Accepting the refugees, by their logic (which was probably correct) meant accepting Israel's existence.

Aspasia M. said...

Interesting article.

The settlements built after 1990 have more and more integrated the West Bank with Israel proper, thus making a one-state outcome more likely.

That's why I have never understood why the Israeli government allowed and/or promoted settlements in the West Bank. (Especially after Oslo)

Unless Israel is willing to support a reservation/apartheid situation with a permanent group of second class citizens...the settlements always seemed like a huge, ultimately distructive bunch of "facts on the ground", if one is interested in a two state solution. I have always viewed the settlements as a threat to the two state solution.

And if the two state solution is not a possibility -- the one state solution, with all adults holding equal citizenship rights, then becomes the obvious outcome.

Are there any other possibilities? Aside from a situation in which the majority of the permanent adult residents living in Israel cannot vote and do not have political representation or citizenship rights that come from being a member of a state? In fact, these adult residents would not be able to claim citizenship rights from any state.

Editor Theorist said...

Supposing Israel is, indeed, too small and isolated to survive - maybe another alternative would be to build a critical mass around Israel by renewed 'Western' colonization of the Middle East - and Africa too?

As a long term goal there is a logic to this, and I think it would greatly benefit _most_ of the people in the colonized countries, just as it would usually be better to be an ordinary Arab living in Israel than living in any of the Arabic countries around Israel (or in any plausible future Palestinian state).

This is because (ethnicity aside) the mass of ordinary people are _much_ better-off in liberal democracies (such as Israel) than they are in military dictatorships, absolute monarchies and theocracies.

Local political and cultural elites (clergy, military officers, teachers, civil servants etc.) are status-disadvantaged by colonization - because the colonizers prevent them from becoming a ruling class. But local elites have different interests from the mass of the populations they rule, or aspire to rule.

The point is that other things are more important than ethnicity - 'other things' including democracy, rule of law, economics, science and technology.

So - perhaps Israel's supporters should set aside ethnicity (downplay it), and acknowledge that it really is too unstable to have a single liberal democractic state in the Middle East. But the answer should be having more of the same. Local elites would certainly resist, but if appeal could be made over-their-heads to the mass of people who would almost certainly benefit hugely from liberal democracy, Western colonization might well be welcomed.

Okay, the idea is a very long shot, and would require much more solid support to the USA-UK from European nations than seems likely at present, but a new wave of Western colonization seems both possible and probably very beneficial.

tjl said...

Geoduck said,

"And if the two state solution is not a possibility -- the one state solution, with all adults holding equal citizenship rights, then becomes the obvious outcome."

Geo, after the first election, the governing party in the new single state would be Hamas. What are the odds that a triumphant Hamas would shed its core beliefs that Jews must be killed or driven into the sea? Your new single state would not long remain a place where Jews, or anyone else for that matter, would want to live.

Aspasia M. said...


It's not "my" outcome -- it's the most likely outcome to be advocated by the international community if a two state solution becomes impossible.

I've long been supportive of a two state solution. However, the settlements have become more tangled up in the West Bank. Removing the settlements are very difficult politically for Israel.

I hypothesize that this situation leads to three outcomes:

1) somehow these settlements are removed for a two state solution. (unlikely - due to the political situation in Israel.)

2) The situation continues with a permanent class of non-citizens (and their children) living in Israel on what are essentially refugee camps and a reservation system.

3) Palestinians begin to advocate for a one state solution with full citizenship rights. (think South Africa.)

What happens in the middle east is not my choice. I have no power in what goes on in the middle east. If I could make my will manisfest - I would create two viable states.

But the article raises excellent points in terms of demography. For the last 15 years I've been wondering what in the world politicians in Israel were thinking by allowing more settlements. The obvious outcome is that it makes a viable two state solution impossible.

If the two state soution is impossible -- then the likely outcome is a one state solution.
What do you think will happen? I am, of course, just speculating after looking at the facts on the ground.

Jonathan said...

I suspect Daryl Herbert is right about what would have happened to a Jewish state in Uganda. OTOH, I doubt that he is right that the Jews would have used "cheap black labor" the way the white South Africans did. Many or most of the early Zionists were socialists who believed in the importance of communal enterprise as well as the nobility of tilling the soil and generally avoided hiring non-Jews for labor-intensive work. (Not that I think there is anything wrong with hiring labor, cheap, non-Jewish or otherwise. But that is a separate issue.)

Geoduck2, the settlements were initially envisioned as part of a defensive perimeter to help provide greater strategic depth than the original Israeli borders (the country was <10 miles wide at the narrowest point) afforded. Despite these good intentions, the settlements eventually became both a military liability and a powerful political constituency whose wishes the Israeli government has a lot of difficulty opposing. I think, however, that the real question about the settlements, which many Israelis and Americans don't want to ask, because the answer is at once obvious and discouraging, is, Why can't a few thousand Jews be allowed to live as a minority in an Arab Palestinian state?

I find the question of whether Israel will live to be 100 less discouraging than some people do. That's not because I know anything but because this is the kind of worry that people tend to have about terrible events that are obviously possible but historically rarely materialize. Of course there are and will continue to be terrible events in the world, but they tend to come as surprises and rarely unfold in the way people expect them to.

Sean said...

geoduck2, you omit another possibility, a regional, nearly global conflagration in the aftermath of which, if we win, relocation of populations will become politically feasible. Remember, it would not have been politically feasible to relocate the Germans from the Sudetenland or Silesia prior to WWII, but in the aftermath it was easy. In the same way, circumstances may someday permit the relocation of the Arab populations from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

By the way, in case someone wants to quote George Orwell, let me say that "relocation of populations" means that millions of German civilians were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Their possessions were stolen and given to their enemies. Thousands, most of them women and children, died on the way. Those who made it suffered terribly. That is what our side did after WWII, and it doesn't trouble me.

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