When Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians, responded to Ehud Olmert’s statement, “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state,” he made an error. Erekat declared that the Palestinians wouldn’t accept a Jewish state, because “No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.”
Pakistan has such an identity; so does Iran. The United States, which is technically secular, has “In God We Trust” on its currency and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. “Never mind the fact that the Saudis,” wrote Haaretz writer Bradley Burston in response, “are a theocracy of such sectarian dimension that tourists are forbidden from entering the country with Bibles, crucifixes, or items bearing the Star of David.” “Never mind the fact that leftists the world over can live with the concept of explicitly Muslim states teaching the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and other explicitly anti-Semitic texts,” he added, while condemning Israel as a racist state. The kingdom’s theocratic dimensions and the left’s purported tolerance for anti-Jewish conspiracism in the Muslim world aside, Erekat’s statement is fundamentally correct; Palestinians shouldn’t accept a Jewish state. Why should they? If Germany had won the Second World War, should the Jews have accepted the Third Reich in order to have a state of their own? The very victory of the Third Reich would necessitate such a paradigm because it’s predicated on military strength, and military strength determines political power and political reality, which is reflected by the facts on the ground. In other words, if the Third Reich had won the war, then its principle victims, the Jews, would have had to recognize and accept the German character of the state in order to be at peace with it. No one in their right mind would accept such a state of affairs – if it were the Nazis and the Jews. (One should bear in mind that if the Third Reich had won the war, the few remaining Jews who weren’t killed would’ve made such a proposal moot. It isn’t an exact comparison, but one that I feel is still applicable.) But the advocates for the Jewish state make such an offensive proposal to its principal victims, the Palestinians. They should accept Israel because Israel drove them from homes, killed them, and erected a state on their land. Might makes right. Or, as Burston puts it, “For Palestinians to choose not to accept a Jewish state, is to make the decisive choice for a future of statelessness.” As the Godfather put it, make them an offer they can’t refuse. For the Annapolis conference, a Palestinian state is not the issue. The issue is threefold: legitimize Israel in the eyes of the Arab world, erect the façade of an accomplishment to diminish the Iraqi failure and create an Arab coalition against Iran. It’s also a way of giving Abbas some leverage in order to isolate Hamas. And he’ll need Arab support if he wants to attack Iran. Undermining Hamas and solving the Palestine question — or at least pretending to — will give the Arab allies enough room to support such an attack to brace themselves for the street-level reaction. But a more fundamental issue is the Jewish state itself. Whether this conference is a success or a failure, Israel will survive. If successful, the conference will lead to a two-state solution, legitimizing an apartheid state founded on ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. If the conference fails — as every columnist in the Jewish and Arab press are predicting — then Israel will continue to exist on the basis of force and the continued legitimacy in the eyes of Jews everywhere. The real question, then, is this: is the Jewish state’s existence legitimate? This is an important question to consider, and the answer is key not only to understanding the 60-year old conflict, but also how to solve it. An interesting article appeared in the March 11, 2005 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, entitled “A World Without Israel,” by Josef Joffe. It sought to answer this question by pondering what the world would be like without a Jewish state. Joffe’s piece is typical in pro-Israel thinking, which is little more than finding new ways to deflect any and all criticism of the Jewish state’s transgressions. Israel suffers from what he called “delegitmization,” a popular term from the pro-Israel propaganda toolbox, which describes practically any criticism, whether it emanates from liberal two-state’ers or from Muslim fundamentalists. “The denigration comes in two guises,” Joffe writes. “The first, the soft version, blames Israel first and foremost for whatever ails the Middle East, and for having corrupted U.S. foreign policy.” The second, “the hard version,” finds that the Middle East’s troubles are born out of Israel’s existence, “and not its behavior.” In other words, because it’s Jewish, and because Semitic Arabs are, in fact, anti-Semitic! Then Joffe goes on to speculate what would happen without Israel, and — surprise, surprise — Israel’s disappearance from the world stage wouldn’t change much, since political, military and ideological considerations other than Zionism would continue to drive the Muslim world. According to this argument, the atrocities of Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko and the Hutu militias’ rampage in Rwanda render South African apartheid irrelevant. And, the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the Balkan civil war in the nineties dwarfs British rule in Northern Ireland and it’s therefore pointless to make an issue out of it. The assumption that Muslims blame Israel for their own problems is of course a baseless one; one needs only to look at Al-Qaeda’s communiqués, in which Israel sits alongside the U.S. occupation of Iraq and support for despotic regimes in the region. Iran reserves the title “Great Satan” for the United States, while giving Israel the diminutive status of “Little Satan.” Joffe merely highlighted what most Arabs and Muslims already know, while failing to make the case that opposing Zionism is pointless. The actual record suggests otherwise. From training Central American death squads and training the Shah of Iran’s secret police, to bypassing the boycott of apartheid South Africa and arming the fascist Lebanese Phalange, Israel’s impact can hardly be limited to the Palestinians. Joffe’s assertion that it’s Israel’s existence, and not its behavior, that earns its hatred isn’t valid, because Israel’s existence and behavior are intertwined. It’s a settler-colonial state, and the driving force behind its existence is the expropriation of land and maintenance of demographic superiority, which is racist. That’s one of the reasons many oppose Israel’s existence — like South Africa, it’s a glaring reminder of Western colonial power, with all the degradations and privileges to boot. Given the military superiority and immunity from international legal norms granted by the United States and Europe, Israel is an apt metaphor for the larger issues underlining the substance of Western neocolonial domination — inequality. If the Muslim world is to emerge from its shadow and produce healthy societies, then it must liberate itself from all vestiges of colonialism. Israel is hardly a scapegoat — it’s the first step.
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