Iraq comes home: the war of ideas, mostly by Philip Weiss
September 03, 2008
Leading Journal Publishes a Desperate Portrait of Israel as a 'Failed European Fragment' Hated by Its Neighbors
The forthcoming issue of Middle East Policy contains an astonishing piece by Ian Lustick of the University of Pa. on the desperation inside Israel about its future, titled "The Abandonment of the Iron Wall: Israel and the 'Middle Eastern Muck.'" The long piece explores the mistaken ideology that "Israel and Israelis can remain in the Middle East without becoming part of it" and it will surely be grabbed by Barack Obama (and ignored by Sarah Palin), for it pulls together all the narratives that we keep hearing from I/P--the ruthless violence, the hateful fence, the emigration, the "war on terror" as a model for Americans, and not least, the Arabs' hostile passivity and righteous, hardened resistance.
I will never think about the region in the same way. The analysis is sure to find its way to the highest levels. It is not online yet, but here is my summary of the argument.
For the first 90 years of Zionism the Zionists understood that the Arabs didn't want them there and in spite of Arab resistance they were going to just hang in there and pound the heck out of the Arabs till they reluctantly accepted their presence. "The iron wall" strategy of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, which even Rashid Khalidi said recently in the Nation has worked: Israel's there, the Arab states have given in to its presence. Pile up the bodies a little more, sign a peace deal.
But in the wake of the first intifadah, the Iron Wall idea has been cast aside, giving way in a climate of mutual hatred to a sense of existential struggle: that Arabs and Israelis are fundamentally opposed, and that both cannot live in the region. The Israelis have yielded to irrational uses of violence typical of the French in Algeria and other pariah states. And meantime, the Arabs have gotten over the insuperable Iron Wall idea themselves--and begun to believe that if they just last the Israelis out, they will go away.
Neither side really believes in the other's humanity. This explains the hysteria around Iran from Ahmadinejad and Benny Morris too: They want us gone. It explains the World War IV feelings of Norman Podhoretz and other neocons, basically saying that the U.S. has to destroy the Arab world in order to make it safe for Israel. And it explains the triumphalism of Hezbollah and Hamas, and also the growing support for a one-state solution even in leftwing Arabist circles in the U.S.--because it sure is feeling like the long Zionist nightmare is about to end. Israel is another "failed European fragment," like the Crusaders or South Africa or India, but the last one to go.
Lustick admits that he doesn't know the full range of Arab attitudes, but he ruthlessly explores the spiritual sickness in Israeli society, the resort to horrifying violence (wanting to turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years), the lack of faith in Zionism, and the desertion of Israel by as many as 1 million of its citizens who would prefer to live in Europe or the U.S. Oh exile, where is thy sting!
Lustick concludes by saying that the moment is truly desperate and the key is to reimagine Israeli existence, to reach some actual modus vivendi with the Palestinians through some real acknowledgement of Palestinian humanity and rights. He fully articulates something I've repeated here: that the Israelis want nothing to do with Arabs, though they live in the Arab world, 500 miles east of Istanbul. And that going forward requires asking, What do Palestinians want?
Below I'm going to sample choice bits of the piece, which is getting passed with excitement among followers of Middle East policy. As soon as it's online, I'll let you know. Ian Lustick:
Among Israelis, a natural and very
prominent result of this deep-seated
alienation from the region, its peoples and
its cultures is an urge to escape. It takes
many forms. Consider the construction of
the "security barrier," a network of fencing,
concrete walls, barbed wire, trenches
and embankments intended to surround the
Jewish state. One can usefully imagine the
barrier as transforming Israel into a kind of
"gated community" sealed off from the
Middle East as hermetically as possible.
However, it must also be noted that
the effect of the barrier, and perhaps more
of its purpose than is commonly acknowledged,
is not to keep Middle Easterners
out of Israel, but to physically and psychologically
remove Israel from the Middle
Israelis with the training, skills and
wealth to do so are also literally "escaping"
from the Middle East and from those parts
of Israel that are more Middle Eastern.
There is significant evidence that,
since the collapse of the Oslo peace
process and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa
Intifada, the emigration of Israeli Jews has
increased, as have activities that would
make future emigration easier. In February
2007, Israel's minister of immigrant
absorption, Zeev Boim, acknowledged that
there were between 700,000 and 1 million
Israeli expatriates worldwide, with some
600,000 in North America alone...
The core idea [of the Iron Wall] was not to
avoid war, but to insure victories of such
vividness and consequence that Arabs
would come to regard Israel's existence an
immutable, if unpleasant, fact of Middle
Eastern life. Once that attitude was
instilled, the objective was to combine the
stick of coercion with the carrot of compromise
to achieve negotiated peace
What Arabs learned from the
Lebanon War was not the inevitability of
accommodating themselves to Israeli
diktats, but the vulnerability of the Israeli
army and Israeli society to determined
Arab and Muslim political and military
As I have stressed, Zionism's use of
violence against Arabs was traditionally
conceived as a pedagogical device to
convince Arabs of the Jewish National
Home's indestructibility, and then to
persuade some among them to negotiate
mutually acceptable deals based on the
alternative of suffering painful defeats. It
is natural, then, that, as images of a future
in which Arabs and Muslims can come to
accept the Jewish state fade from Israeli
consciousness, the rationale for violence
also changes. Instead of being conceived
as a persuasive instrument in service of
political or diplomatic aims, force against
Arabs and Muslims is increasingly treated
as a kind of rattonade. This was the term
used to characterize the French practice in
Algeria of entering casbahs and other
Muslim quarters, killing inhabitants, and
then quickly returning to European areas or
bases. Its literal meaning is "rat hunt."
More generally, it refers to a violent strike
against the enemy "on the other side of the
wall" for purposes of punishment, destruction
and psychological release....
Israel, of course, is the only survivor in
this list [of outposts of European settlement].Counting from the state's establishment,
it is almost 60 years old. Counting
from the first arrival of Zionist settlers
in Palestine, it is 125 years old — compared
to almost two hundred years for the
Crusaders; about 80 years for the white
version of the Union, then Republic, of
South Africa; 120 years for French Algeria;
and 34 years for independent (white)
Rhodesia. Israel's biggest challenge,
indeed the biggest challenge facing Zionism
and its descendants, is to escape the fate
of all other polities falling within this
category. Can Israel do what no other
country in this category has done —
establish itself as a commonsensical,
naturalized, and presumptively permanent
feature of a non-European landscape?
The argument set forth here has
been that Israel and Jewish Israelis are
deep into the process of abandoning any
image of the state or of themselves as part
of the Middle East. Instead of hoping to
transform Arab/Muslim attitudes toward
the Jewish state by a pedagogy of force
followed by diplomacy (the Iron Wall
strategy), or of transforming the cultural
content of the region via modernization
cum Westernization, Israelis are seeking
isolation or escape....
[I]t may be noted that in each of the modern cases of
failed European fragments, international
pariah status preceded the polity's demise.
There is ample evidence that Israel is
assuming this image..
Certainly it is
true that some Arab regimes continue to
express their willingness to sign peace
treaties with Israel. But in a region whose
deepest and strongest political sentiments
are those of religion, it would seem that, if
democracy does take hold in the Middle
East, it may simply accelerate the rise to
power of forces unwilling to accept Israel
as a long-term partner in the future of the
[If] Israelis are so disconnected from Middle
Eastern realities as to have lost the empathy
with Palestinians necessary to convince
them that negotiations will lead to a satisfying
outcome, and if Arabs and Muslims in
the Middle East are as intransigently hostile
to Israel as most Israelis believe them to
be, then, in effect, a two-state solution has
been rendered impossible. This is not
because of the oft-discussed supposed
impossibility of actually establishing a
Palestinian state next to Israel (Hamas, for
its part, is perfectly ready to accept one as
a prelude to a 20-year lull in the battle.).
The impossibility of a the two-state solution
hangs, instead, on the question of whether
the belief in the rationale behind it —
achieving some semblance of a comprehensively
stable and peaceful end to the
Arab-Israeli dispute — will have vanished
from inside Israeli political life. Why
should Israelis tear themselves to pieces to
produce a state that will satisfy the Pales
tinians if they come to believe that the rest
of the Middle East hates Israel more than
they care for the Palestinians?
...Having abandoned the Iron Wall,
Israelis are increasingly confused and even
distraught about the future. Yet they face
a stark choice: engagement with the real
Middle East and the demands it makes
upon Israel for justice, democracy and
territory, or escape from it.
The danger for the Jewish state is that, given the choice between convincing Middle Easterners that Israel can be a good neighbor and leaving the neighborhood, more and more Israelis are attracted to the latter...
Most unsettling of all is the interaction between two logical but mutually reinforcing trends. Israelis are embracing coercive and unilateralist policies that destroy whatever is left of its
image as a potential good neighbor. Arabs and Muslims can be expected to treat signs
of Jewish abandonment of the region as encouragement to forget any inclination
they may still have to make peace with the Jews rather than wait them out....