Middle East in Turmoil
Few articles about the uprising in Egypt were more infuriating than Thomas Friedman’s column in this week’s New York Times. Titled B.E., Before Egypt. A.E., After Egypt, Mr. Friedman argues that Israel should not be perturbed by the upheaval in Egypt, and now, of all times, grab the opportunity to make peace with the Palestinian Authority!
You heard that right. Amidst this erupting storm, he asserts that Israel should simply ignore the spreading agitation, and strike a deal with the Palestinians. In his own poetic words:
“This is a perilous time for Israel, and its anxiety is understandable. But I fear Israel could make its situation even more perilous if it succumbs to the argument one hears from a number of senior Israeli officials today that the events in Egypt prove that Israel can’t make a lasting peace with the Palestinians. It’s wrong and dangerous….
“To put it bluntly, if Israelis tell themselves that Egypt’s unrest proves why Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinian Authority, then they will be talking themselves into becoming an apartheid state — they will be talking themselves into permanently absorbing the West Bank and thereby laying the seeds for an Arab majority ruled by a Jewish minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
Imagine this scene: Your home, say, in the suburbs of Westchester, is surrounded by sworn enemies who don’t want you there. But you have encircled your home with powerful defenses, to protect you from your hostile neighbors. Your strong walls repel the enemy, and even when they do breach it from time to time, you have enough firepower and ingenuity to defeat them. Indeed, after several enemy incursions you came away with some extra land buffering you from your neighboring enemies.
Why you continue to live among enemies and don’t move away to friendlier pastures is another story. But you have resolve and fortitude to remain just where you are, despite the menaces around you.
One fine day, one of your adversarial neighbors, calculating that a peaceful approach may work better than war, approaches you offering his hand in peace. In return all he wants is the land you conquered from him in defending yourself against his attack.
You agree. Peace is achieved. Or so it seems. What happened to all this neighbor’s previous animosity? Did it just disappear? Did his entire family – and large family – all suddenly covert to being your friends?
Absolutely not. The only thing that changed was that this particular neighbor, defying the resistance of his family and all his other neighbors, felt that for the time being a peace treaty with you served his interests better than going to war. And it didn’t hurt – perhaps this was even the primary motivation – that a wealthy financier in a distant land contributed 1.7 billion dollars to his coffers, basically buying him the power he needed to remain in control, despite his many local detractors.
Some 30 years passed. The peace held. But the ferment did not. Indeed, the powerful leader, fattened by the riches bestowed upon him, creating an artificial sense of normalcy, became corrupt and the hatred of his people to him only grew. Until finally the bubble burst and the dissent erupted into the streets, calling for his head.
Suddenly, in one fell swoop the entire perceived equilibrium was exposed to be nothing but a veneer, coated and cushioned by billions of dollars, which did nothing to change the hostility of your neighbors to you.
Given, you had 30 years of peace from this particular neighbor, and did not have to concentrate your energy and defenses to this border. But overnight you realized that nothing had fundamentally changed. Your enemy remained your sworn enemy. And to boot, you had given up your buffer – miles and miles of land that could serve as a deterrent, which you cannot reclaim.
As volatility spreads around you, you are left dazed. What will happen now that this so-called friendly neighbor turns on you?
Meanwhile, during these three decades, your other neighbors weren’t sleeping. They built up their forces and new voices emerged clawing at your walls, clamoring for a piece of you.
But, never fear. Pundits and writers from lands afar assure you – from the comforts of their suburban living rooms – that these neighbors are sincere in their quest of peace. Never mind that they were and many of them remain your mortal enemies. Never mind that every Friday their imams spew hatred and venom against you and your family. Never mind that many of them refuse to recognize your legitimacy. Never mind that of all times, now we see the profound instability of your neighbors’ governance, clearly signaling how nothing can be relied on or predicted in this region.
Forget all that, tell us our Western peace-loving friends, and just make peace with whoever is willing to give you the honor of taking a piece of your property!
The problem with these writers is that they see the world through the distant lens of wealth and modernity, completely clueless – or if we were benevolent, putting on a good act of making themselves intentionally oblivious – to the sworn enemies swarming around you.
In their naïve and condescending minds, the Western secular model – shaped by the Enlightenment (emphasis on the world light, as opposed to the dark Middle Ages) – will prevail over (what they consider to be) the primitive religious passions of the Muslim world. Never mind, that there are only 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and it remains the fastest growing religion on the globe, quickly overwhelming Europe.
I submit that it’s not just about naivette. This particular writer is invested in his own position, and as is common among strong-headed and arrogant thinkers, whose minds have also swelled beyond proportion due to their success as best selling authors, instead of seeing reality and acknowledging mistakes, he digs further in. In addition, he so despises the religious right who insist on their Biblical rights to their land, with Messianic aspirations, that he cannot see clearly even when his own family is being mugged.
Moreover, he and most of his Western colleagues are unaware – perhaps due to lack of real exposure to on-the-ground realities – of the powerful religious passions of these neighbors. Their faith sees you as a profane and heretical intruder – like an open gnash wound – amidst their holy lands. As long as your home exists, their homes are compromised.
And no amount of iphones, computer technology, McDonald burgers and Coca Cola will change this fact. For 99% of your neighbors – despite many of them undoubtedly being peace loving – religious faith is far more important than peace. If they were not afraid of losing a war with you or were not subdued by a few wealthy leaders, they would turn on you in a flash – as an infidel desecrating their sacred space.
If anything, your unstable neighbor has proven that you cannot trust any illusion of stability around you. Thus, the need to be even more fearful of “peace treaties” with other neighbors.
Now, he tries to make the point that if you do not make peace with these close neighbors, you will be stuck with becoming an apartheid state — “permanently absorbing the West Bank and thereby laying the seeds for an Arab majority ruled by a Jewish minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”
First of all, even if that were true – which it surely isn’t – the alternative is far worse. Your neighbors don’t want you there. They never did and never will. Yes, they will sign a peace treaty with you to get what they can now. But who is to assure that the same thing won’t happen with them that happened to your neighbor to your west?!
Especially considering that there are many other neighbors who are invested in your elimination, and will not rest until they incite and turn all your neighbors against you (even those that are neutral), and silence those that want to live with you in peace.
Second, the apartheid argument (which has become so popular) is simply groundless and based on a patently false premise. Before the early 60’s there was no such entity called “Palestinians.” Indeed, in March 1977 the Dutch newspaper Trouw published an interview with Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Zahir Muhsein, who said: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
If so, did anyone ever consider the option that Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and other surrounding Arab countries should be compelled to absorb their own brethren – just as Israel absorbed the over 1 million Jews expelled from Arab lands after 1948?! If you want to prevent apartheid – and the mingling of nations at odds with each others – why shouldn’t the Arab countries welcome with open arms their own brothers and sisters?! Why is it incumbent on Israel to absorb them?
As wise people, why doesn’t anyone consider – starting with the self-proclaimed expert on the issues, Mr. Friedman – that perhaps this whole Palestinian state thing is a ploy to simply gain a stronger foothold in and around Israel. And one day, this will help serve as a springboard for the conquest of Israel.
And this is not some theory. Most if not all Israel’s neighbors are at best openly tolerant of Israel (behind the scenes is another story) and at worst, call for its destruction and will do everything to mobilize all the neighbors toward that cause. Any semblance of order and restraint is either due to the large sums coming from the US sugarcoating the deep unrest in lands like Egypt, or from a small number of wealthy leaders in Saudi Arabia controlling their citizens.
The underlying combustion cannot be contained forever, no matter how much money and oil swathe the region in layers of denial and delusion. We now are witnessing this festering agitation surfacing, and it will surely ripple through the Middle East with unpredictable results.
This is the sad history – and true nature – of this region. And no matter how many columns Mr. Friedman writes and how many books he sells, this tragic reality will not change.
Mr. Friedman is invested in teaching us that the world is flat, and increasingly shrinking as our global economies become so enmeshed, and our social networks connecting us all, effectively turning everything international local.
But wake up and smell the coffee, my friend: The world – especially when it comes to religious passions – is quite round.
So, what then is the solution to the fermenting Middle East? What is Israel – that sliver of land surrounded by hundreds of millions of hostile neighbors – to do amidst all the storms thundering around it?
Stay tuned for part two of this article.