Edition 14 Volume 6 - April 03, 2008
Doomsday? The predictions of Israel's impending demise
Israel and the Islamist prototype -
Israel is one of the main sources of radicalism in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
On our legitimacy and viability -
If you can acquiesce in what the Kurds in Iraq have accomplished, you must accept Israel.
Israel has no future -
an interview withYehya Mousa
Israel cannot continue to exist as a Jewish state.
Real sanctions will cool off the ayatollahs -
The international community's weakness is revealed in all its shame when it comes to Iran.
Israel and the Islamist prototype
Largely unconsciously, Israel has become one of the main sources of radicalism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. I am emphasizing that this may be unintentional because the very idea of Israel as an exclusively Jewish entity has served as a rallying point for a whole range of partially violent movements, from the socialist "lefties" to the Islamist "jihadist". In other words, this radical opposition to the "Zionist" ideal at the heart of Israel would be out there irrespective of the actions of the state.
Of course, Israel's self-identification with the "West" (i.e. western Europe and the United States) and its Machiavellian power politics toward the "East" (i.e. the Arab and Islamic worlds) have not been conducive to its intellectual and political integration into West Asia and North Africa. But one tends to concur with Jacqueline Rose when she writes in The Question of Zion, that "'Zionism' has always felt itself under threat and often for good reason." The idea of Israel--its foundational myths, its exclusionary tenor, its us-versus-them taxonomy--has been rejected by the region from the outset.
Within such a context, "hard" power politics has been the only way to address Israel's apparent "legitimacy dilemma" vis-a-vis its neighbors. Israeli decision-makers have never made a secret out of this strategy. It is discernable from Ben-Gurion's admission that the early Zionists were far from benevolent toward the Palestinians; Yitzak Shamir's statement that "neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat"; in the language of Berl Katznelson, the major theorist of Labor Zionism, who declared in 1929 that the "Zionist enterprise is an enterprise of conquest" and that "it is by no chance that I use military terms when speaking of settlement"; and the poems of Yosef Brenner (1905): "Hear O Israel! Not an eye for an eye! Two eyes for one, and all their teeth for any kind of humiliation!"
There is no suggestion here that there were no opposing views. But no serious historian of Israel, certainly not critical ones such as Shlomo Zand, Haim Gerber, Avi Shlaim or Ilan Pappe, would deny that systematic violence was instrumental to the consolidation of Israeli power in Palestine between 1947 and 1948 and that it was deemed necessary to sustain the infant Israeli state during recurring periods of crisis thereafter. This violence, which has ruled over the ordering of Palestine, led to seven inter-state wars, numerous acts of terrorism on both sides and caused Jenin and Sabra and Shatila, that same violence has been taken over and reified by the "natives", by the people who populate the region into which the idea of Israel has been implanted.
It is in this sense that Israel has produced the "Islamist" prototype, i.e. the Nasrallahs and Haniyehs of this world and why I have started with the assertion that Israel is one of the main sources of radicalism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. One could say that the Cain of Israel's self has given birth to its own offspring: Hamas in reaction to the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories and Hizballah in reaction to the violent invasion of Lebanon in 1982. These movements could not function politically or mobilize their constituencies ideologically without the Israeli enemy image. To my mind, this is why both Hamas and Hizballah are never exterior in relation to Israeli aggressions; why none of them can escape the other's reach. They are captured within one dialectic. This explains why the sustained attacks on Hizballah in 2006 triggered Palestinian counterattacks in the occupied territories and why the recent bombardment of Gaza increased the support for Hamas throughout the Muslim world. It also explains why the rightwing factions surrounding Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinezhad intend to keep Iranians in a perpetual state of alert about Israel's policies, in Palestine and in the wider West Asian area. Indeed, who would talk about Ahmedinezhad today if it were not for his infamous rant about the foundational myths of the Israeli state?
In today's "Middle East" there is quite literally no intellectual and geographic "territory" that Jews, Turks, Iranians, Palestinians, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Copts, Kurds etc., could claim for themselves in total independence of the other. It is within this constellation that any effort to define Israel along exclusive religious/ethnic lines can only be sustained behind "security fences" and barbwire. It is irrational to define a country in contrast to the region it is embedded in, unless, of course, the whole region is recoded culturally, politically and ideologically to suit the preferences of the Israeli state and its US chaperone. But aren't more and more radical movements with global outreach opposing this type of politics? Aren't they now (as opposed to 30 years ago) in command of whole bureaucracies, institutions, media outlets and communication channels to propagate their views? Haven't the internet and satellite television made it that much harder to monopolize public opinion, both nationally and internationally?
In 1948, Israel self-consciously placed itself in a region that existed without it for several millennia. Thus, it inevitably entered into a relationship of immanent interdependence. It must follow quite logically that the country shares a common fate with the peoples of the region and that it cannot continue to narrate and produce itself without them. The old guard, generations and generations of decision-makers, court historians and embedded activists have failed to make the intellectual case for an exclusive Jewish state, tied to the "western" narrative culturally and intellectually. If they haven't convinced the rational majority, how can they win the argument against the violent extremists?
Hence, it remains the responsibility of critical intellectuals to deconstruct seemingly primordial identities all the way down to their foundations, to the ideational residues that are so very different from the cocktail of myths, inventions and utter lies presented to us on a daily basis. In relation to Israel, the "new historians" have begun this endeavor and Palestinian intellectuals have long been engaged in a similar project. Other Arabs and Muslims, especially Iranians and Turks have been slower, partially because they are too often caught up in nationalist exaltation or one-dimensional religious constructions. The struggle for sustainable peace in Palestine as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, can only evolve out of a new intellectualism, a critical consciousness that fosters protests against the crimes of governments and their enforcers amongst us. This is a common endeavor and it is about time that we provide it with an equally common historical archive.- Published 3/4/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is author of "A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations" (Hurst & Columbia U. Press).
On our legitimacy and viability
Most Israelis--at least 80 percent of the country's population and 95 percent of its large Jewish majority--can't decide whether to be amused, upset or satisfied with the region's Ahmadinezhads and Nasrallahs when they assert that our country is illegitimate and will soon go out of business.
Amused, because we've been hearing this insulting and misguided argument for 60 years and today we enjoy more peace and prosperity and generate more creative energies than ever before. Upset, because these militant Islamist leaders are dead serious about trying to make good on their prediction. And satisfied, because in this our sixtieth year of independence and after countless Arab-Israel wars, not a single Arab state leader any longer echoes this extreme rhetoric.
In commenting on these doomsday proclamations--one can hardly dignify them with a specific reply--three issues seem particularly pertinent: international legitimacy, viability and the status of the Kurds of northern Iraq.
First, international legitimacy. The state of Israel enjoys more such legitimacy than most countries in the world. The Balfour Declaration was ratified by the League of Nations; the state itself was created by the United Nations. Very few existing states were brought into being by the reigning world bodies--the acknowledged custodians of international law. Anyone calling for Israel's demise is thus directly violating the very "international legitimacy" that he/she usually claims to be upholding.
Yes, Israel has violated some international laws--as has just about every other country. And yes, the United Nations that created us has at times turned its back on us under the pressure of an automatic anti-Israel majority among its membership. Then too, there are Israelis and Israel supporters who prefer to base Israel's right to exist solely on ancient history, religious writ or the Holocaust--all telling and highly persuasive arguments insofar as we are indeed a much-persecuted people living in its historic native land, but arguments that catalyze weighty counter-arguments on the part of our detractors. And there is the Islamist assertion that the land we dwell on is sacred Muslim land that will not tolerate a non-Muslim sovereignty, no matter what the UN says.
So we can't convince everybody. But we are actually more "legitimate" than most sovereign states.
Second, viability. Israelis complain a lot, squabble and criticize one another a great deal--indeed, to a highly exaggerated extent. Don't mistake these characteristics for weakness. Rather, they signal the inner strength of a people that is constantly querying its direction and searching for something better. When we don't like our leaders--political or military--we replace them. When our policies don't work, we replace them too until we get it more or less right. We are united in believing the Jewish people has a right to a state of its own, yet in the name of freedom of expression we have produced a few eloquent post-Zionist and anti-Zionist academics and artists who provide endless grist for the mill of our enemies.
Sometimes, as in the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006, we muddle through rather inelegantly. But we muddle through. Recently, most of us have concluded that our settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza threatens to compromise the Jewish nature of our state and that our Palestinian neighbors also deserve a state. We dismantled the settlements in Gaza and we'll do the same in most of the West Bank. We won't allow ourselves to be trapped by either demography or geography.
Sixty years ago, the skeptics, naysayers, Jew-haters and fanatics could at least make a case that the newborn state of Israel was not viable. Then, we survived against the odds. But today?
Finally, the Kurds. The achievements of the Kurds of northern Iraq are very relevant to the issue of Israel's legitimacy and viability. The Kurdish semi-independent entity in Iraq is the second instance in modern history of a non-Arab people, after generations of persecution and dispersion, asserting its right to national self-determination in its historic homeland in the Middle East heartland with the approval of the international community. The first instance is Israel.
If you can acquiesce in what the Kurds in Iraq have accomplished, you must accept Israel. If you can't, that's okay too as long as you leave us alone. But if you insist on predicting our imminent demise and trying to make it happen, then know that you are swimming against the tide of history, legitimacy and justice. And that we and all the other decent people in the world will stop you.-Published 3/4/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.net family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Israel has no future
an interview with Yehya Mousa
BI: There have been several assertions to the effect that "Israel will be destroyed" from Hamas. Is this rhetoric for domestic consumption or is it serious commentary?
Mousa: This is the consensus among those who share the Islamist ideology. It is no mere rhetoric.
BI: What makes this the consensus?
Mousa: The birth of Israel was an abnormal one. It took place in the wrong place and at the wrong time. The continued existence of Israel is not based on peaceful co-existence, it is based on an aggressive colonialist ideology intended to compel other countries in the region to accept it. Israel is not capable of co-habiting with others.
Israel will cease to exist because it cannot depend on itself for the necessary steadfastness as a state but must depend on others. Should there be any dramatic change in the international order, Israel will no longer have this support. Israel is expensive to maintain and unsustainable in the long run. Finally, Israel cannot adequately secure itself, as has already been shown.
Moreover, the current crop of Israeli leaders is simply not as qualified as the old leaders, who knew how to run the country. Today's Israeli leaders are running Israel into the ground, whether because they fail to manage the ideological rift between the secular and religious, or because they allowed a massive non-Jewish immigration to Israel from Russia, which is tearing at the social fabric. There are tens of factors indicating that Israel is nearing its end.
BI: When you say Israel is coming to an end, what do you mean? Will Israel be destroyed in war? Is it Israel's future as a Jewish state that is at stake?
Mousa: It is the existence of Israel as a Jewish state that will end. Here I am not talking from any religious perspective or about Judaism, I mean that the political entity we now know as Israel and that was established in a classic colonialist way will vanish.
Demography will play the key role here, in addition to economy. As I said, without international funding, Israel alone does not have the resources to maintain itself. In addition, as the demographic balance changes in Israel, Israel will either become an apartheid state where the minority rules the majority, a situation that will always be unsustainable, or, if democratic principles are applied, the Palestinian community will eventually become dominant. Either way, Israel cannot continue to exist as a Jewish state.
BI: There seems to be a contradiction in at the same time predicting the end of Israel and calling for a ceasefire. How would you resolve this?
Mousa: No, there is no contradiction. The conflict is a long one and it will not be finished in one round. The struggle goes through peaks and troughs and a ceasefire doesn't necessarily end the conflict but might simply be a stage. It is not possible, in this small area, to integrate two states alongside each other.
BI: Hamas in particular has suffered international isolation partly as a result of its language on Israel. Would it not be more prudent to be more careful with how words are used?
Mousa: The isolation of Hamas is not related to its rhetoric but to its insistence on maintaining and protecting Palestinian rights. When the PLO insisted on Palestinian rights, it too was listed as a "terrorist" organization. It is only when the PLO agreed to recognize Israel that the PLO became "acceptable". We all saw what happened to Yasser Arafat when, after recognizing Israel, he still insisted on Palestinian rights.
This is a global problem. It is not only in Palestine, but anywhere that if you analyze Israel objectively and dare to criticize the country you will immediately be labeled an anti-Semite.-Published 3/4/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Yehya Mousa is a Hamas legislator from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.
Real sanctions will cool off the ayatollahs
In the previous decade, toward the end of the twentieth century, it appeared for a moment as if the world had learned a lesson and was becoming a better place: no more war crimes and crimes against humanity without the criminals being brought to justice; no more cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing without the murderers paying a price for their deeds. But in the last few years we have become wiser; the shortcomings of the international community are increasingly obvious in Darfur, Tibet, Burma and other God-forsaken places. Perhaps instead of "shortcomings" we had best say: too many vested interests; too many profit and loss calculations.
The international community's weakness is revealed in all its shame when it comes to Iran and that country's nuclear option, which is slowly but surely taking shape. Iran's provocative policy is unusual in its severity: there are many conflicts and confrontations in the world, but no other country save Iran is threatening the destruction of another country.
It is doubtful whether there really is a military option--American, Israeli or combined--for destroying Iran's concealed, dispersed and well protected nuclear installations. But even if there were, the war in Iraq has effectively eliminated it. The American military's strength has been exhausted in Iraq and Afghanistan and the leading superpower has no force left to devote to a particularly dangerous third front; this is perhaps the greatest damage done by the Bush-Cheney adventure in Iraq, where after five years there is no end in sight. The United States may be stuck in Iraq for years to come, regardless of who the next president is. And Israel may end up as the main victim of that adventure, just as Saddam Hussein had hoped before he himself was eliminated.
The principal actors responsible for the weakness of the international community are Russia and China. But they are not alone. Were the nations of the world to really seek to stop Iran's nuclear program they could do so without firing a single cruise missile. But the global community is apparently not all that willing, insofar as stopping Iran comes at a high cost. For a period of time, oil prices may rise yet further beyond their current record levels. Even western leaders might prefer to risk a bomb in the future rather than monstrously expensive oil in the present. Oil drives people crazy, particularly if they are world leaders. It was oil that caused the American president and vice-president to launch the Iraq war and it is oil that now prevents them and their colleagues from removing the bomb from the stalls of the Persian market.
International sanctions are a very efficient tool for dealing with "crazy states" and "leper states", particularly when those states' leaders are only pretending to be crazy. Sanctions have already proven their efficacy in North Korea, Libya and Iraq itself--if only they had been given a chance; if only Bush had waited and allowed them to do their job before launching his holy war. Isn't it strange that thus far not a single truly painful and serious economic sanction has been leveled against Iran?
Here are some sample warning and punitive steps. Iran may be one of the largest producers of oil but it is a big consumer of refined petroleum products that it does not itself produce. One can only imagine what would happen in that country, which in any case suffers from serious domestic problems, were it to be denied refinery products in one fell swoop. Iran is also a huge importer of car parts. Within a single month, traffic could be brought to a total halt throughout the country. Iranian officials and businessmen travel the world to negotiate, buy and sell; why not send them all home? Unrest would only increase at home, while President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and his ayatollahs would lose their urge to act crazy.
The West fears Iranian retaliation. But Iran's capacity to react is limited if not negligible. What would it do? Stop exporting oil? Oil is its principal source of income, its sole source of support; without oil sales it cannot exist. What could the ayatollahs do? Splash around in a sea of oil? Drink it? More likely they would prefer to dispense with Ahmadinezhad and his nuclear policy rather than lose their regime.
Conceivably even the sanctions might be superfluous were Iran to become convinced that the intention to impose them is serious. The threat alone might suffice for the uranium enrichment centrifuges to be taken out and dumped. But Iran has learned thus far from experience that the threats are empty; it knows the international community is a tiger that, once it smells oil and big business deals, loses its sense of direction and particularly its sense of responsibility.
The global community is hesitating and real sanctions are lagging, but it is still not too late. To all those who fear a spiraling rise in oil prices we say: a nuclear-armed Iran can in any case play with oil prices at will, raising and lowering them, but by that time it will be far more difficult to bring it down to earth. There is today no more serious threat to the earth than the marriage of extremist fundamentalism in the mosque with a bomb in the basement.- Published 3/4/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org
Yossi Sarid was a member of Knesset, minister of education and minister of the environment. He is currently an author, columnist at Haaretz daily newspaper and lecturer in national security at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.