Thursday, January 13, 2005

Is Israel to Blame for Anti-Americanism?

One of the main criticisms made of the Bush Administration's Middle East policy is its alleged neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The critics, who subscribe to what Victor Davis Hanson has aptly termed the "therapeutic view" of terrorism, argue that American support for Israel is one of the main causes of Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism. If the Palestinian issue is resolved, this argument goes, such sentiments will be greatly reduced. Former CIA officer turned author/pundit Michael Scheuer is an especially enthusiastic proponent of this notion.

Are Scheuer and the other critics right? Would achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace, let alone eliminating the Jewish state, help mitigate the problems of the Arab world and make America less hated in that region? In a piece in the January/February 2005 issue of Foreign Policy, Josef Joffe examines what "A World Without Israel" would look like, and finds that almost nothing would change:

Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it causes.

As Joffe correctly notes, "Israel is a pretext, not a cause, and therefore its dispatch will not heal the self-inflicted wounds of the Arab-Islamic world." He then gets to the heart of the matter:

Can anybody proclaim in good conscience that these dysfunctionalities of the Arab world would vanish along with Israel? Two U.N. “Arab Human Development Reports,” written by Arab authors, say no. The calamities are homemade. Stagnation and hopelessness have three root causes. The first is lack of freedom. The United Nations cites the persistence of absolute autocracies, bogus elections, judiciaries beholden to executives, and constraints on civil society. Freedom of expression and association are also sharply limited. The second root cause is lack of knowledge: Sixty-five million adults are illiterate, and some 10 million children have no schooling at all. As such, the Arab world is dropping ever further behind in scientific research and the development of information technology. Third, female participation in political and economic life is the lowest in the world. Economic growth will continue to lag as long as the potential of half the population remains largely untapped.

Will all of this right itself when that Judeo-Western insult to Arab pride finally vanishes? Will the millions of unemployed and bored young men, cannon fodder for the terrorists, vanish as well—along with one-party rule, corruption, and closed economies? This notion makes sense only if one cherishes single-cause explanations or, worse, harbors a particular animus against the Jewish state and its refusal to behave like Sweden. (Come to think of it, Sweden would not be Sweden either if it lived in the Hobbesian world of the Middle East.)

Finally, Joffe addresses whether the end of Israel would reduce anti-American sentiments in the Islamic world:

To begin, the notion that 5 million Jews are solely responsible for the rage of 1 billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assigned to it. Second, Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the U.S.-managed coup that restored the shah’s rule in Tehran in 1953, or the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As soon as Britain and France left the Middle East, the United States became the dominant power and the No. 1 target. Another bit of suggestive evidence is that the fiercest (unofficial) anti-Americanism emanates from Washington’s self-styled allies in the Arab Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Is this situation because of Israel—or because it is so convenient for these regimes to “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels” (as Shakespeare’s Henry IV put it) to distract their populations from their dependence on the “Great Satan”?

As Joffe sums things up, "the real source of Arab angst is the West as a palpable symbol of misery and an irresistible target of what noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami has called 'Arab rage.'" This rage, as historian Bernard Lewis has shown, is the result of decades if not centuries of historical development. Yes, many in the Middle East hate American policies, including our support for Israel, but they do so because their view of our policies is shaped by a distinct cultural, religious, and ideological worldview in which America and the West are seen as the source of all problems. Remember, for example, that al-Qaeda had no shortage of recruits in the late 1990's, a period of relative calm between Israel and the Palestinians.

Make no mistake: a genuine, lasting peace between Israel and a democratic Palestine would be a very good thing. However, forcing Israel into an ill-advised agreement with a Palestinian state still bent on 'driving the Jews into the sea", or even abandoning Israel altogether, would gain the United States nothing. We would make few friends, and earn little except contempt for our weakness.


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