A lawyer I once knew said the whole thing left her cold, because "They all think they have God's telephone number."” An incisive remark, I thought at the time.
However . . . it'’s somehow fascinating, if only because it seems to generate far more press than Darfur, or AIDS in Africa, or Burma, or anywhere else that human disasters occur.
It seemed to me, however, that before commenting on the day-to-day events I ought to sort out what my basic assumptions were about the dispute. When I originally drafted this post, the crisis was limited to Gaza. Since I first drafted it, a war has broken out. Time, it seems, to post these as some kind of starting point, even if I end up revising them later.
- 19th Century Zionism was an important, but minority movement among the Jews. Essentially, it was a form of secular nationalism. Until Lenin and Stalin came along, the dominant political trend among European Jews was ethnic socialism (the Bund), but not separatism.
- Jewish nationalism is no better and no worse than any other. It was complicated not only by the interpenetration of peoples, the bane of post-World War II "self-determination,"” but by the fact that Jews were in no significant territory a majority.
- The Nazi slaughter in Europe, in which much of Europe collaborated, changed things. Although the Palestinian Arabs had little to do with the slaughter, except for cheerleading by the Grant Mufti of Jerusalem, for a variety of reasons Palestine became the destination of choice for many of the survivors. Perhaps Ahmadinejad is right, and a piece of Germany should have been ethnically cleansed and given to the survivors, but it didn'’t happen.
- It's hard to find within Judaism or Christianity any religious basis for a return of the Jews to Palestine, before the Messiah comes. The Bible stories are symbolically important to the formation of modern Israel, but the claimed religious basis for Zionism is a weak one.
- The creation of Israel was by settlement (mostly technically legal), conquest and exchange of populations. It was not particularly just, but no worse than many other national stories. These concepts may violate the scruples of the politically correct, but there are many recent precedents, such as the exchange of Greeks in Turkey for Muslims in Greece in the '‘20s, the expulsion of the Germans from Western Poland and the Sudetenland, the exodus of Muslims from Indian and Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan in the 1940'’s, the partition of Cyprus between Greeks and Turks, and the fracturing of the former Yugoslavia. Such events have accompanied the creation of nations in the last century often enough to set a pattern; certainly the institution of a general rule that all such exchanges must be undone would wreak untold havoc. Moreover, without a strong, reactive military, the Israelis would be very dead.
- In this regard, what amounts to the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands to Israel after 1948 falls into the pattern. As long as the return of the heirs of the ancient Jewish community of Iraq to Baghdad, Samarra and Falluja is a non-starter, a mass return of Palestinians to Israel is equally implausible.
- The claim in pro-Israel propaganda that Israel is the one democracy in the Middle East is both exaggerated and largely beside the point. Even if Israel were run autocratically by some colonel, it has established its existence by right of conquest and population exchange, and there is now a distinct population that has a home there.
- With the exception of Jordan, the Arab régimes have used the Palestinians to divert attention from their many other problems, while refusing to do the right thing and admit the Palestinians to citizenship and allow them to live normal lives.
- The US gives more money and support to Israel than our national interests warrant. Among the reasons are the political influence of pro-Israel forces, largely but not entirely Jewish, in the US, mostly exercised legally.
- The Palestinian leadership has shown itself to be stupid, venal, and devious. The Israeli leadership has generally been fairly clever and effectively cynical, especially on the settlement issue, although the case can be made that the post-1967 settlement policy has caused more problems than it has solved. The branches of each society most hostile to compromise have regularly managed to help each other out. Suicide bombing elected Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon'’s Temple Mount pilgrimage gave Arafat an excuse to start the intifada.
- The conventional wisdom about demography is wrong. There are fewer Palestinians than people think, and Palestine is undergoing the demographic transition. The Palestinian population is not about to overwhelm the Jewish.
- If all Israel were moved to Brighton Beach, extremist Islam would not be dissuaded. The Palestine question is an excuse, not an explanation, for the existence and activity of Al Qaeda and its kindred movements.
- It may be that the Israelis are unpleasant as a rule, and the French diplomat who unkindly called it a "shitty little country" may be right. Palestinian terrorism and propaganda are disgusting. None of this matters. Neither people should be murdered, terrorized, or driven from their homes.
- It may also be the case that there is no good solution. No one'’s come up with one in 58 years. The Muslim world can look to the history of the Crusades to support an expectation that sooner or later the infidels will depart or become dhimmis.