|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
22 - 28 February 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
A state of division
The clamour caused by Sharon's election is a tad overblown. Vociferous reactions were in evidence not only from Arab governments, media and public, but also in Europe and the US, where the strongest responses came from Jewish organisations. Many have noticed that the Israeli left spearheaded the Sharon scare campaign. Barak and his allies thought that focusing on Sharon's 50-year record of crimes against the Arabs would encourage Arab and European capitals as well as Washington to pressure Palestinians with Israeli citizenship into giving their votes to Barak. As part of this scenario, the Palestinian Authority was also required to send delegates to meetings in Taba and Eilat, where they could pose for photos with members of Barak's government, smiling reassuringly and announcing that an agreement acceptable to both sides was imminent. The farce was too ridiculous, however, and the actors artificial and nervous. The lines they fed to the media were weak and incoherent, and the audience on both Arab and Israeli sides seemed disinterested. Despite a high-ranking and well reputed cast, Taba was a first-class fiasco.
Even after Sharon was firmly established at the helm, however, the scare campaign played on, and the peace process was to suffer yet another setback prompted by the fall of the Israeli government. Three of the four or five leaders who have ruled Israel during the past decade have been military men. One was physically eliminated by an Israeli, while another was assassinated politically by Israeli voters who rallied, by an unprecedented majority vote, to remove him from office and from the political scene. The third, Sharon, is a man whose personality mirrors every nuance of Israeli society. Israel is not the only state in the history of Western democracies to vote -- in free elections -- for a leader whose thoughts are contaminated with racist ideas and whose hands are soiled with the blood of victims of racial discrimination. For him, human rights are the rights of a chosen few, a racial and religious elite. The rights of others, their blood, their land, their property and even their lives can be violated. Modern history, particularly during the twentieth century, when fascism, nazism and communism rose to power in the West, shows ample precedent for this kind of phenomenon.
In the modern history of Europe, nations that chose wretched leaders in free elections were invariably in the throes of a crisis. The Israeli people are living through just such a crisis, triggered by fundamental issues. Its causes, contrary to what many analysts in Egypt and the Arab world believe, are almost entirely unrelated to the question of peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs in general; nor is peace a more divisive issue than any other in Israel. I see the question of peace as a symptom of the crisis rather than a prime cause, however. The question of peace with the Arabs has been postponed systematically for the past century, passed down from one prophet of Israel to the next. None was able to face the issue at the right time, not even when efforts were mobilised to create a state from the very absence of the components necessary for state-building. The land itself was seized from its owners in bits and pieces, through wars, massacres and expulsion.
I disagree with analysts who claim that Israel is today a full-fledged nation state. It lacks the trappings of statehood, both in form, since it has no fixed, recognised borders, and in content -- witness its failure to establish a coherent identity in place of its incongruous Zionist, Jewish and Israeli personae. Furthermore, it lacks the essential elements of a state: the specification of national objectives, the internal means of reproducing and increasing its population, and mechanisms for resolving the conflict between competing definitions of Israel as religion, legend or history, and Israel as a state or as a cultural identity in the making.
The members of Israel's political elite lack neither intelligence nor political clout, yet so far they have failed to define Israel's place in the world. They often act as though it had the right to be above other countries. It is the only state that can object to domestic laws enacted by any state in Europe, and can prosecute states, scholars, ordinary people, corporations or any movement whatsoever, thus assuming sovereignty over nations and individuals alike, wherever they may happen to be.
As long as the requirements of statehood are not met, Israel will remain as it is today, largely unfulfilled. Relations between its rulers and the Palestinians have revealed the deep deficiencies in its structure. For example, peace as an issue addressed by means of direct political relations has raised the question of Israel's status as an ordinary state; yet it has striven to impose its superiority in relations with Arab countries. This arrogance, in turn, has aroused resentment consistently on the Arabs' part.
Like Israel's leaders in the '90s, Sharon was not voted in to fulfill his forefathers' prophecies, but only to protect his compatriots during the new diaspora that is taking place within Israel itself. Once again, however, the voters have chosen the man who will aggravate their suffering and lead them ever further from the goals to which they aspire.
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