Root and branch
Ibrahim Nafie explores the history of Israeli hostility to the peaceful resolution of conflict
I have written dozens of articles on the roadmap. I have appealed to both sides to implement their obligations under this settlement plan. I have recounted Egypt's marathon efforts at mediation in getting the various Palestinian forces to agree to the principle of a truce and I have discussed other matters central to reaching a solution on this track of the Middle East conflict. I have also observed that while Egypt and other Arab parties worked to promote the adoption of a negotiating mechanism capable of leading to a viable peace Israel, supported by ultra right and Zionist forces abroad, remained bent on systematically undermining these very same efforts.
The current fragmentation of the Arab world, the lack of effective coordination among the Arab parties directly concerned with the negotiating process, the US-British occupation of Iraq, venomous talk of the futility of the Arab League -- such factors have combined to create the ideal climate for the Israeli right to fulfil its vision with regards to Palestine and the Middle East. Having accomplished the first phase of the Zionist project -- statehood and territorial acquisition -- Zionist ideologues in Israel and the US are poising themselves for the next phase: regional hegemony. It is for this reason that we must look beyond the immediate chain of cause and effect in order to understand what is happening in Palestine.
To remind readers, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1948, establishing the state of Israel, allocated 53 per cent of Palestine to the Jewish state and 46 per cent to what was to become a Palestinian state. It also called for the internationalisation of the city of Jerusalem. In the 1948 War Israel occupied half of the territory that had been allocated to the Arabs, leaving them 22 per cent of historic Palestine. That 22 per cent, made up of the West Bank and Gaza, was occupied by Israel in June 1967. The peace process inaugurated in Madrid in October 1991 essentially revolved around Israel's withdrawal from the half of the less than half of historic Palestine destined for a Palestinian state under the 1948 partition. Although the peace process produced many agreements, from Oslo through Wye River, they have remained largely unimplemented due to Israeli foot-dragging and its incessant, unchecked breaches of their provisions. Moreover, even as negotiations were in progress Israel, regardless of the political hue of its government, continued to gobble up portions of Palestinian territory through settlement expansion and other forms of acquisition.
Israel's actions on this track assume more ominous ramifications in the broader context of its regional ambitions. It is abundantly clear that the current Israeli leadership hopes to redraw the map of the Middle East and reshape regional identity in a manner that will enable Israel to become the dominant regional power.
Israel is not acting alone towards the realisation of this vision. It is working in close coordination with ultra-conservative forces in the US taking advantage, in particular, of influential Zionist figures in the current Republican administration. Chairman of the Defence Policy Board Richard Perle, the so-called "Prince of Darkness", and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, for example, have masterminded schemes to promote Israel's regional hegemony. Confident of the support of such individuals Sharon, with customary arrogance, spurns all sincere efforts to restore calm, set as he is on sustaining a cycle of tension and violence which he believes furnishes the climate most conducive to the realisation of phase two of the Zionist project.
There is no doubt, too, that the US and UK presented Israel with a gift when they occupied Iraq. To Israel the occupation signals "the end of the eastern front" and the beginning of the drive to draw Iraq into a new alignment reminiscent of the Cold War pacts that western strategists hoped would help divide and conquer the Arab world. Little wonder, therefore, that Israeli companies, along with their US counterparts, moved quickly to enter the Iraqi market and that there has been renewed talk of cooperative projects between the "new" Iraq, Israel and other countries of the region in order to create the foundations for a "new Middle East".
Many of the attitudes and ideas that motivate the Israeli right come from deep within the Zionist heritage. From the outset Zionist pioneers felt that the Arab world, as it stood, did not present the ideal environment for the growth of the Jewish state. To them the Arab world was a collection of backward countries, their societies lacking the intellectual prerequisites for development, capable only of understanding the language of force, despotic in their forms of government and, therefore, not to be trusted. Peace agreements with such countries would be valueless, they held, for which reason Israel would have to rely on its own military might to survive. This patently racist outlook was made explicit by David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, who wrote that the Arabs formed "a backwards, feudal civilisation dominated by effendis whereas Jewish civilisation is vibrant and aspires to human freedom and social progress".
A second influence derives from the legacy of the ghetto. The isolation and history of suffering in central and Eastern Europe in particular led to two paradoxically contradictory impulses. On the one hand there evolved a tendency to believe that Jews were unique among mankind, a notion expressed by Jewish writers and intellectuals from all shades of the political spectrum. To take but one example, Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister in the 1970s, wrote in her memoirs: "God did not choose the Jews. The Jews were the first people to choose God. They are the first people in history to do something truly revolutionary. It was that choice that made them unique." On the other hand, the ghetto experience instilled a deep-seated fear of "others". This fear, in conjunction with the sense of superiority, evinced itself in a general reluctance to assimilate and an aloofness to the surrounding environment.
These various strands coalesced with Zionist tenets at the time of the partition in 1948. In his memoirs Yitzhaq Shamir writes: "We had only a portion of the land of Israel in our hands and longed for the other large parts of our land that were still in the hands of foreigners. It pained us that Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and the dream of countless generations, was outside the boundaries of the state... We could see it from afar but not reach it."
At the time, when Zionist leaders were debating whether or not to accept the partition resolution, the Arabs rejected it, presenting the Zionists with an ideal opportunity to project themselves to the world as "a small peace- loving nation" willing to abide by international resolutions. Over time Israel's political and intellectual elite succeeded in entrenching the idea that Israel was "a strong, advanced, democratic nation created in a backwards environment".
It was perhaps only natural that, following a series of military victories, the endemic hubris of the Israeli elite would evolve to a form of megalomania with a strong component of paranoia. This condition gave rise to two conceptions regarding the nature of Israel's relationship with its Arab environment.
It is important to note, however, that as divergent as these conceptions appear on the surface they emanate from the same set of axiomatic premises. These are, firstly, that Israel is and must remain a Jewish state where all Jews of the world are entitled to settle. Secondly, that Israel cannot depend on peace agreements with the Arabs and that its security, therefore, is contingent upon its military superiority over neighbouring Arab nations. Thirdly, that Israel is a modern democratic nation and that perpetuating this quality requires the state's ethnic purity. And, fourthly, that Israel is endowed with the qualities that entitle it to steer the region towards the progress and prosperity that will only be realised when Arab states have the sense to surrender the reins of leadership to Israel.
On the basis of these premises the Israeli right continues to hold that Israel is a modern democratic nation trying to survive in a hostile environment and that, therefore, its security and prosperity are contingent upon its ability to fortify itself against the threats this environment poses. It further maintains that Israel has the capacity to best utilise the resources and energies of the region to foster progress and development. Nevertheless, while Israel must steer this endeavor, it must guard itself against assimilation into this environment, since that would herald the end of the Zionist project. This thinking is most tangibly manifested in the separating wall currently under construction in the West Bank.
The second concept is espoused by the Israeli left. This camp subscribes to the belief that there are limits to what Israel can accomplish through military means which, in all events, are proving highly costly. Israel, they say, can more effectively accomplish its objectives by using economic cooperation to change the face of the region. The view was expounded by Shimon Perez in The New Middle East, in which he argues that Israel can best realise its fundamental interests by ending its isolation, dismantling the Arab boycott and engaging in cooperative enterprises that would reshape the region.
Our problem with Israel, at present, resides in the fact that the first camp -- the Zionist right -- is in power in Israel. This is the camp that insists on imposing a settlement on the Arabs by force of arms, on reinforcing Israel's isolation and on treating the Arab world as an open frontier for the realisation of the ultimate objective of regional hegemony. Aggravating the problem is that there is a strong convergence in ideological outlook between this camp and influential circles in the current US administration.
Clearly, in light of the foregoing, the problem with Israel is far too complex to be reduced to the mechanics of the roadmap. While we have no bones to pick with the foundations of that process, such a narrow focus does not help identify the root causes behind the current dilemma.