Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

New horizons in the struggle

Reviewed by Abdel-Khaleq Farouq

Mustaqbal Al-Sira' Al-Arabi Al-Isra'ili: Al-Dawla Al-Filastiniya Al-Dimuqratiya Al-Muwahadda [The Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The United Democratic Palestinian State] Abdel-Alim Mohamed, Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, 1999. pp102
The floundering Middle East negotiating process has, for some, reduced the Arab-Israeli conflict to the dimensions of a run-of-the-mill international political dispute, while to others it represents a resignation before the reality of the current balance of power in the region and a capitulation to Israel's colonialist enterprise.

Dr. Abdel-Alim Mohamed's book could therefore not be more timely. For, at this important juncture in the conflict, it performs the much-needed task of supplementing fundamental factual and conceptual gaps surrounding an issue that has been at the crux of the political development of the region for over half a century. But, the crucial contribution of The Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict is nevertheless, as the second half of the title suggests, to rehabilitate the concept of a "united, secular, democratic state." Originally put forward at the Palestinian National Council Convention of 1973, the idea of creating a truly democratic state for both Arabs and Jews in Palestine was readily embraced in the collective Arab consciousness, but was shunted to the margins and all but forgotten with the onset of the negotiating process set into motion by the late President Sadat's visit to occupied Jerusalem in November 1977.

Beneath the heading "Lessons from the Confrontation and the Limits of Oslo,"

the author lays bare the historical and conceptual premises of the concept. Of all the wars that marked the various junctures in the Arab-Israeli conflict -- 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, 1982 (Lebanon) and 1987-1991 (the Palestinian Intifada) -- there were only two exceptions to the "extemporaneousness" which otherwise characterized the Arabs' engagement in these wars. Only in the October 1973 War and in the Palestinian Intifada did the Arabs possess a measure of coordination, planning and strategy commensurate to their objectives. To a considerable extent, the author adds, this also applies to resistance to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, where Israel discovered the limits of any recourse to military might and to systematic brutality in imposing the Zionist vision of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) on the Middle Eastern map.

Although organized warfare between the Arabs and Israelis has come to an end, the events in southern Lebanon and in Palestine have animated the memory of Arab resistance to the Zionist project. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this resistance was the immense psychological impact it had in shaking the complacency of the Zionist expansionist enterprise, sending out the message that the Arabs will not acquiesce as others plunder their land and homes. The first lesson to be drawn from this history is that while the Arabs have been unable to defeat Israel militarily because of the superiority of the Israeli military machine, Israel with all its military might and advanced technology has also been unable to defeat the Arabs. What the resistance movement has demonstrated in this unevenly matched struggle is that the Arabs have a fundamental and powerful weapon in the form of a concerted diplomatic and media siege aimed at unmasking the feeble moral foundations of the Zionist state and exposing its inherently racist and belligerent nature.

Abdel-Alim Mohamed well describes the logical inconsistencies in the edifice of the Israeli state. The underlying ideology of the state is inherently racist; its exclusive accordance of full rights of citizenship on the basis of religious affiliation is in flagrant contravention of international law and universally accepted instruments of human rights. As Zionist ideologues themselves have realized, as long as Israel fails to achieve a "purely Jewish" state, it will always have a second-class or subjugated citizenry, in blatant contradiction to its professed democratic values.

Will the peace process change the fundamental character of the Israeli state? Mohamed addresses this question in a chapter entitled "The Option of Coexistence and the Israeli Dilemma," a title that is less portentous than it sounds. Fate and the mesh of European colonial designs conspired to cast the age-old problem of European Jewry onto the Arab doorstep, ultimately rendering the Arabs responsible for saving the Israelis from

themselves. In positing this notion, the author lifts the issue above the gloomy clouds that hover over the current situation and takes us beyond the balance of power that makes Israel the dominant military power in the region, poised to fulfill its aspirations for economic and technological hegemony. In Abdel-Alim Mohamed's vision, the future does not have to be so bleak and foreordained.

Israeli society is in fact riddled with a plethora of tensions and contradictions between the diverse ethnic groups that make up its Jewish population. While the formal democratic mechanisms of the state may smooth over many disparities in its composite population, nothing will alter the underlying racist structure of the state until Israeli society is compelled to come brought face to face with the inherent inconsistencies in Zionist ideology and mentality. Among the incompatibles Mohamed mentions are the Torah-inspired mythological underpinnings of the state and its vaunted European scientific modernism, the ethnocentrism inherent in the Zionist state and society and the purported democratic substance of the Zionist enterprise, and a mindset ensconced in the past that obviates any realistic vision for the future.

The book culminates in the proposal of a secular democratic state in Palestine as a comprehensive solution to many questions of ethnic and religious identity and political affiliation. Above all, the author reminds his readers, more than 60 per cent of the Israeli Jewish population was born in Palestine. It would be reprehensible to instigate a form of reverse "Arab Zionism" that would exclude and expel a significant portion of the Palestinian population that had acquired rights of citizenship by birth. The only solution, therefore, is integrated coexistence under a formula for a culturally pluralistic, secular democracy. This formula, moreover, is the ideal resolution to the contrived contradiction between the Arab Islamic milieu in the midst of which is a Palestinian state with significant Jewish and Christian populations.

Israel, by the very nature of the Zionist enterprise, has been a disruptive entity in the region; its fulfillment demanded policies and alliances inherently inimical to Arab interests and aspirations. The formula of a united, democratic, Palestinian state will effect a reorientation of national and supra-national affiliations, thus enabling Jewish-Palestinian coexistence to become Jewish-Arab coexistence, thereby resolving through a single historic, comprehensive process of national and regional assimilation, both the conundrums of the Zionist enterprise and Jewish national and regional identity. However, this fruition of this process, in turn, entails the development of a unique common consciousness founded upon the belief in the imperative of pluralistic, democratic coexistence under a united Palestinian state. Mohamed believes that Jewish and Arab intellectuals and politicians in Palestine must join forces in the process of fostering this consciousness.

One can easily see that The Future of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The United Democratic Palestinian State is, in many ways, inspired by the success the African National Congress in South Africa had, after thirty years of struggle and sacrifice, in dismantling a powerful and oppressive racist system. Yet Abdel-Alim Mohamed never looses sight of his subject's specificity, and, in so doing, he has succeeded in presenting both a bold political vision and a practicable strategy. This relatively short and original work is, in effect, a finely reasoned manifesto that breathes new dynamism into the ideological legacy of the Palestinian-Arab struggle, which had been submerged beneath the morass of defeatism -- the single most salient trait of the so-called peace process.

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