The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Israel’s cost to the Arabs

Israel’s cost to the Arabs - Le Monde Diplomatique:

The damage done to the Arabs by Israel’s creation is an untold story in the West. To understand it, you have to set aside the Israeli narrative and the idea of Arabs as fanatical, backward warmongers irrationally bent on destroying a modern, democratic and peaceable state.

For the Arabs, Israel’s presence in their midst has been disastrous. It has led to six major wars, forced them to militarise when they could not afford it, distorted their development, split their ranks and encouraged their fragmentation into ethnic and religious minorities, provoked the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and reared generations of young Arabs on conflict, hatred and hostility. It has forced them to host a state which dominated them and ensured continued western hegemony in their region. A disproportionate amount of damage was borne by the frontline states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. But now Iraq and the rest of the Arab world are affected, as is Arab society in general.

On each visit to the Arab world I am struck by its immense resources and its varied geography, history and customs, from Yemen to the Levant, sweeping through Egypt and Sudan to its westernmost point in Morocco. Such diversity could have made this the wonder of the world, physically beautiful, self-sufficient and wealthy. Instead, it is backward, poor and divided. This is not all Israel’s fault, but its existence has contributed significantly to the Arabs’ decline, and ignoring Israel’s role in the story would be misleading.
This essay is going to be quite controversial, I'm sure, but there are some good points in there. The article is actually an argument in favor of recognizing the Beirut Declaration of 2002 / King Abdullah peace plan as the landmark proposal it is but is rarely recognized as such (all my hostility to the Saudis put aside.) It concludes:

This does not mean that without Israel, the Arab world would have had an untroubled history; Israel often only aggravated or exploited what was already there. The ground for the divisions in the Arab world had been prepared by the major European powers at the end of the world war one. By creating borders and nation-states where none existed, they sowed the seeds of future discord. The imposition of Israel in this setting was just the most flagrant example of the same imperialist policy.

Israel’s powerful western sponsors are committed to its security, irrespective of the cost to the Arabs, who are hamstrung by political weakness and dependence on western favour. How can that be dealt with? Neither war nor peace has solved this predicament, and the Arabs have ended with unsatisfactory and uneven arrangements, characterised by resignation and impotence. The Saudi peace plan represents an acknowledgment of this reality, but also of Israel’s stunning success in imposing its own terms without having compromised. However the plan fares, it is a landmark in the historical evolution of the Arab world from outrage and hostility to accommodation and acceptance, even if grudging. Whether it will be the end of the story remains to be seen.
Some of these themes, on a Palestinian scale, are explored in Rashid Khalidi's excellent and moving "The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood", which I just read. But more on that later.