I wrote this in 1995. Things have hardly changed.
It is ironic that there is such a close parallel between the Jewish and Palestinian Diaspora. It is an indisputable fact that most Jews who have made a life for themselves elsewhere would not even consider the possibility of emigrating to Israel unless of course their lives depended on it as a last refuge in the event of another Holocaust.[i] I strongly believe that this is the opinion of the majority of the world’s Jewry who perceive Israel to be not so much a spiritual home, but as a place to ‘chill-out’ if the going gets tough. This would explain the large percentage of Jews in London, New York, and not least Los Angeles with its almost identical climate to Tel Aviv and the home of a generous proportion of expatriate Israeli citizens. For all their adoration of the American way of life, they have created a mini Israel within their tight community comparable to Chinatown with its own clubs, its restaurants, its falafel stands and café society. Each and every one of them will tell you of their intention to return one day to ‘the Land,’ so what’s stopping them? Three outstanding factors are all too apparent and point to the fundamental malaise in Israel itself. Firstly, there is a general feeling of frustration about lack of money and decent employment within the Israeli infrastructure. Secondly, there is always anxiety and impatience at having to carry out army reserve duty every month. Finally, and possibly the most important but rarely admitted consideration is the pragmatic and very real fear that their sons might end up dead at 19 years old on the front-line of an elite fighting unit. According to Israeli press at the time, even the recent waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union would have preferred to have gone to America. Recent statistics show the total Israeli population of around 4.2 million Jews which leaves about 5.8 million in America and another 3 million in the rest of the world.[ii] It has been suggested that as a result of intermarriage and assimilation, most of the Jewish community in the Diaspora is likely to diminish to such an extent that in the very near future (Beloff, suggests the end of the century), ‘most Jews recognisable as such will be living in Israel and two millennia of history will have been reversed’.[iii] It seems reasonable to suppose that Palestinians would also prefer to remain in the adopted countries where they have made their homes. Harold Glidden, an orientalist and former senior official to the United State departments’ Bureau of Intelligence and research presented a lecture to the American Psychiatric Association in February of 1972 in which he implies that a community which had lost territory regarded as its homeland would resign itself to its new situation (like the Jews of the Diaspora) and not persistently demand restoration of the status quo.[iv] He regards Arab behaviour as unique, deriving from cultural and psychological traits whose values were inherited from tribal desert society and which were later consolidated in Islam. He maintains that whereas Judeo-Christian culture is guilt orientated i.e. feelings of judgement from within, Arab society is characterised as a ‘shame society’ where great importance is attached to judgement by others. Glidden states that this is not a new concept and has been discussed by a number of writers some of them Arab. Links between individuals and their groups are stronger than in Western society and give rise to a greater sense of collective shame. Furthermore, the power struggle between tribes for prestige, and the shaming of others is used as a weapon to undermine their influence. This shame can only be eliminated by revenge. Glidden states that the fundamental values of shame and revenge are the basis of Arab society. Glidden cites statistical evidence in modern Arab society. The constant struggle for superiority and domination which characterises inter-Arab politics prohibits a united Arab front against Israel. Shame leads to denial of the conflict and so the blame is externalised as Israeli imperialism. A good example of inter-Arab conflict is Syria’s insistent claim that Lebanon belongs to them,[v] and with regard to Palestine, President Assad, is even reported as telling Yasser Arafat:
You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point: There is no such thing as a Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian entity, there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people, Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore it is we the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people.[vi]
The essence of the Arab-Israeli struggle is not so much the restoration of territory as the need to eliminate collective shame. In the West, we assume that Israel’s victories would be convincing evidence of the need for lasting peace. Glidden argues that this is a mistake because Arab logic is not objective and defeat only generates desire for revenge which can endure indefinitely, besides which, peace, isn’t particularly regarded as being a positive ideal because in a tribal society conflict in the form of internecine feudalism, is the normal state of affairs. This is compounded in recent reports about torture and oppression that life is worse for the Palestinians under the new Palestinian Authority than it ever was under the Israelis.[vii] True peace is seen only as a religious ideal within Islam. This view that it is not in the Arab’s nature to make peace is supported by, Glubb, the former commander of the Arab legion. Yehoshafat Harkabi, former chief of Israeli army intelligence and professor of International relations and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believes that Glidden’s theory is based on cultural determinism and does not take into account political factors which have a greater significance than cultural traits which could not operate without a political background.[viii] Harkabi sees Glidden’s remarks as pessimistic for suggesting that there can be no Arab co-existence with Israel for having caused shame. Israel’s very existence is a reminder of that shame and intensifies it.
Harkabi puts forward several alternative viewpoints. The prevailing Arab view holds that Israel was created as a result of crime and aggression towards the Arabs inherent in its Zionist nature and therefore Israel is to blame because its very existence perpetuates the conflict. Israel’s continued existence perpetuates the injustice against the Palestinians and carries the threat of expansion. The Palestinians ergo the people of Palestine cannot accept Israel as a Zionist state ergo a Jewish state and the conflict can only be resolved by abolishing and replacing it with a Palestinian ergo an Arab state. A Jewish minority would be granted citizenship in return for renouncing Zionism and maintain religious autonomy but under no circumstances a national one. This is seen as a fair solution with the Arabs renouncing their intention to exterminate the Jews in return for the Jews giving up their rights to the country. This solution according to Harkabi, eliminates the political entity. If on the other hand, Israel is to blame because it’s intransigence continues to perpetuate the conflict, then nothing short of a political act by Israel to withdraw from its borders and find a just solution to the Palestinian problem would be acceptable. Harkabi believes that this is close to the present situation. In a case of divided blame but with Israel the guiltier of the two parties, which is the prevalent view of International political circles, then Israel being the stronger should take the initiative to bring about change. Israel’s sympathetic demands for maintaining strategic strongholds is due to the fact that not all Arab elements are moderate in their views and the existence of extremists force Israel to ‘vindicate more stringent conditions for settlement, even with moderate Arab elements’. By the same token, even ‘conditions advocated by moderate Israelis are unacceptable to the Arabs’. Harkabi believes that the intractability of the dispute arises from the gap between the positions of the two opponents and is influenced by their circumstances with the Arabs shouldering the heaviest blame as their ideology insists on the eradication of Israel because its very establishment constitutes ‘the greatest injustice perpetrated in human history which must be set right’. As a consequence, Harkabi says, ‘Israel has become the pivot of Arab nationalism’. He accepts that the desire for revenge exists but believes it could wane if thought to be hopeless. He identifies 4 Arab positions.[ix] The ‘Peace school’ who would like to conclude an agreement. The ‘Tactical School’ which advocates acceptance of resolution 242 as a public relations gesture but reason that they ‘do not run the risk of having to recognise Israel and conclude peace with her, since Israel cannot permit herself to accept the resolution and will obstruct its implementation’. The ‘Strategic School’ who contend that it is ‘in the Arab interest to implement resolution 242 but don’t consider that a peace settlement will terminate the conflict’. They maintain that ‘historical conflict’ will continue forever as the chasm between Israel and the Arabs is so wide and so basic that ‘nothing can conjure it out of existence’ and that ‘. . . in the long run coexistence is impossible and inevitably conflict will re-erupt’; nevertheless, acceptance of resolution 242 will improve the Arab posture. This according to Harkabi is most likely to be the Arab central line supported by the Egyptian establishment, but in his opinion, Harkabi thinks the most realistic of the positions is what he calls the ‘Rejecting Any Settlement School’ whereby any arrangement even partly acknowledging the rights of Israel ‘ abrogates the principle that the Palestinians are the sole “people of Palestine”. Their right is indivisible’. They favour keeping the conflict ablaze and because of their superior numbers and their oil resources they believe they will ultimately prevail.
As far as Israeli positions are concerned, they vary in the extreme from ultra-nationalist right wing hard-liners like Tsomet, Moledet or Tehiya who are not prepared to negotiate in any way on issues of territory or a Palestinian state; and peace activists like the Shalom Achshav movement which acts almost like a 5th column sabotaging the security of the country. Totally off-the-wall, reminding us that truth is stranger than fiction and adding legitimacy to the it-could-only-happen-in-Israel brigades fantasies, are the ultra-orthodox Agudat Yisrael Chassidic party that are, unbelievable as it may seem, anti-Zionist and enemies of their own state. They claim that the state of Israel cannot come into being until the Messiah comes which leaves the incredible situation of ‘a political party having 5 members in a parliament of a country it doesn’t recognise’.[x]
[i] Max Beloff, The Diaspora and the Peace Process in Efraim Karsh (ed.) Peace in the Middle East: The Challenge for Israel. pp32-33. Ilford. Frank Cass. 1994.
[ii] The Economist 29/1/’94 statistics quoted in Beloff. Ibid.
[iii] Beloff. Ibid.
[iv] Yehoshafat Harkabi, Lessons from Five Explanations first published in Maariv (Hebrew daily newspaper) 26/9/’73 in Palestinians in Israel. Jerusalem. Keter 1974. translated into English by Haya Gallai.
[v] Benjamin Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World. p96. London. Bantam Press 1993.
[vi] Hafez al-Assad quoted in Kamal Jumblatt, I Speak for Lebanon. p78. London. Zed. 1982. quoted in Netanyahu. Ibid.
[vii] Isabel Kershner, The PLO Twilight Zone in The Jerusalem Report 23/5/’95.
David Hirst, Yasser Arafat’s Tools of Repression in The Guardian 6/7/’96
[viii] Harkabi. op cit. p235
[ix] Harkabi, Objects in the Way of Settlement (May ’73) in Palestinians in Israel. op cit. p204
[x] Barry Chamish, The Fall of Israel. Edinburgh. Cannongate. 1992. For a detailed analysis of the Israeli viewpoint, see Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Seige. p464. London. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1986