Friday, January 14, 2005

A World Without Israel

In this article, Foreign Policy: A World Without Israel, Josef Joffe argues that a world without Israel would - contra much left/liberal thinking - mean a more peaceful Middle East. He describes some of the versions of anti-Israeli thought current today, such as
the “root-cause” theory in its many variations: 'Because the “obstinate” and “recalcitrant” Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punished and pushed back for the sake of peace. “Put pressure on Israel”; “cut economic and military aid”; “serve them notice that we will not condone their brutalities”—these have been the boilerplate homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classes and the foreign-office establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded us, obsessions tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative addenda to the well-wrought root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians is a “tremendous obstacle to democratization because it inflames all the worst, most regressive aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab culture.” In other words, the conflict drives the pathology, and not the other way around.'
While Joffe is right to oppose the Israel-is-the-root-cause-of-terrorism thesis, he is off the mark in his attack on Lieven. Lieven's interview is well worth reading. In this particular passage, he is not saying that Israel causes reactionary Arab nationalism, but that the way Sharon's Israel was playing the situation (and the interview dates from last June) exacerbates the reactionary elements withing the Arab nationalist cause - just as, arguably, acts of Palestinian terror galvanize the most reactionary elements within Israeli society.

Anyway, having dispense with the root-cause view, Joffe takes a look at what the world they want would actually look at, and finds that the Middle East would still be full of violence, along a number of lines: States vs. States, Believers vs. Believers, Ideologies vs. Ideologies, Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity, and Regimes vs. Peoples. It is this last one that is the most important to me:
'The existence of Israel cannot explain the breadth and depth of the Mukhabarat states (secret police states) throughout the Middle East. With the exceptions of Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice an enlightened monarchism, all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are but variations of despotism—from the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to the authoritarianism of Egypt. Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly 100,000, with no letup in sight. Saddam’s victims are said to number 300,000. After the Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only in the Iran-Iraq War but also in barely contained civil unrest into the 1980s. Pakistan is an explosion waiting to happen. Ruthless suppression is the price of stability in this region.
Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring Israel out of the Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy in the region. It might be plausible to argue that the dialectic of enmity somehow favors dictatorship in “frontline states” such as Egypt and Syria—governments that invoke the proximity of the “Zionist threat” as a pretext to suppress dissent. But how then to explain the mayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre cult-of-personality regime in Libya, the pious kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia, the clerical despotism of Iran, or democracy’s enduring failure to take root in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the various putsches that produced the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the state sharing the longest border with Israel, can experiment with constitutional monarchy, why not Syria?'