Myths of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
1:05 PM, Jun 7, 2011 • By HASSAN MNEIMNEH
There is no fundamental reason to resist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, despite its sizable Palestinian population. Surely Netanyahu is not suggesting any Israeli citizen be denied equal rights. Nor is he advocating the implementation of Halakah as the law of the land in Israel. He is merely demanding that Israel be treated as a nation like others; one that has the right to brandish the identity of its historical legacy. Netanyahu's concern may be his potential Palestinian interlocutors. However, his call for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is an actual challenge to Arab culture as a whole to face the myths that stand as obstacles for the achievement of the cultural peace to which both Israelis and Arabs are entitled. It is a call for the end of cultural warfare against Israel. Arab cultural warfare against Israel may cost Arab societies relatively little in immediate visible damage; its effect on Palestinian and Israeli societies is however considerable.
In demanding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu may as well be inviting the Palestinian side, and its wider Arab context, to address three Arab myths that converge into the illusory and destructive conclusion of the non-permanence of Israel.
Myth 1: The state of Israel is but the latest expression of a civilizational duel between Islam and the West. Its most similar antecedent is the Frankish states of the Crusaders, created almost a millennium ago, vanquished and relegated to mere memory in the span of two centuries. As a Western implant created by ideology and civilizational rivalry, Israel is as artificial as the Crusader states, and is bound to be defeated by the sheer weight of history. Religious expressions of this myth rephrase it in the form of a battle between Islamic virtue and Western perfidy, with the collective “Jews” representing the culmination of evil throughout history. More secular expressions venture as far back as the Hellenistic period to posit an irreconcilable East/West dichotomy based on some essential immutable characteristics of members of the two camps.
The mirror version of this myth has some currency in the West. Its Arab version inhibits the normalization of Israel, as a state and society, in Arab consciousness. It often recycles much of the most venomous anti-Semitic Western products to erect a virtual wall of separation that rejects the already hesitant desire within Israel to usher the country into an actual integration within the region.
Myth 2: The state of Israel is the last remaining colonial-settler state. According to this myth, Israel was created as an outpost for the exploitation of the riches of the region. This myth avoids the existential and civilizational dimensions of the previous one. Its advocates even accuse Myth 1 proponents of obfuscating the socio-economic foundations of the conflict by promoting fictitious grand cultural notions. But the end of Israel is inevitable nonetheless: Just as the Colons in Algeria had to depart, same with the Jews of Israel. Portuguese Angola and Mozambique, as well as Rhodesia are no more, and the white South Africans had to abandon apartheid and concede to black rule. Israel, as a relic of the colonial age, will follow suit: Zionism, a European-supremacist ideology, will be defeated by the native liberation movement.
This myth provides a more sober interpretive framework than Myth 1 and explains away the destructive radicalization infecting Palestinian and Arab societies as utilitarian phases in an asymmetrical conflict resulting from the overwhelming Western support for Israel. It serves thus as a facilitator for the acceptance of radicalism in the broad Arab society.
Myth 3: Demographic determinism dictates the certain demise of Israel. The rate of growth of the Palestinian population is bound to create an untenable situation for Israel. This truth is irrespective of how the Palestinian population is segmented, or how successful Israel is in absorbing immigrants. According to this myth, the influx of almost a million Russians did not alter the pattern, and the sources of potential immigration are drying up. Once the tipping point is reached, Israel will suffer from an increasing emigration that will tilt the balance in favor of the Palestinian population and thus hasten the collapse of Israel as a Jewish state.
While each of its postulations is at best questionable, and while the omission of demographic counter-trends is glaring, this myth serves as a “scientific” “non-ideological” basis for Arab faith in the ephemeral character of Israel.