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Myths of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

1:05 PM, Jun 7, 2011 • By HASSAN MNEIMNEH
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The cumulative effect of all three myths is that the dominant conviction in Arab culture is that Israel is doomed to collapse. In fact, the debate over Israel in mainstream Arab culture is between two camps. First there is the one that opts for allowing civilizational, political, and demographic factors to play themselves into the anticipated end of Israel. Generally, this is the position of the “moderate” camp, which implicitly or explicitly subscribes to this view.

What we call the extremist camp seeks to hasten Israel’s end by confronting Israeli society and state, thereby transforming Israeli fear into despair, and despair into departure. It is not enough for the Arab “moderates” to passively reject the maneuvers of their radical counterparts. If peace is indeed the goal, pro-active endeavors are in order. Reaching across the demarcation lines is imperative. Otherwise, it is fair to equate silence with disagreement on tactics, not strategy. The passive-aggressive stand of the Arab “moderates” is revealed in their non-engagement of Israeli civil society and for the absence of the recognition of Israeli concerns and of Jewish history. Israel, as a society, as a state, as a reality, is almost completely absent from the self-perception of the Arab future. Discussions in the Arab world abound about the future of the region and the path for it achieving its potential. In virtually none of these discussions does Israel, its substantive economy or its significant socio-cultural force, figures. This state of affairs reflects the effective dominance of the aforementioned three myths on Arab culture.

Israel is neither the forward operating base in a civilizational war, nor the last bastion of the bygone era of the European colonial-settler movement. Demographic determinism, as repeatedly demonstrated over the history of the discipline, is an oxymoron. Israel will not collapse. Israel is a permanent reality in the Middle East. It is a beautiful and commendable one in many respects. Jewish history is ingrained in the land of Israel, and the land of Israel is seared into Jewish historical memory. In its turn, Israeli culture harbors a number of destructive myths about its Palestinian and Arab neighbors. These Israeli myths are however irrelevant to the need in Arab culture to address false convictions that stand in the way of genuine peace.

Many do dream about a future in the Middle East region in which citizens and communities live in harmony, are confident in their life and culture, and are willing to dispense of the need to have their state be anthropomorphically assigned a cultural identity. Until then, Palestinians, Lebanese, and others may opt to assert the Arab identity of their states, and Israel may choose to declare itself a Jewish state, the state of the Jews, or any other formulation to the liking of its citizens. These assertions notwithstanding, any and all states should be held accountable in the global public eye for the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the equal rights of all citizens. With understandable reservations stemming from undue hostility, it is a standard to which Israel willfully submits. In the new changing political landscape of the Middle East, it is hoped that it is also a standard to which more Arab states would also adhere. But Arab society can undergo few transformations that are more valuable than cultural reform, which would cleanse itself of these destructive myths.

Hassan Mneimneh is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. 

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