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Imagine the Jews Were the Real Terrorists!

10:25 AM, Jan 6, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Stephen Walt, coauthor with John Mearsheimer of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, has started a new blog at the website of Foreign Policy. He is one of a number of new bloggers the magazine has brought on board ahead of Obama's inauguration. Among the others are some real heavyweights, including Tom Ricks, Peter Feaver, Philip Zelikow, and Christian Brose. (Click here to find links to them all).

Walt kicks things off with a bang, writing up a bizarre counterfactual of Middle East History. In this realist fantasy, Israel loses the Six Day War, the Arabs overrun the country, but the Jews are not driven into the sea. Instead, "a million or so Jews had ended up as stateless refugees confined to that narrow enclave known as the Gaza Strip." What's become of the other 1.7 million Jews that then lived in Israel is not imagined -- as Walt says, this is just "a thought experiment." Walt continues:

Then imagine that a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.

Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them? Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?

I've always enjoyed counterfactual histories. John Keegan, David McCullough, and James McPherson, among others, put out a great collection of counterfactual essays examining the great turning points in military history called What If? They explore what might have happened if the Germans had repelled the allied assault on D-Day, or if Augustus's legions had conquered Germania. But it's a game. The authors focus on what might have been if one thing had been different. Walt imagines that everything is different, that the Jews not only lose the war, but they become the Palestinians -- and that their dispossession nurtures the same radical politics that now afflicts the Arab population of Gaza. I think the point is supposed to be that the only thing preventing a solution to the problems of the Middle East is our failure of imagination, but in fact, his questions are meaningless. The nefarious Israel Lobby might respond: What if the bubba had beytsim?