May 17, 2021
In my last post I tried to highlight the roller-coaster pattern of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In his New York Times article of May 14, titled “Arab World Condemns Israeli Violence but Takes Little Action”, Eric Erlanger started off with the following:
“The Arab world is unified in condemning Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the way the Israeli police invaded Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Governments have spoken out, protests have taken place, social media is aflame.
“But by and large the condemnation is only words, not actions — at least so far.”
As expected, Iran’s and Turkey’s public reaction went a step further, but only in words.
In brief, condemnations also conform to the pattern.
What underlies this pattern? Broadly speaking, an uneven distribution of power.
On the one hand, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation represents world’s 1.8 billion Moslems, but it exists only on paper. The so-called Arab League is no different. Moslem countries say that Jerusalem is a question of faith but are engaged more than anything else, in their own confrontations, disputes, and proxy wars. They cannot match Israel’s hard and soft power.
Israel, a nation of 9 million, represents power in its multiple dimensions.
- According to the 2020 Human Development Report, Israel’s HDI (Human Development Index) value for 2019 is 0.919— which puts the country in the very high human development category— positioning it at 19 out of 189 countries and territories. The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.
- Israel’s agricultural sector has produced miracles. Thus, many countries have turned to Israel to improve their agricultural performance.
- Beyond the defense, Israel’s technological achievements cover multiple sectors. High technology and technology-rich products account for more than 70% of its exports. In 2018, Israel spent 4.95% of GDP on research and development, according to the World Bank.
- Contribution of Jews to world culture is impressive.
- Israel is a democracy. Acting prime minister Mr. Netanyahu is before court on corruption charges. His predecessor Ehud Olmert has served a prison sentence for fraud.
The only problem is that Israel’s democracy does not embrace the country’s Palestinians. This why Human Rights Watch has accused Israeli officials of committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution. As usual, Israel has reacted to Gaza violence with disproportionate force and this is why there have been protest rallies in some Western capitals to the joy of Middle East leaders. Moreover, Israel’s foreign policy defies the globally endorsed two-state solution.
But there is the other side of the coin.
- Do Middle East regimes deserve passing grades for their democratic performance, for their respect for the rule of law, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, transparency, accountability, fair and equal opportunity? No, they show all the symptoms of authoritarianism to say the least.
- Do they provide their peoples with fair and equal opportunity? No, on the contrary, they are characterized by nepotism and corruption.
- What rights do foreign workers enjoy in the region’s rich countries? None.
- Do these foreign workers fare any better than the Palestinians? Hardly.
- Bernard Lewis had written that in the Muslim tradition, justice was the standard of good government. Do Middle East regimes uphold justice if not democracy? No.
- Can the Middle East match Israel’s military, economic, diplomatic power? No.
- Had a number of, if not all, Middle Eastern countries achieved higher political, economic, social, and cultural standards, better governance, and more status on the international scene, could Israel still dare bomb Gaza with impunity? Probably not.
The sad truth is that since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Middle East has produced only one leader with an enlightened vision for his country, Ataturk. Had his example been followed, the Middle East could have been a different place today.
The Palestinian problem will never be settled on the battlefield. It will not be settled by inconsequential rhetoric. If ever, it would be settled through negotiations. And having a decent balcony seat, if not a seat at the negotiation table, would depend on political, economic, social, cultural progress by respectable international standards.
The first step of such an endeavor would be a look at the mirror.