The Israel-Palestine problem — solved

December 8, 2006

Not really.

At their joint press conference yesterday, President Bush announced that British Prime Minister Tony Blair will shortly embark on a mission to the Middle East in an attempt to lead the nations of that benighted region towards a real effort to resolve the 60-year old struggle between Israel and Palestine. This, both men agreed, was the key to resolving the poison of sectarian bitterness, terrorism and mutual hatred that spreads from the Middle East to infect much of the rest of the world.

Great idea, and the best wishes of most decent folk will go with Mr Blair in his endeavour. We need to be clear, though, as to what it is that he will be attempting to resolve.

In this connection, Richard Landes at Augean Stables points to a fascinating interview with Ahmed Sheikh, Editor-in-Chief of Al Jazeera. Clearly an intelligent and articulate individual, Sheikh patiently endured some fairly hostile questioning from Pierre Heumann of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. Towards the end of the interview came this exchange:

Mr Sheikh, as a young man you had to leave your homeland. What effect did this have on your personality?

If I had stayed in Nablus, I probably would have turned out differently. But deep within you there is something that never changes; and that is the formative influence of one’s childhood. We always remain children. If the child in you dies off, then you’re finished. So, it is a blessing for humanity, if the child in you is kept alive.

What do you remember for example?

I still remember clearly how the Israelis invaded our town in June 1967. We were expecting them from the West, but they attacked from the East. Since I wanted to study, after that I went to Jordan. Of course, that was important for my later development. If I had remained in Palestine, I would see the death and the problems every day. I would have to witness how Palestinian land is confiscated. I would even have to put up with having to speak with the enemy at road blocks. I would have to put up with the daily humiliations of the occupying power, but also to observe how Israelis are killed by suicide bombers.

How do you see the future of this region in which news of wars, dictators and poverty predominates?

The future here looks very bleak.

Can you explain what you mean by that?

By bleak I mean something like “dark.” I’ve advised my thirty year old son, who lives in Jordan, that he should leave the region. Just this morning I spoke with him about it. He has a son and we spoke about his son’s education. I’d like my grandson to go to a trilingual private school. The public schools are bad. He should learn English, German, and French — Spanish would also be important. But the private schools are very expensive. That’s why I told my son to emigrate to the West for the sake of my grandson.

You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

At whom are you angry?

It’s not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don’t understand why we don’t develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

And most importantly, this:

Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.

So it’s not really what Israel does that is the issue for the Middle East: it’s what Israel is, and — as importantly — what the Arab states aren’t. Israel’s founding was the beginning of the trouble, progressively compounded by its ascension both to military dominance and mature democracy. “Losing to Israel” is more than just a military thing, I suspect: Israel has far outstripped its opponents in political, technological and economic terms as well. This is what really sticks in the region’s craw.

The Jewish state succeeded; the Arab states failed.

Not an easy one for Tony Blair to solve.


  1. Good post Rob. Can’t say anything more than that, but that it sucks to be a loser. No solutions, though. You just have to work. Maybe the ‘inshallah’ of Islam discourages this kind of work.

    I hope not.

  2. Thanks, sl. I don’t think there will any kind of resolution until the Arabs realise it’s in their own hands.

    I actually have a lot of sympathy for the Palestinians, on one level, but the brute fact is they have to get over it and get on with building their own country instead of fantasising about taking over Israel.

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