Kosovo and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
A lot of ink has been spilled arguing whether it is possible to draw any comparisons between the Balkan conflict and the Holocaust. I have argued the relevant consideration is what our attitude would be if the victims were Jews and that the response should have been to prevent the slaughter that began early in the decade with the Serbian atrocities against the Bosnian Muslims. The arguments you have most frequently heard against intervention have been that nothing can be done or should be done because the dispute is a civil war, that the fighting is a product of longstanding ethnic strife and that the conflict can't be solved, at least not by outside powers. I submit much the same can be said about the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet few people have this pessimistic, hands-off attitude.
What is the Arab-Israeli conflict about anyway? Well, if you believe that it is, as often portrayed, a simple matter of two peoples laying claim to the same land, then it is at least conceivable that a political settlement can be reached whereby that land is divided. That, of course, was the basis of the partition plan. Yet that plan didn't work. Why? Because at that time the Arabs would not accept the idea that Jews should be allowed any sovereignty anywhere in the Middle East.
More than half a century later, Yasir Arafat says he's willing to accept that very same partition resolution. So obviously things have changed, but after 51 years, and all that has transpired, Israel is certainly not going to accept the checkerboard arrangement of the 1947 partition resolution and redraw its boundaries. The more relevant question is whether going back to an approximation of the 1967 boundaries (where Israel is now headed) will bring peace. Think about it in terms of the Balkans: Ancient hatreds, ethnic and religious conflict.
The irony is that the Arab-Israeli conflict should be thought of in these terms and is not because of a combination of a messianic fervor in the State Department, naivete on the part of peace activists and a fear of being labeled anti-Arab or anti-Muslim by policy wonks and commentators.
Look at it from the Palestinian perspective alone first. Arafat has now laid down the marker of the partition boundaries as his goal. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he's given up the PLO's long-held plan of destroying Israel in stages. Clearly, he's not going to get what he wants, so will the Palestinians ever be content with whatever they end up with? Will we see "days of rage" for decades after the final settlement because of dissatisfaction with the borders or other terms? Certain Palestinians, notably members of Hamas, have already declared their unwillingness to give up the armed struggle.
Most people have bought into the bogus mantra that the Palestinian issue is the crux of the conflict, but what evidence suggests that the hostility of countries such as Iraq, Libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia will end when a final settlement with Arafat is reached? None of those countries cares a whit for the Palestinians and none have any border disputes with Israel. Certain countries, Iraq would probably be first among them, will maintain its belligerent attitude toward Israel as a way for Saddam Hussein to stake a claim to leadership of the Arab world. Saddam can claim to be the lone holdout against the imperialists forcing Arab acceptance of an aggressive, expansionist Zionist state.
One factor in the Balkan situation is the historic hatred that exists between people there because of real or imagined sins committed against one another. Jews and Arabs also blame each other for decades of dissension. I would argue the enmity is far less on the Jewish side, but it certainly exists because of a history of racism, persecution and terrorism. The hatred is even stronger on the Arab side, where people have been, and continue to be, indoctrinated with the idea that Israelis are malevolent. Just look at Egypt, a country that has been formally at peace with Israel now for two decades. The official press is filled with anti-Semitic articles and cartoons, Egyptians rarely travel to Israel or interact with Israelis and those that do are usually persecuted.
It is not politically correct to talk about Muslims being anti-Semitic, but the reality is that the conflict has never been exclusively Arab-Israeli, it is also Islamic-Jewish. Today, threats against Israel come primarily from Muslim terrorist groups, such as Hamas, and the leading sponsor of terrorism, Iran. The primary motivation of these Muslim groups and countries is a religious-based hatred of Jews rather than any political grievance. The Serb slaughter of Bosnian Muslims made the religious component of the Balkan war easy to accept; however, the anti-Semitic roots of the Middle East conflict are ignored or downplayed. Those Muslims who believe a Jewish state is a cancer in the Islamic heartland that must be excised will remain hostile regardless of the outcome of the peace process.
Maybe when policymakers and commentators apply the same hardheaded analysis to the Middle East that they use with the Balkan crisis they will begin to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality in the peace process.