Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
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No inherent right to a state, no inviolable state

No government takes the idealist claim of the right to statehood seriously. Otherwise, Russia would let Chechnya secede, and Britain would have agreed to an independent Ireland long before it did. Taken to its logical extreme, the right to statehood would dissolve modern states into village-size communities and eventually abrogate the host states. The anarchistís dream is another manís nightmare. The anarchist ideal sees ownership of land as jurisdiction over it. Where dissenters can secede and establish independent colonies, wars will be fewer, but while the concept of nation-states remains, territorial wars will continue, though progressively deterred by increasing expensive military devastation.

Israelis and Arabs have different interests and will likely never define fairness the same way; however, such agreement is a prerequisite for the peaceful resolution advocated by humanists like Noam Chomsky.[20] The common interest that arises from sharing enemies is unlikely today when an enemy of the Israelis is almost automatically a friend of the Arabs, as were the Nazis.

It is difficult to imagine a shared goal sufficiently important to unify the adversaries. Economically, Israel is less attractive to Arabs than old partners like Britain and France or influential ones like the United States and, increasingly, China and Japan. For political guarantees and military aid, Arabs can apply directly to the United States without reference to Israel. Neither side is interested in formal peace, preferring armistice and minor unrest, which bring both Israel and the Arabs from the strategic periphery into the focus of world affairs and pays Israel and Arabs dividends in economic and military aid, unnecessary for peaceful coexistence but advantageous for strong governments. A foreign enemy distracts people from local problems, letting Arab dictatorships and Israeli socialism survive.

Jews have claimed Jerusalem as their eternal capital for two millennia; their national consciousness centers around it. They want the city, but ideologically motivated Arabs also want it now. Who can find a solution acceptable to both? Neither trusts the traditional broker and both suspect the United States of pursuing its own interest. The balance of power, the equilibrium point of many military and moral forces, settles such disputes, not someoneís idea of justice; opinions differ. Any peaceful solution would be arbitrary and therefore unacceptable to many. In minuscule Jerusalem, a hundred yards is a league. Why should the Palestinians have only the West Bank instead of all their pre-1948 territory, including todayís Israel? Why should the Israelis agree to partition instead of claiming the Promised Land in its entirety, including all of Palestine? The answer hinges on the equilibrium of force, the route David took to conquer the Temple Mount.

If Israeli religious justification seems flimsy, consider the arguments other states offer for their existence. The desire of enlargement is an obsession and a driving force of many states. If that objective is universally acceptable, which one is not? Why was splitting along religious lines acceptable in Yugoslavia and Indonesia but not in Israel? If African tribes hardly out of the Stone Age are entitled to sovereignty on their ancestral lands, how much more are the Jews? If world opinion accepts the suppression of the long-standing nationalist aspirations of weak minorities, the Spanish Basques or the Russian Tatars, why not let Israelis suppress the hardly three-decades-old Palestinian nationalism of a non-nation with no distinctive culture, the Palestinians? Why do the people who set up the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem during the crusades condemn Israeli control of the city? If white settlers displaced the aboriginal Americans and Australians to create viable states, why should Israelis not do the same? If no state objected to the creation of Saudi Arabia by conquest, why refuse a similar justification for Israel? If ethnic populations were relocated from Poland and Czechoslovakia to pacify Germany, why reject a similar approach in Palestine?

Questioning the Jewish right to the land ignores the crucial issue: what right do Arabs have to it? Jews bought land from individual Palestinians. No one was evicted, nor was private ownership violated. Much of the Palestinian territory was unused desert and marsh before the Jews made the land productive and valuable, acquiring the right of homestead. As for state control of unused, untitled land, the Palestinians never had a stateóthe Turks, then the British, controlled the landónor were the Palestinians recognized as a nation, a recognition which would have let them claim tribal sovereignty over the land. By the time the colonial powers turned the territory over to the locals, they de facto included not only Palestinians but Jews as well. The only reason Britain decided to split the land earmarked for Israel into two countries was to settle the nomadic Palestinian Arabs even Jordan did not want. The Israelis did not seize the land from Palestinians; neither had a formal claim on it.

Many mistakenly believe Palestinians today lay claim to land they once owned. Israel did not violate their right of ownership. Rather, the Palestinians claim they lost jurisdiction over a country they never had. Before the rise of Palestinian nationalism in the 1970s, the Arab rioters and terrorists were anti-Israeli, not pro-Palestine. If private ownership of some land means jurisdiction over the whole country, the Jews who bought land had a better claim to Palestine in 1947 than the indigenous Arabs who largely lacked title. But private ownership of land is unrelated to jurisdiction even over that parcel, let alone over any wider entity. The Arabs claimed more land than they actually needed and already had in Palestinian dominated Jordan. The Israelis had to force an accommodation.

Respect even for private property is limited: in times of famine, the survival instinct prevails, and food storages are routinely sacked with no public outcry. Since many value religion and ideology above life, property rights are a fortiori subjected to religious values. Even if Jerusalem actually belonged to the Arabs, the Israelis were justified in taking it over, because of all religions Old Jerusalem is central only to them. Golgotha is more important to Christians than the Temple site, and Muslims have no scriptural connection with the place at all after Mohammed reoriented Muslim worship to Mecca. Private property is not an issue in the conflict; Israel generally respects Arab ownership of particular buildings and land. Assertions to the contrary usually refer to the nationalization of unowned land and a hostile environment for Muslim owners. Driving other people away is better than living in hatred, and such cases are few. Significantly, the war has little to do with Israeli political freedoms, since it is not sure that the Arabs would have refused them those rights. Nor does the war pursue religious aims, since several kinds of worship flourish in Israel. The war is oddly about government and municipal control over territory.

Borders are graphic representations of the current power equilibrium. They are in constant flux and always have been. The attempts of nation-states to sanctify borders to preserve a status quo beneficial to them are futile. If the Palestinians are ever strong enough, they will squeeze Israel out. There is no reason for Israel to behave differently now. To do so would endanger Israel in the next round, when the Arabs will be stronger. In expectation of the squeeze, Israel might want to expand as much as possible.

While Arabs naturally prefer to see the land they settled inviolate, Jews want that land as the center of their national ambitions. A ridiculously small part of Arab holdings in the world of Islam is the ultimate secular goal of Jews. In democracies, mutually respectful people compromise, but not when the parties are enemies. The use of force for ideological objectives is acceptable. The yes or no vote on which undergirds democracy is thoroughly misleading. Something one group vaguely prefers, another categorically rejects. The former votes yes, the latter, no, but the depth of interests and emotions beyond black-and-white answers differs vastly. The only option left to the more invested party is violence, proving that their wishes count for more than the vote count indicates. Normally, the threat of reciprocal violence deters action, but the deterrent fails in hot issues. That is a boundary effect of democracy: while all votes are equal, they are more important to some than to others. The willingness to use force and sustain losses shows the boundary inequality of votes.

Other countries fought for centuries to reach a situation where further adjustments are not worth wars. Israel should preserve the rights to life and property for Palestinians as long as that does not involve attacking Israelis. But there is no right to have a country, let alone a country within specific borders; that is done by force. The violence, moreover, is not endless. A few crushing defeats can change a nationís mind, especially when a good economy switches the focus of ambitions, as was the case with France under Napoleon and later with Germany. A balance of power struggle is usually bloodless.

Indeed, that would have happened if Israelis had been honest with the Arabs in 1948 when Israel was founded. The Arabs accepted the medieval Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem,[21] created by brute power for the familiar goal of profit. If twentieth-century Jews had used force, the Arabs would have had no problem, but the Israelis made a crucial mistake: they attempted to justify their claims not by force but by religion. It is one thing to say to someone, ďGive me this thing, because Iím stronger and will kill you if you do not.Ē It is quite another to argue that you want to take this thing for ideological reasons which are irrelevant to him. He will not only find counter-arguments but will also develop the will to fight, because as he sees it, your position is wrong and his, right. People are more sensitive to infringement of religious values than of their compatriotsí property interests. Ideological reasoning provoked the Arabs, yet was probably irrelevant to most Jews, as their support for settlement in Uganda instead of the Middle East at the dawn of the Zionist movement showed. Many, probably most, of Israelís founders were socialists and thus secular. Religious justification of an invasion of the Middle East meant nothing to them and deceived the other Jews. The fact is, the Israelis took the land because they wanted it and could take it. That is reasoning, not justification. They need no one elseís help, as they did not in campaigns so widely separated in time and yet so similar as Joshua ben Nunís conquest of Canaan and the 1948 War of Independence.

No viable state has ever been created, let alone sustained, peacefully.[22] All desirable land was settled in antiquity. If the Jews wanted a state, driving indigenous peoples away or subjugating them was the only option. More recently, Germany was consolidated from homogeneous kingdoms with a common language and culture only by blood and iron. Less than fifty years ago, the French killed millions in the futile effort to preserve their colonies. Other nations established their states in blood long ago and now have the luxury of talking about morality. Israel cannot afford morality at this stage of the stateís formation. It is impossible right now for Israel to deal with the Arabs humanely and democratically. Israel need not cast the creation of a state, an amoral entity, in moral terms. The creation of Israel was not fair to the Palestinians nor could it be, since it robbed them of land they considered theirs. But since the Israelis decided to do it, they should do it decently, not making excuses, offering reparations, or saying the Palestinians abandoned their villages of their own free will. Israelis should not seize significant territories from the Arabs, then offer to return them for a flimsy paper agreement. The question is not some idyllic justice unknown in international relations based on power but the normal, generally accepted way of doing the business of statehood. No one is singled out for prosecution for a crime everyone commits; why single out Israel for admonition and reproach? How can the modus operandi of every state known to history be called a crime? A crime is an exceptional wrong. Statehood itself might be viewed as bad, but Israelís birth pains are milder than most othersí.

A world used to popular contract, mutual accommodation, and peaceful resolution of disputes would be wonderful. No such thing exists, however, as Americaís first European settlers learned from the natives. All nations were created in bloodshed and are sustained by power; anything on paper is irrelevant. Israel cannot be built on agreements with the Arabs. International agreements are the legal by-products of inhumane military victories.

[20] Regardless of how misguided and idealistic are Chomskyís views, I deeply respect him as a voice of conscience, reminding us of morality where we prefer efficiency and of compassion where we pursue self-interest.

[21] That Muslims usually called the city Aelia Capitolina rather than her Arabic religious name Al Quds (the Sacred), demonstrates that they attached little religious value to the place. Saladinís recapture of Jerusalem a century later was only a by-product of his war of expansion. Soon after, Saladin turned Jerusalem over to the Christian emperor Frederick II, and it languished in obscurity into the nineteenth century when Zionist immigration brought it to the fore of Arab politics.

[22] Some, as Singapore, were peacefully established in peculiar circumstances not paralleled in the Middle East. Many ex-colonies were set up as states by their former masters. Most are still too young to permit conclusions, but no fundamental change of the principle that force creates states is likely.