Mead’s Copernican Shift: To Make Israel Safe, Give Palestinians Their Due

Geraldine Doogue had an interesting interview yesterday with Walter Russell Mead ( a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations). He’s recently written an essay for the Foreign Affairs journal entitled: “Change They Can Believe In: To Make Israel Safe, Give Palestinians Their Due”.

He argues that both sides are trapped, almost powerless to fundamentally alter anything because of the fragmented nature of their societies. He also believes the rest of the world has an obligation to do everything it can to resolve matters since it was a combination of their direct interference and inaction that both created the Jewish state and then failed to provide security (for both sides) at the most critical time. That all this was done without taking the least bit of notice of the wishes of the existing inhabitants virtually guaranteed things would turn out badly.

All absolutely right, it seems to me.

I’d initially thought to tack this on to the thread that grew out of last week’s piece on Israel and Palestine but soon realised that would be a bit pointless. Lively though it was, there can’t be many who are still following it and Mead’s essay, in my view, looks at these matters in a creative enough fashion to deserve all the readers it can get.

These three quotes will hopefully provide some sense of the “Copernican shift in perception” Mead sees as vital if any real progress is to be made:

The conflict is not just fiendishly hard to resolve; history and culture make it difficult for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to make the necessary choices. The two peoples had very different experiences in the twentieth century, but both have been left with a fractured national consciousness and institutions too weak to make or enforce political decisions.

* * * * *

The twentieth century taught both the Jews and the Palestinians that the international community’s grand moral claims are mostly hollow, that great powers are cynical and brutal, that international politics is a blood sport, and that, at the end of the day, a people can depend only on itself. And both survived thanks to dogged persistence, violent struggle, and a refusal to accept defeat. The Jews clawed their way out of the ruins of Europe to build a state and then turned it into a regional superpower despite repeated efforts by others to destroy it. The Palestinians created a national movement in the face of disaster, asserted themselves by armed struggle, defended their independence in the harsh world of Middle East power politics, and succeeded in placing their cause on the international community’s agenda. Both peoples trust their own instincts much more than they do the promises of any single power or of all the world’s powers together. They distrust each other because they know how tough and even how ruthless each of them had to be to survive. And they both understand, as no others can, the bitterness and the intimacy of the unique situation they share.

* * * * *

That said, it would be as unfair to place all responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel as it is to overlook the injustices the Palestinians suffered. The Israelis argue that the War of Independence was a fight for survival: here were survivors from Hitler’s death camps suddenly facing not only the Palestinians but also the armies of five Arab states. Self-defense, the Israelis argue, justified their actions during and after the war. And although most Israelis acknowledge that wrongs were committed, almost all charge that, faced with similar choices, their critics would have done the same or worse. They are right. The responsibility for the nakba cannot simply be laid at Israel’s door.

The United Nations’ failure to provide elementary security for both the Arab and the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine as the British withdrew was the immediate cause of both communities’ suffering in the late 1940s — of the initial clashes between them, of the accelerating spiral of violence, of the Arab armies’ entry into the conflict, and then of the prolonged period of hostility. Modern Israel should acknowledge and account for its part in those tragic events, but the international community at large must accept the ultimate responsibility for the nakba, solemnly acknowledging the wrongs done and sincerely trying to compensate Palestinian refugees today.

At a time when many despair of the actions taken even by the side they favour, and when those directly involved seem quite incapable of breaking the cycles of mutual distrust, fear and anger, Mead’s suggestions seem to me very valuable.

The reminder that it was the rest of the world (through the League of Nations and later the UN) which created this dilemma could prove particularly constructive: not only does it provide a strong rationale for the world to become much more actively and evenly engaged, it also suggests that some of the anger the two sides of the conflict often feel for each other might be usefully directed elsewhere.

If nothing else, it’s an invitation to reflection and a more open conversation.

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Rob
Rob
12 years ago

“The United Nations failure to provide elementary security for both the Arab and the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine as the British withdrew was the immediate cause of both communities suffering in the late 1940s ”

This much is certainly true. The contemporaneous opinion of Sir John Glubb, the British commander of Transjordan’s Arab Legion, is apposite. Glubb was passionately committed to the Arab cause, and as passionately opposed to the creation of Israel. But he believed that the UN’s Partition plan could have worked – if the UN had done as it should and deployed peacekeepers, and more particularly if Britain had not abrogated its basic responsibilities by simply packing up and walking away, leaving the Jews and Arabs to sort out the mess for themselves. Even the Mandatory officials realised it was not the Empire’s finest hour and that disaster would inevitably follow.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Nice idea.
.
Unfortunately polls indicate that Israel will hand a chunk of parliamentary seats to the far Right, the send the Arabs home people, that’s Israeli Arabs.

pablo
pablo
12 years ago

While I agree with Mead’s historical perspective I think it is a bit tough to charge the UN with failure in 1948. After all the revamped League of Nations was but a couple of years old. Strong on the ground action would have introduced something more than subsequent UN resolutions which have meant nothing to Tel Aviv.

Rob
Rob
12 years ago

Ingolf, there are no links that I’m aware of. His most important books on the subject were written in the 1950’s: “A Soldier with the Arabs” and “Britain and the Arabs”. You could probably find copies in any good second-hand bookshop in the Middle East section. Glubb Pasha, as he was known, sometimes comes across as a bit of an English upper-class twit and his perspective is completely one-sided, but his insights are usually of interest.

I posted some of his thoughts on the Arabs over at BPOV, but omitted the ones that might irritate an Arab readership since the post in question was going to be re-published on a Middle East blog.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

I would have thought that the Middle East is one place where investment of money, emotion and/or blood is guaranteed to reap an exceptionally low return. In light of this, do we actually have any good reason why it is to our advantage to get involved? And please don’t start on me with moral dimensions, I’m busy trying to save the sea kittens here.

The twentieth century taught both the Jews and the Palestinians that the international communitys grand moral claims are mostly hollow, that great powers are cynical and brutal, that international politics is a blood sport, and that, at the end of the day, a people can depend only on itself.

Errr, unlike that other century, ummm, can’t think which one…

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Tel – do we actually have any good reason why it is to our advantage to get involved?

Yeah

Israel election To close to call

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

“The twentieth century taught both the Jews and the Palestinians that the international communitys grand moral claims are mostly hollow, that great powers are cynical and brutal, that international politics is a blood sport, and that, at the end of the day, a people can depend only on itself. And both survived thanks to dogged persistence, violent struggle, and a refusal to accept defeat.”

Hand-wringing, self-flagellating clap-trap of exactly the kind responsible for artificially prolonging a bloody historical stoush against which the odds for resolution are already high thanks to the impasse between two particularly stone-age (and bone-headed) manifestations of monotheism. Mike Pepperday was right in the earlier thread to finger Abrahamic exceptionalism as a culprit here, but he should have extended it equally to the narcissistic kooks in the Palestinian Martyr-camp. It takes two brattish sooks to cement a stand-off.

Me, I’ve had well enough of both Diaspora Jews and Palestinian Solidaritistas in the West making excuses for the inexcusably bestial lunacies raging in God’s cradle. Fuck ’em both, he said, cheerily bleak. Since the international failures of and in WW2 no nation has had more global support and attention – moral, practical, intellectual, political, diplomatic, financial – under the allegedly ‘hollow’ auspices of the international community than the good State ship Chosen Joint. Likewise no non-sovereign post-Colonial peoples aspiring to said-same formal nationhood has had more said-same support and attention, since about ’67 anyway, than Palestine. Ah, but you know what they say: do a petulant me-me-me exceptionalist a favour…make an enemy for life.

These two sulking vicious recalcitrants don’t want a resolution, they want the grown-up world to keep on gazing at their self-sustained bloody mess guiltily, and talking about them endlessly. Attention’s what they want most of all. I’m not playing anymore. When two whining teens just Wont’. Stop. Belting the crap of each other the best and last hope is to shrug, step back and let them get on with it. Israel’s loons have dough and Statehood and Masada absolutism on their side. Palestine’s have nothing-to-lose and demographics and Martyr absolutism on theirs. The sane ones among both camps – if enough exist, which I’m begining to doubt – will figure it out sooner or later. Or not. Either way Their One Gods can keep the score together and they can all have a joint post-match post-mortem in the Afterlife.

But I for one will not blame the decent, civilised (hint, hint) and long-bewildered West, not the pro-Israel bits and not the pro-Palestine bits, for a shameful cowardly biff-fest (women, kids, Hamas in ambos, Settler children signing artillery shells) powered by a tiny, cynical, batshit-mad minority of two otherwise only infinitessimally-barely cleaved Semitic tribes-kin. Neither should any Diaspora Jew or diaspora Muslim – nor their fellow travellers – who really want to help pressure for an end to it.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

I couldn’t agree more about leaving them to their own ends and focusing our resources on the world’s genuine humanitarian crises. Unfortunately this won’t happen for the same reason that Jack’s analysis is wrong: Israel doesn’t need our sympathy and guilt, Palestine does. Perhaps without us the conflict would most likely become rapidly more savage, but even that would only lead to it being more rapidly over, at which stage everyone could get on with rebuilding their lives.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

Patrick, neither ‘Israel’ nor ‘Palestine’ either needs or does not need Western sympathy or guilt for the same reason that a fish neither needs nor does not need a platitudinous generalisation. I have no more sympathy for a Palestinian who wants to kill Israelis/Jews/Westerners as an end in itself than I do for an Israeli who wants to steal someone else’s land as an end in itself (and use its owners’ resistance as a conveniently-collateral pretext to kill Palestinians/Muslims/Arabs). Even if these extreme types remain in the relative minority in this dispute there are – apparently – plenty enough in both camps to ensure that their pop-eyed zeal remains their entire camp’s default protagonist-pozzy in a crisis – especially those which threaten an outbreak of sanity, mutual empathy and compromise.

It takes two sets of ideological lunatics to make an ideological impasse, Patrick, and ideological lunatics don’t get a grip on a society in a vacuum. Me, I no longer have the spare time, energy or interest needed to maintain even a passing-arguable ‘sympathy and guilt’ ration-book based on all the shades of culpability shared by all the other good-ish to good-er to good-est folk of ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’, in failing collectively to disarm and demob the kinds of obnoxious ideas and repulsive individuals who put them into practise that even half-assed civilised tribes discarded eons ago.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Yes, Jack, all that may be. But it takes money to sustain a struggle.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

Nope, to sustain a struggle it takes nothing but a froth-gilled determination to sustain a struggle, come what may. There are plenty of yonnies lying around in the Holy Land to fling at each other in impecunious rage, should the West ever come to its senses and turn off the spigots all round.

These two Peoples will un-sustain their respective opposing ‘struggles’ – I prefer ‘joint cooperative slaughter’ myself – when each decides they want to un-sustain it, no matter what their House Nutters do to keep it going. And they won’t until then, no matter what we do.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Jack me old china, I feel your pain. I am afraid the mindset of these people is far, far too removed from my own. I can no longer care or waste time on them. If they all nuke each other to blazers, give me a shout.

I used to enjoy arguing about it, not because I particularly cared, but because I saw it is an intricate puzzle of historiography and claims about international law. I learnt a hell of a lot from something I really could not give a flying fuck about.

Oh, and in the process developed superb cognitive weaponry for understanding and debating Leftists still drunk on Cold War KGB KKKool Aid.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Oh, and just a minor correction. There is no such place as “Palestine”. It ended the day the British Mandate ended and 7 Arab armies invaded those parts of Mandate Palestine that lay outside the new state of Israel. It was the explicit aim of the 7 Arab nations never to allow another Palestinian state (called the “Mufti State” by Arab leaders) to be created. Thus after Jordan illegally invaded, stole, and annexed Judea and Samaria, it was renamed NOT “Palestine” but “the West Bank”

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

“Perhaps it can be put down to rhetorical overreach…”

Put it down to AGW for all I care, Ingolf. Feel equally free to use dismissive terms like ‘rant’ and ‘performance’ too, if they help balm your pique further still. My posts are neither.

“Jack me old china, I feel your pain.”

Greenfield for God’s sake get a grip man. Chap best shows another chap he cares by rooting, shooting & eating his dog, what. As for the Palestine bit spare us the cheap semantics masquerading as consummate scholasticism, tockle. We all know what a the Google nob looks like.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

“…give you an easy out from what I saw as the exaggeration of equating the amount of support and attention the Palestinians have received with whats been lavished on the Chosen Joint…”

OK, point taken, didn’t mean to hackle up. But I don’t want an out, is mine in response. I’ll bite at that one.

Ingolf, if it’d been up to me I would have frog-marched Arafat’s holster and his willy-waving rhetoric out the UN door in ’74, never to return inside the nominal civilised/political pale. Instead he rock-starred up the next thirty years, graced with every political honour and opportunity known to Homo Narcissus, from Nobel to Time 1/4 PotY to Rose Garden photo op to any number of bump-&-grind-out-the-detail sessions with any number of wearily-hopeful world leaders, including more than a few Israeli ones. Not bad for a bolted-on Egyptian ‘Pal’ with a gripe against his dad and an early penchant for roadside bombs. I’d be inclined to embrace the cliche that it takes anti-leadership of genius to miss the number of opportunities he did on behalf of his Peeble…except for the fact that it wasn’t a solo act, was it, he never could have pulled it off without the wilful assistance of his psychological doppelgangers.

That Israel has been lavished with disproportionate global loot, love and affection across the decades is only disputed by odious sulks still pissed off at the UN’s temerity in deigning to grant God’s Picked Ones anything so banally clay-clod as, y’know, secular border limits dahling, like, y’know, the rest of us un-Picked hillbilly hicks have to heed (ie and tend, with an un-exceptional, un-narcissistic, grown-up sense of rub-along human community and geo-political sustainability). But I think you and anyone else who instead sees the Pals as some kind of underdog in this just because they don’t get to go ski-ing in Gdask every other quarter on their second passport, misunderstands and dangerously underestimates the definitive significance – and huge potential risk for itself – of the formal ‘international community of nations’ agreeing to extend its suite of Statehood mechanisms and courtesies to any merely still-aspiring sovereign Peoples. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done at all. Obviously just that’s a key part of what the ‘international commmunity’ is there for. But the law of diminishing returns applies after a pretty short while. If you make a hollow petulant mockery of such extended opportunities for too long…well, you’re not just screwing your own People’s aspirations. You’re shitting in the only (potential) non-violent global waterhole-forum we’ve got.

I’m saying…enough. Either shit the pair of you or get off the pot. There’s a mighty big queue been forming behind you since ’48. Post-Colonial Africa in particular is a geo-political outside loo.

Jack Robertson
Jack Robertson
12 years ago

Yes, fair enough. And ta for your time & the space too, Ingolf.