No, a peace deal wouldn't diminish anti-Semitism
Richard Cohen argues (with much justification) that anti-Semitism remains a scourge in the Muslim World: "There are nearly no Jews in Arab lands -- they were kicked out after Israel was established in 1948. Nowhere in the Middle East is peace with Israel popular. Nowhere in the Middle East is anti-Semitism considered aberrant or weird. It is inconceivable to me that Arab politicians will not attempt to harness both sentiments, combining nationalism with anti-Semitism -- a combustible and unstable compound. History instructs about what follows."
So what to do about it? Israel should settle with the Palestinians, Richard argues:
Consequently, now would be the propitious time for Israel to settle with the Palestinians. I am aware that resolution of the Palestinian issue will not satisfy anti-Semites or extreme Arab nationalists - Israel is not going to give up all of Jerusalem nor, for that matter, disappear - and both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have only been emboldened by recent events. Still, the creation of a Palestinian state -- the lifting of all the onerous restrictions on Palestinian movement -- will take some air out of this particular balloon and, possibly, improve Israel's deteriorating moral standing in Europe and elsewhere. This is no small matter.
There are some glaring flaws in this analysis.
Indeed, as Israel has made peace with Egypt, withdrawn from Gaza and extended autonomy to much of the West Bank, anti-Semitism, by all accounts, has been on the rise -- not only in the Middle East but in Europe and South America as well. There is something inappropriate, if not noxious, in suggesting that Israel is responsible for the toxic brew of anti-Semitism bubbling up. As we know all too well, there need not be any Israel for anti-Semitism to flourish.
Second, it's not as if Israel hasn't tried to make deal. Richard seems to suggest that if only Israel got with the program, it could make a deal. It was, of course, the Palestinians who refused peace deals at Camp David and from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It was the Palestinians who revealed they have no intention of recognizing a Jewish state. What would Richard have the Israelis do?
And finally, shouldn't the formula work the other way? I mean, might not a peace deal become easier if the spotlight was trained on anti-Israel propaganda, anti-Semitic textbooks sent around the globe by the Saudis, and the concealed nexis of anti-Semitic Europeans and NGOs dedicated to Israel's destruction? This seems, at any rate, a more logical approach than the assumption that a paper agreement would quell anti-Semitism.
It's a confusing time in the Middle East. But even Dennis Ross stumbled on the truth when he said yesterday:
The ongoing wave of political change will finally enable the region to address the long-standing problem that political stagnation actually limited the prospects for comprehensive peace and regional reconciliation. The landmark 2002 Arab Human Development Report recognized that the lack of Arab-Israeli peace was "both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda, disrupting national priorities and retarding political development." For these Arab scholars, Israel's occupation was used to "justify curbing dissent at a time when democratic transition requires greater pluralism in society and more public debate on national development policies. " As a peace negotiator, I heard countless times from leaders in the region that reform could not take place without peace. That was an excuse then; today, it is simply denial. As governments begin to initiate reforms in response to the demands of their own citizens, they will soon realize that continued conflict will impede their efforts and national resources can be better applied to local concerns. In the early 1990s, Shimon Peres described a "New Middle East" where economic opportunities and interdependence would propel the region to a new era of cooperation and coexistence.
Two decades later, let us hope that the people of the Middle East will begin recognizing these opportunities, and that leaders will seize the moment to take necessary reforms not just to advance the cause of local reform, but also to advance the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the region. Reform and peace go hand in hand and offer the peoples of the region a future of hope and possibility.
In short, Arab states' internal reforms are more likely to produce peace than a peace deal is to cure Arabs' anti-Semitism.
| March 1, 2011; 9:29 AM ET
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