The Key to Understanding the Middle East

Feb. 27 2017

Reviewing Ephraim Karsh’s The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, Elan Juorno writes:

Karsh’s central insight is contrarian: the region’s people and leaders are agents shaping their own history. To formulate sensible foreign policy, we must take seriously their prevailing moral-political ideas—above all, the embrace of Islam. . . .

Was the Ottoman empire, which ruled much of the area, the “hapless victim of secret diplomacy bent on carving up its territory”? No, Karsh says. It was instead the “casualty of its own catastrophic decisions to join the war on the losing side.” Did Britain impose London’s interests during its Palestine Mandate (1922–1948), regardless of local needs? Quite the contrary, Karsh argues: British policy was in fact “largely dictated by Arab violence prior to World War II and by Jewish political and military pressure in its wake.”

During the cold war the United States and the USSR—the world’s leading powers—affected the Middle East profoundly, interceding frequently to stop regional conflicts. But neither had a “decisive say in their smaller [regional] allies’ grand strategies,” Karsh shows, nor were they able to “contain undesirable regional developments,” such as Egypt’s defection to the Soviets in the 1950s or its later swing back to America’s side, or the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran. And despite emerging as the lone superpower after the cold war, the United States could not “deter Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait, or . . . induce him to leave peacefully.” . . .

Karsh argues that we must pay much closer attention to the Middle East’s distinctive ideas—particularly its tribal culture and Islam’s dominance. One implication is that the region’s people and intellectual leaders bear the primary responsibility for their problems—and for solving them.

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More about: History & Ideas, Imperialism, Islam, Middle East, Ottoman Empire, U.S. Foreign policy

 

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat