Saudi Arabia Should Normalize Relations with Israel—and Not Only for Strategic Reasons

April 5 2018

The Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman made a few headlines this week when, in an interview with the Atlantic, he seemed to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East. While it is no secret that Riyadh and Jerusalem have been engaging in ever-closer cooperation due to their shared concerns about the threat from Iran, MBS (as the Saudi leader is known) has not moved toward bringing these relations out into the open. Lee Smith argues that it’s high time Saudi Arabia began initiating diplomatic relations with Israel, and not only because of dovetailing geopolitical priorities:

[T]he main reason to normalize relations with the Jewish state is not strategic—rather, it’s sociological. . . . [C]riticism of anti-Semitism typically focuses on the damage that it does to Jews, but that’s only one part of the equation. The other concern is what it does to those who are afflicted by anti-Semitism, non-Jews, by turning them into stark raving lunatics who are incapable of understanding the world and thus acting in it rationally. If you believe that 1 percent of the world’s population controls global wealth, communications, and even the weather, it becomes increasingly difficult to function. When an entire society adopts this as a worldview, it’s over. “The Jews control the weather” is not a starting point from which anyone makes progress.

Consider Syria, for instance, whose rulers thought it advisable to bind competing sects and tribes together in an oppositional nationalism based on perpetual war against the Jewish state. It was nearly inevitable that at some point Syrians would turn to slaughtering each other. Iran’s anti-Semitism is dangerous for Israel, but let’s be frank—Jerusalem has a large nuclear arsenal and can take care of itself even if its superpower patron in Washington blinks. The anti-Semitism that is the signature of the Iranian leadership’s madness is much more dangerous to Iran itself—a peril further magnified by the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Thus, the Iranian threat isn’t just military but also cultural. That’s why MBS is in a rush to undo the post-1979 regional order, represented now by the obscurantist regime in Tehran that courts war not simply with Israel but with all of its neighbors, from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean. To keep Saudi Arabia moving headlong in the other direction, namely the future, the logical move for a man who keeps shocking the system is to embrace Israel. By establishing normal relations with the Jewish state, MBS would be enshrining his vision for a normal Saudi Arabia.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia


Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat