May 10, 2008

A Reality Check as Israel Turns 60

An excellent article, A Reality Check as Israel Turns 60, by Fouad Ajami:

The Arab imagination could never reconcile itself to the permanence of the Jewish state. No victories could secure this state the acceptance of its neighbors. It was a fluke of history, they believed. Modern-day Arabs took to the history of the Crusader Kingdom that had lasted for two centuries (1099-1291), then pulled up stakes and left its castles and ruins. This, too, shall pass, it was believed.

In its short history, Israel has held up a mirror for the Arabs, who have not liked what they have seen. Although outgunned and outnumbered, a mere 650,000 Jews prevailed over 40 million Arabs. In their fantasy, the Arabs were a martial people, while the Jews had been timid souls. These were different Jews, the Zionists, steeled by the horror of the Holocaust, who would hold their own in the field of battle. On a barren, small piece of land, the Zionists built a durable state. It was military but not militaristic. Under conditions of a long siege, it maintained a deep and abiding democratic ethos.

Israel's 60th anniversary suggests what might have been. The Zionists opted for moderation and rescue; they would take a state, said their legendary leader Chaim Weizmann, even if it were the size of a tablecloth. The Palestinians held out for the whole thing. This month's festivities marking the return of the Jews to the world of nations should be an occasion for some honest Palestinian (and Arab) retrospection on how Arab history has played out in the intervening decades.