Shortly after his election as Prime Minister in May 1996, Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the United States Congress. There he denied any clash of civilizations between Israel and its Arab-Islamic neighbors. This denial—disingenuous or not—underlies Netanyahu’s current economic plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By building up the Palestinian economy, which of course will be partly dependent on Israel, peace between Jews and Arabs will eventually follow. Netanyahu has joined Shimon Peres, author of The New Middle East.
Before examining the mode thought of these odd bedfellows, note that Netanyahu and Peres are secularists. I mention this because Abdallah al-Tall, an Egyptian spokesman, has said that “The propagandists of secularism, who leave out of account the religious factor in the Palestine problem, ignore the fact that this is the only bone of contention in the world which has persisted for thirty centuries and is still based on religious and spiritual foundations.”
According to the “propagandists of secularism,” economics trumps religion. This, of course, is indicative of a Marxist mode of thought. This mode thought, we shall see, also underlies capitalism, and that’s what links Bibi to Shimon, the author of the Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement which Bibi refused to abrogate. Both are wedded to Oslo.
The Oslo Agreement is based on the assumption that genuine peace is possible between ideological adversaries, in this case, Israel and her Arab-Islamic neighbors. Shimon Peres does not take the anti-Jewish and warlike nature of Islam very seriously. Thus, when he was Yitzhak Rabin’s foreign minister, he applied for Israeli membership in the Arab League!
Peres’ blasé attitude toward Islam is widespread in the West. It underlies Israel’s policy of “land for peace.” Superficially, this policy is based on the belief that yielding the territory regained by Israel in the Six-Day War will pacify her Arab neighbors. This belief is based on a materialistic conception of human nature, namely, the primacy of economic motives over ideas in human affairs. This materialistic assumption led to the Oslo negotiations that culminated in the Israel-PLO Agreement of September1993.
Belief in the primacy of economics is related to the notion of “conflict resolution” prevalent among political scientists throughout the democratic world. Conflict resolution requires mutual concessions or compromise between the parties to a conflict—here Jews and Muslims. “Conflict resolutionists” therefore deny or trivialize a clash of civilizations. This denial allows Netanyahu to propose an economic plan to overcome the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not that he believes economics can solve every problem, or that he dismisses as negligible the autocratic nature of Islamic culture. Nevertheless, like Peres, the mere fact that he is so anxious to negotiate with Arab Palestinians means that cultural or religious considerations are not decisive in his mental attitude toward Israel’s enemy—or should I say adversary?
Strange as it may seem, Karl Marx, the father of socialism, and Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, were present at Oslo. For Marx, the basic cause of conflict is not human nature but economic scarcity. Eliminate scarcity by an equitable distribution of goods, and men and nations will live in abiding peace.
Meanwhile, Adam Smith maintained that human misery and conflict can be overcome by the wealth of nations promised by economic laissez-faire. He proclaimed that war could be replaced by economic competition. The idea of “conflict resolution” links socialists and capitalists. The kinship goes further.
Insofar as capitalism fosters multinational corporations, it tends to dilute patriotism. Various American billionaires have renounced their citizenship. They proclaim that free trade can overcome ideological and international conflict: “Trade builds bridges.” Socialists agree, hence the European Union. Europe, however, is not the Middle East. Homo economicus may reign in democratic Europe, where Christianity has been secularized. But most denizens of the Middle East should be classified homo religiosus.
To expect the Islamic Middle East to yield to the economism or consumerism of the West is to expect more than twenty Arab-Islamic regimes to self-destruct. Hardly a short term prospect. An economic plan that trivializes the religious and cultural dimensions of the Moslem-Jewish conflict is bound to fail.
Besides, some Arab spokesmen—including Egyptians—contend that economic cooperation is a strategy by which Israel seeks to dominate the Middle East. Aqba Ali Saleh wrote in a leading Saudi daily that “The merging of technologically backward economies with [a] high-tech economy necessarily entails domination by [Israel].”
It should be noted that Israel’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $170 billion far exceeds the combined GDP of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Juxtapose the fact that the Arab states spend five times more than Israel on conventional arms. This fact makes the idea of an economic solution to the Moslem-Jewish conflict appear as secular mysticism.
True, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in March 1979. Yet, not only is trade between the two countries minuscule, but Maj. General (res.) David Ivri, a former Director General of Israel’s Defense Ministry, said that “The peace with Egypt is not peace. It is actually a cease-fire …”
Trade may build bridges, but man does not live by bread alone. France and Germany were the greatest trading partners before the Franco-Prussian War. So were Russia and Germany before the First and Second World Wars. Nationalistic and imperialistic ambitions transcended economic interests.
Especially relevant to the Middle East is Britain’s Peel Commission Report of 1937 which concluded that the Jewish contribution to Arab prosperity in Palestine only increased Arab hatred. The same phenomenon occurred after 1967 when Israel gained control of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Thanks to Israel’s economic and technological assistance, not only did Arab income in these areas multiply four-fold, but the Government established new hospitals, health centers, primary and secondary schools and universities. Predictably, except to simplistic Marxists and naive capitalists, these schools and universities became hotbeds of insurrection.
In fact, IDF students of mine did a research paper on Arab Palestinian attitudes toward Israel and discovered that Arab hostility increased with their standard of living!
But consider the most extensive case of Arab-Israeli economic cooperation. The employment of more than 100,000 Palestinian Arab commuters inside Israel knit together the two economies and brought individuals from the two communities into person-to-person contact. Yet this daily contact did not overcome Arab animosity toward Israel.
The ideological factor is ignored by secularists tainted by socialist and capitalist ideas. Such is their surreptitious contempt of Islam that the secularists who have ever dominated modern Israel invariably minimize the all-important religious dimension of the Arab-Israel conflict. Proud of their heritage, Moslems regard the secular democratic State of Israel as an outpost of Western decadence. Erasing this state from the map of the Middle East is a religious imperative.
Although Muslims differ as to how and when this is to be done, their ultimate goal is the same. Anwar Sadat put it this way in an interview with al-Anwar on June 22, 1975: “The effort of our generation is to return to the 1967 borders. Afterward the next generation will carry the responsibility.”
Moreover, in a New York Times interview dated October 19, 1980, Sadat boasted: “Poor Menachem [Begin], he has his problems … After all, I got back … the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper.”
A year after signing the March 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Sadat ominously declared: “Despite the present differences with the Arab ‘rejectionist’ rulers over the Egyptian peace initiative, the fact remains that these differences are only tactical not strategic, temporary not permanent.”
Even though Muslims do not dwell in abiding peace with each other, Shimon Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu seem to believe they would live in peace with Jews, if only they enjoyed something comparable to a Western standard of living. Arabs might deem this an insult. A group of Arabs once wrote Vladimir Jabotinsky, saying: “You are the only one among the Zionists who has no intention of fooling us and who understands that the Arab is a patriot and not a prostitute (who can be bought).”
Bibi has gone too far to take this message seriously.