If there ever was a conflict in world history whose dynamics are practically identical to that of the Arab-Israeli conflict it would be the situation of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars.
Just look at the similarities:
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel were supposedly “artificially” created by the Allied powers following World War I (Czechoslovakia was created by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and Jews were given the right to establish a Homeland in Palestine in the San Remo Conference of 1920).
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel were carved out of the territories of the defeated powers of WWI (the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire).
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel had large minority populations from the defeated nations (Germans and Arabs).
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel were islands of liberal democracy in a sea of authoritarian regimes (obviously that’s a bit of a romanticized simplification, and you could easily make the argument that both Czechoslovakia and Israel were mistreating their minority groups – but that too only strengthens the similarity!).
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel made many mistakes that cost the lives of civilians on both sides of the conflict.
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel were small nations. Both had a strong military.
- Both countries’ very existence (!) was being threatened by German and Arab movements that derived their power from the nationalist sentiment of their peoples (the German Reich, and the Arab-Islamic Caliphate).
- In the German case, this movement emerged as the German Nationalist-Socialist (Nazi) Party. In the Arab case, this movement initially emerged as the Pan-Arab movement. But after that movement was mortally wounded in the aftermath of the Six Day War it was supplanted by the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Both Germans and Arabs wanted to reclaim the “glory” of their former defeated empires, and believed that they needed to correct the “injustice” that was supposedly done to them by the establishment of Czechoslovakia and Israel, respectively.
- Both Germans and Arab-Muslims had imperial ambitions which went far beyond the boundaries of the disputed territory in question (ie. Czechoslovakia or Israel) – in fact, these ambitions were global.
- Both Czechoslovakia and Israel had a vibrant culture of public debate, political dissent, and independent media which consistently criticized government policies toward Germans or Arabs, respectively.
- On the other hand, both German and Arab government and media lacked any form of introspection or self-criticism. Rather, they were always the supposed “victims” of Western or Zionist aggression. The only form of self-criticism they exhibited revolved around the question of what more they could have done to destroy the Czech or Zionist “threat.”
- The Nazi Party gained momentum due to its fear campaign and powerful propaganda machine, and eventually rose to power democratically. The Muslim Brotherhood – a fascist Islamic movement at its core – used violence for decades and spread its Islamist ideology with the help of the powerful al-Jazeera news network, and will soon rise to power democratically throughout much of the Middle East.
- Both German and Arab regimes used their powerful centralized propaganda machine and political power to delegitimize the very existence of Czechoslovakia and Israel in the eyes of the world. They characterized Czechoslovakia and Israel as “colonizers” and “oppressors.” They accused Czechs and Israelis of atrocities against innocent Sudeten Germans and Palestinians, and leveraged the suffering (and manufactured suffering) of their brethren for political gain.
- Both German and Arab regimes prevented a peaceful resolution to the (manufactured) conflicts with Czechoslovakia and Israel.
- Sudeten Germans (at the instruction of Hitler) refused all reconciliation proposals, until Czechoslovakia was forced to capitulate to British and French demands and cede the Sudetenland to Germany (the next day, however, Hitler added new demands, insisting that the claims of ethnic Germans in Poland and Hungary also be satisfied).
- Palestinians (at the instruction of Arab leaders) refuse to recognize the Jewish State, while insisting on the return of 6 million Palestinian refugees into Israel proper (an act which would in effect destroy the Jewish State). By doing so, they subvert any possible resolution to the conflict, and prolong Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories – a situation they then exploit to undermine the negotiation process and further delegitimize Israel.
- In both cases the localized conflict – whether between Czechoslovakia and Sudeten Germans or Israel and the Palestinians – was only the tip of the iceberg.
- In both cases Western powers were slow to understand the dynamics of the conflict. They did not see the big picture, and they gradually acquiesced to German or Arab demands with the hope of achieving “peace for our time.”
Or, in the words of Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on May 2, 1935:
When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.
There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline Books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
So what can we learn from history this time around?
First, we need to understand that Israel cannot fight off Arab and Islamic aggression all by itself for long, (just like Czechoslovakia was unable to fend off German aggression by itself). It needs the moral support of Western powers.
Second, we need to understand that what lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not really a clash over the West Bank and Gaza, or even over the whole of Palestine (just like the conflict in Europe was not really over the Sudetenland, or Czechoslovakia)
Third, we also need to understand that what lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not really a clash between Arabs and Israelis, or Muslims and Jews (just like the conflict in Europe was not really between Germans and other Europeans – the fact is that today Germans and other Europeans live together peacefully).
What then motivates the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
In essence, there are two effective ways to motivate people to act: desperation or inspiration.
Desperation motivates people to act against each other. Inspiration motivates them to act for a better world. Desperation leads to oppression and war. Inspiration leads to peace and prosperity.
What separates the two is not lack of land or resources, but a lack of imagination!
Islamist ideology motivates Arab-Muslims to fight for control over all the territories of the Middle East, with the hope of re-establishing an Islamic Empire (and then spreading to the rest of the world). To do so, they must first destroy the Jewish State (either militarily or politically, as they’ve been trying to do for decades, but with greater effectiveness and tenacity as of late).
This ideology is not much different from the fascist ideology that motivated Germans to fight for control over Europe. it is also the leading cause of oppression (of women and minorities), violence, and wars throughout the Middle East (and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular).
Unfortunately this Islamist ideology has captured the minds of millions of Arabs and Muslims throughout the world. Yet, this ideology has nothing to do with Islam, and has nothing to do with Arab nationalism. It is simply fascism with an Islamic face.
How can we make 2012 different from 1935?
First, Islamist ideology must be confronted. Not just by the West, but – more importantly – by the silent majority of Arabs and Muslims who seek peace and prosperity.
Islamist ideology will not lead to freedom, peace, or prosperity. It will only lead to more hate, more oppression, more violence, more destruction, and more wars, as other fascist ideologies have demonstrated throughout the 20th century.
Second, there must be a better alternative to the Islamist vision of an Arab-Muslim Empire. Such alternative could be a Middle Eastern Union, which could be modeled to some extent on the European Union; a union of Middle Eastern countries, including all Arab states, Palestine, and Israel (!) – where every citizen can freely travel to, live, or work in any part of the Union.
While such a vision may sound absolutely absurd today, it is no more absurd than the vision of a European Union was in 1935, and – if only enough people take action to realize this vision – it can become a reality! (especially when the alternative is more pointless wars and destruction).
Therefore, the path to a better future – of freedom, peace and prosperity – is through peaceful reconciliation.
Western powers, and those in the Arab world who seek peace and prosperity, must call on Arab regimes to pursue peaceful reconciliation with Israel. This means stopping the violence and incitement against Israel, and frankly addressing and negotiating all issues of the conflict with Israel.
In the age of YouTube and Facebook, every person can (and must) raise his voice for freedom, peace, and prosperity. Make your voices heard!
We must act now, while the situation is still manageable…
This post is in response to the question:
Would like to know what you think about the possibility of Israel’s survival as a nation against the overwhelming odds of such a tiny country surrounded by so much hostility. I don’t think that Israel can depend on carrying the “big stick” militarily in the Mid East forever. There are much bigger kids on the block (Iran). For most of it’s existence Israel has survived against all odds mostly because of superior military power. This won’t last forever and they will need to find a different way of dealing with their neighbors if they are to survive.
For an in-depth analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict see:
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Part I : Why Peace is Impossible
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Part II : Why the Middle East is on a Path to War
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Part III : The Core of the Conflict
For more about the history of Palestine see: