About 10 years ago, Thomas Friedman (before he was Mr. Globalization and was merely Mr. Middle East Peace), offered his view of what it would take to bring real progress on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.* In a nutshell, each side would need to fight (and ‘win’) a civil war before either could reasonably make progress on Peace.
In the Arab world the internal struggle pits on one side those who want to open their societies and link up with the global economy. They view peace with Israel not as a good in and of itself, but as a necessary ritual if they want to really attract foreign investment and U.S. assistance to modernize their countries. Against them are arrayed those forces in the Arab world that view modernization as a threat — from bureaucrats who fear they will lose their power to private businessmen, to fundamentalists and intellectuals who fear they will lose their identity to the mixmaster of modernization-Americanization. This group views peace with Israel as simply the most odious element of modernization.
In Israel there is a similar internal war, in which peace with the Arabs is bound up with how Israel will relate to the world generally. It has grown so sharp that the Israeli philosopher David Hartman now warns about the ”new partition of Israel” — between an ultra-Orthodox Israel with its capital in Jerusalem and a secular Israel with its capital in Tel Aviv.
The same ultra-Orthodox forces in Israel that oppose the peace process because they see it as another form of assimilation that will only bring Israel more Pizza Huts, Blockbuster Videos and smut-ridden cable channels are the same ultra-Orthodox who want to pass a law delegitimizing Conservative and Reform Judaism. For the ultra-Orthodox, Pizza Hut, the peace process and Reform Judaism are all the same thing — vehicles that promote assimilation and a loss of Jewish identity.
Israel is in the middle of just such a struggle. Its no accident that the current government, again awash in divisions, struggle, and infighting, is a secular-led coalition of Sharon’s Kadima and Labor.
Now, the Palestinians are also in their own internal struggle, with Hamas and Fatah sliding toward armed confrontation in Gaza.
As Condi prepares to re-engage peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, she wades into a pool of internal conflict on both sides.
One of Tom’s Middle East Rules To Live By:
Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line.
So, Tom, are we any closer to a Middle East peace now?
And, remind me again, just what does Condi hope to accomplish on this trip?
*since the link is behind the Times select subscription wall, the cite is:
Tom Friedman, “The War Within,” The New York Times, May 15, 1997.