“PALESTINE”: ANOTHER “ARAB STATE?

We present the latest essay from Paul Merkley. Paul discusses whether a new democratic Arab state of Palestine is possible in the sense of what we consider democracy and a modern state to be. This new essay is reprinted by permission of Paul and from The Bayview Review. See the links at the end for direct access to the rest of Paul’s work that we have published.

Israel’s right to live as a nation-state  on the exact spot where she now stands follows from a two-thirds voted in the UN General Assembly, November 29, 1947.

The delegates who made that decision were responding to an urgent moral question: how to provide for a safe future for the community of European Jews which had nearly been liquidated by Hitler and his colleagues – who , in turn, had exploited for this most evil of purposes a deeply-ingrained contempt for Jews that seemed impossible to eradicate among European people.

But of even greater relevance was four millennia of historical association between the Jewish people and the land upon which they now proposed to build a new life. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, the land in question had been written off by the best-informed European travellers as a wasteland: yet Jewish immigrants to the land since then had reified a hope that its present population could be multiplied  — to the mutual b benefit of Jews, Arabs and other races.

In November 1947, there was overwhelming popular support  for the partition of the Palestine Mandate and its endorsement of “a Jewish state and an Arab State”  (“an Arab state,” let us note, not” a Palestinian state”.) But let us, for purposes of discussion only, set aside the historical realities and the arguments that won the day – and let us, for purposes  of discussion only, imagine that the Palestine Mandate ruled by the British, is still  in place.  Let us imagine that the debate about its future has been frozen in time since 1947 and that we are today free to make anything that we want out of the  materials at hand. But let us also imagine that everything else in the vicinity went on as it did until today – a history of the Middle East without Israel and without the Palestine Issue. My question is: Is there any informed adult on the face of the earth who  would care to argue that what the world needs most  is another Arab nation?

I have found that most people imagine that the Arab states whose names appear in our headlines every day are of ancient standing. The inhabitants of the Middle East, have ancestors going back to Adam — as do we all. Some of them belong to tribes which, again, have been around for many centuries; but nobody on earth  knows exactly how long, as none of them can provide any written record until very, very recently. Of the actually-existing Arab nation-states,  members of the United Nations,  the oldest has had an independent existence only since 1932 – and is thus two years older than I am —NOT my idea of antiquity?

When World war Two ended in 1945, most Arab people were still ruled outright by Great Britain or France, while the others were either “Protectorates” or “Mandates” assigned by the League of Nations but effectively ruled as colonies. During the Second World War, certain of the local monarchies , Syria, Iraq  and Persia (Iran),  had been taken  by force under control of European Powers (including, in the case of Persia,  taken over by the USSR in order to reverse the effects of Axis penetration of their governments and their military.)

During the 1940s and 1950s, independence was granted to all of the remaining Arab colonies. In most cases, this came at little cost in lives and property – relative, that is to the cost of the bloody wars of liberation fought out in Asia and North Africa in the 1950s. At every step in the history of these people – before the Empires came along, during the imperial period,  and over subsequent years –  countless popular uprisings took place , some driven by poverty and anguish over brutal rule, some fought under democratic slogans, some drive by Islamist and other sectarian slogans  –all of them skirting anarchy, but all  eventually suppressed by broadly-supported  military action.

All of the current Arab regimes came in promising democracy, but so far none has delivered it. Indeed, it remains unproven to this day whether democracy can succeed  in the Arab world —  democracy, for our present purpose, being defined as the right to vote in two consecutive free elections.

But perhaps the right to vote is over-rated. Can a case in defense of the Arab regimes stand upon their enhancement of the lives of their citizens – in light of which one might argue that the right to vote can be happily postponed to another day, or disposed with altogether?

The answer is a resounding No!

The Regional Review of the Arab Knowledge Report of the United Nations Developmental Programme (UNDP) which illustrates the connection between governance and human development,  states:

Reform efforts launched [in Arab societies] in the 1980s have either failed or produced little improvement. As a result, poverty is increasing … [and has now] reached 18.4% … Arab countries are among the most dependent on food imports… Aridity is the prime cause of food dependency, but poor management [has aggravated this.]

Underlying this bleak economic performance is the Arab world’s  failure to accept conditions for changes in thinking.

Knowledge in the Arab world is hampered by the Arab language’s linguistic isolation in the area of information of technology…. [Such] knowledge may be hampered by the availability of satellite channels which specialize in disseminating radical religious discourse.

In plainer language: the best energies of Arab people are going to the promotion of Islam and not  to the search for anything that in our part of the world is regarded as contributing to the betterment of human life.

As we move from material considerations to intellectual and philosophical ones, we get closer to the root of the matter. According to the UNDP Arab Knowledge Report of 2009,  in the Arab world, “significant political oppression stifles freedom and limits human choices and consequently human development… In the Arab countries, there has been a general trend of freedom levels going from bad to worse instead of from good to better.”

At the same time:  of 173 countries whose newspapers have been reviewed for performance by Reporters Without borders “ two Arab countries are ranked at the very bottom of the list, while not a single Arab country deserves as “ good rating.”

There is also available to us an “Index of Political Freedom in the Middle East,” published by a leading research and advisory firm that ranks 20 Middle East countries on 15 indicators of political and civil liberty.  On its ten point scale, Israel is at the top at 8.20, while the other – all Muslim and all but Iran Arab – rank at 6.55 down to 2.  (http:news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4450582.stm.)

As a bottom line to all,  there is the literacy rate. The world figure is 83.7. In Israel is it is 97.1. In the Arab states it varies from 10% in Jordan to 59.8% in Mauritania.

Under all of the relevant headings – responsiveness of government, literacy, quality of life, distribution of wealth, health care, basic human freedoms —  it can be said that over the last decade everywhere in the world modest gains are reported by UN bodies – everywhere,  that is except in the Arab world.

I invite any critic in our part of the world who pretends to believe that this world would be a better place without Israel, might try this test: given that a world without Israel would inevitably be a world with another Arab state — which of the Arab states would he  consider as a model for “Palestine”? And which of the Arab states presently  in the world attracts him as a place to live – as a place to pull up stakes and move to, expecting to find a better life?

To any Christian clergymen who has lent his vote year after year at denominational meetings to resolutions of condemnation of Israel, we would ask:   to which of these Arab states would he be prepared to move and take his family  – given that not one of them can provide freedom of expression for the church to which the clergyman belongs? Let him consider  the situation of Copts in the one remaining Arab State  in which Christians have until this century lived in relative peace, but are now on the brink of annihilation on account of Islamist assault conducted with massive popular acquiescence?

It is irresponsible for our governments to go on pretending that what the Palestinian leaders  want is the famous  Two State Solution. The PLO which governs in the Palestine Authority has made clear that its goal is a single state – and that State must be Palestine, an Arab and a Muslim state.  To understand what that will mean we need only look around at all the other Arab states.

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