US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are stumbling on the Arab reticence to recognize the legitimacy of Israel existing as a sovereign Jewish state. Land swaps, construction permits and refugee status are sideshows. The adamant unwillingness of the Arabs to accept a Jewish state in the region touches the heart of the dispute. At the core is the Arab unwillingness to see Jews as equals.
This is a pathology in Muslim religious and Arab civilizational values. Westerners are reluctant to criticize such sensitive areas, but nevertheless we should address this pathology and its roots.
Initially, Mohammed was well disposed towards the Jews. Islam acknowledged that Jews and Christians had received divine revelations, but these “People of the Book” nevertheless distorted their holy words through wickedness. Mohammed turned bitter when they failed to shed their ancient beliefs and heed his message. He enshrined that bitterness in the Koran resulting in the contemptuous attitude early Islam maintained towards Jews and other non-Muslims.
For centuries the Jews in Muslim lands were seen as social and religious inferiors, to be tolerated only as dhimmis, a protected, yet impure class. Muslim civilization ensnared dhimmis in a web of social restrictions designed to emphasize their inferiority and magnify the superiority of Muslims. The Muslims came to expect this was the natural order of things.
This order began to crumble in the nineteenth century as Muslim military power faded. The Muslim self image as Allah’s Chosen ruptured with the loss of traditional Muslim lands to Western colonial rule. With that dislocation, Muslim society became far more suspicious of dhimmis.
The colonizing European powers brought along their portrait of the Jews as diabolical enemies of humanity conspiring for world domination. Up to this point, Muslims considered the Jews as impure, weak and ineffectual. Now, with the help of Christian Arabs, Jews came to be seen as a cursed community allied to Satan. Jews were scheming well poisoners, who annually killed non-Jews to use their blood to make matzah. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion acknowledged as anti-Semitic fiction in the rest of the world, was accepted as unassailable fact in the Muslim world. To explain Muslim setbacks, it offered a simple explanation. Social unrest, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, the plagues of modernity all could be traced to the malevolence of the Jews. Today anti-Jewish conspiracy fantasies remain a stock part of the literature of the Arab world.
Added to the above, Muslim society found itself dealing with the effects of decolonization and the growing Zionist movement. Hostility towards Jews increased to the of point pogroms and riots in the Arab countries. Eventually the Jewish communities in Arab lands which had been established for hundreds of years were uprooted.
The demonization and dehumanizing of the Jew has continued apace with the appearance of the State of Israel.
In 1971 Ayatollah Kohmeni described the State of Israel as “a cancerous growth in the Middle East.” Other Muslim leaders and the Muslim masses have echoed that sentiment ever since. But Israel the country, poses no existential danger to any Middle Eastern country. Rather the idea of Israel is a pathology that eats away at the Muslim psyche.
That Jews, people determined by the Quran for eternal degradation and humiliation, should establish a sovereign nation in the heart of the realm of Islam corrodes the Muslim psyche like an unstoppable cancer. That Jews, pronounced unalterably inferior by the Quran, should be victorious against the armies of Allah gnaws on the Muslim claim of the superiority of Islam.
Neither Mahmoud Abbas nor any other Muslim leader can recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Arafat couldn’t neither could the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. For to do so would be to recognize as legitimate a non Islamic state in the center of the realm of Islam. Israel sits on what they consider Muslim land and it can only be under Muslim rule.
Until the Muslim world is ready to excise this pathology and internalize the idea that other people — people different from themselves — have a legitimate right to exist in the world as equals, squabbles about borders, land swaps and construction permits are effective as prescriptions for snake oil.