In my last blog post, Iran Nuclear Deal is Bad, Bad, Bad!, I concluded that now is the time for Israel and the Arab world to bury the hatchet for the sake of collective security against an Islamic Republic of Iran that will surely emerge much stronger and much more dangerous after sanctions are lifted. So how can the decades-old Israeli-Arab conflict be brought to an end?
Most people who have at least a general understanding of politics in the Middle East will probably say that the key to resolving the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours lies in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do agree that without an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab states is unachievable, but I also believe that even if and when such an agreement is reached, there will still not be true peace between Jews and Arabs. What do I mean by “true peace”? I mean a peace in which Jews and Arabs respect not just their mutual borders, but also each other.
Right now, only two Arab states, Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, have peace agreements with Israel and have since established diplomatic and economic relations. But it is a cold peace at best. The fact of the matter is that Israel is still viewed as the enemy by the general public in both Egypt and Jordan just as it is in the other Arab states that do not recognize Israel. Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may bring peace between the Israeli and Arab governments, but it won’t immediately bring peace between the Jewish and Arab peoples. For Jews and Arabs to be at peace with each other, both peoples will have to change how they see each other.
Promotion of Discriminatory and Racist Attitudes Must End
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Jews and Arabs in the Middle East don’t view each other very fondly. In the Arab world, for example, it is quite easy to get a hold of anti-Jewish writings, such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf or the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Holocaust denial in the Arab world is also rampant. Television and newspapers in the Arab states are full of anti-Jewish stereotypes. Worse still, it is not uncommon for Arab media outlets to promote and encourage the killing of Israelis and Jews in general.
The amount of Jew-hatred in the Arab world is actually ironic since very few Jews now live in the Arab states where there were once hundreds of thousands of them. The reason for this? Repeated campaigns in various Arab countries to murder Jews, expel them and seize their property. Indeed, the Jewish exodus from the Arab states following the creation of the State of Israel is just as worthy of attention as the plight of Palestinian refugees, if not more so. Unfortunately, the international community doesn’t see it that way.
Anti-Arab racism certainly exists in Israel, but not to the extent that Jew-hatred exists in the Arab world. Whereas those who advocate expelling Arabs from Israel or killing them just because they are Arabs are on the margins of Israeli society, those who advocate killing Jews and Israelis and wiping Israel off the map are considered mainstream in the Arab world. Hence, although Israel does have to make more of an effort to root out racism amongst its people, the Arab states have a far greater task in erasing Jew-hatred from the minds of their citizens. Until now, unfortunately, the governments in the Arab states have only been fueling Jew-hatred, and this has to end if Arabs are ever to view their Jewish cousins with respect.
Historical Narratives Must Be Respected
Both the Jews and the Arabs have a different view of history in regards to the creation of Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict. For example, Jews view the creation of Israel as the fulfillment of the Zionist enterprise to restore Jewish independence for the first time in two thousand years. The Arabs, in contrast, view the creation of the State of Israel as a tragedy, or Nakba, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes and made into refugees. The fact is that although ethnic cleansing was certainly not the agenda of the leaders of the new State of Israel, expulsions did take place, crimes were committed against the Palestinian Arab population and much of their property was seized. It is also true that throughout Israeli history, different Israeli governments have sought to erase the country’s Arab heritage through various means. Many Palestinian villages were destroyed and replaced with Jewish communities. More recently, some Israeli politicians have sought to prevent Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel from commemorating what they view as the Nakba.
Meanwhile, the Arab world still refuses to recognize any modern Jewish connection to what they call Palestine. Many Arabs, for instance, refuse to acknowledge that the holy Jewish Temple that once housed the Ark of the Covenant once stood on the grounds where the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque are now. And whereas Israel has accepted the principle of compensation for Palestinian refugees, I have yet to hear even one statement from a leader in the Arab world acknowledging the crimes committed against hundreds of thousands of Jews in Arab countries who were murdered, expelled and/or deprived of their property, let alone talk of compensation for these people.
For a true peace between Arabs and Jews to exist, both peoples must acknowledge the crimes that they have committed against each other. In fact, if and when Israel does establish relations with the Arab states, both sides should look to set up a truth and reconciliation commission similar to that of post-Apartheid South Africa, so that witnesses can come and testify as to the crimes allegedly committed against them, and the alleged perpetrators can acknowledge their wrongdoings without fear of prosecution. There must also be fair compensation and/or restitution not just for the Palestinian refugees, but also for the Jews who were expelled from Arab countries and deprived of their land and possessions.
Both Arabs and Jews must also stop trying to negate the heritage of one another in the Holy Land. For the Arabs, this means recognizing that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland and that the State of Israel is the embodiment of that right. It also means acknowledging the historical legacy of Jews in the Arab states, including the future state of Palestine. For Jews, it means making efforts to acknowledge the history of the Palestinian Arabs in parts of Israel where they are no longer present. For example, it would be a good idea for Israel to create a memorial at the site where the village of Deir Yassin used to be in order to acknowledge the existence of the previous Palestinian Arab inhabitants and the massacre that occurred there at the hands of Zionist militia.
I believe that the Jewish and Arab peoples both have the right to their own perspectives on history, especially as it concerns the Israeli-Arab conflict. So if, for example, the Arabs want to view the creation of the State of Israel as an event that brought misery to the Palestinian people, then they should be entitled to this opinion, just as much as Jews should be entitled to view Israel’s creation as a positive event in their history.
The Arabs cannot and must not, however, use the way they see Israel’s creation as pretext to delegitimize the existence of the state, for it is the embodiment of the Jewish people’s inalienable right to self-determination. They also cannot and must not deny historical fact, which includes but is not necessarily limited to denying the fact that the Holocaust did take place. In the same respect, Jews cannot and must not deny that crimes were committed against the Palestinian Arabs during efforts to create and maintain the State of Israel. The fact of the matter is that there can only be true peace between the children of Abraham once Jews and Arabs are prepared to respect and tolerate the way each of them perceives their history.
When True Peace between Jew and Arab Comes, So Will Collective Security
Creating an environment in which Jews and Arabs view each other with respect will allow Israel and the Arab states to form a strategic alliance against the terrorist menace that is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such an alliance is vital as Iran presents an existential threat to all the independent states of the Middle East region. It is my hope that upon ending their conflict once and for all, Israel and its Arab neighbours, or at least those not under the proxy control of Iran, will unite to form this alliance — a military alliance similar to NATO. One that obligates each of its members to defend one another from external threats, whether those threats come from Iran or anywhere else.
If the countries of the Middle East can put aside their differences and create this strategic military pact, it will be much harder for the Islamist regime in Iran to achieve the dominance of the region that it seeks. If they fail to do so, however, the Iranians can start picking off each independent Middle Eastern state one by one, and before you know it, the flags of Iran’s Islamo-fascist rulers will be flying over the capitals of Baghdad, Riyadh, Jerusalem and so forth. So I sincerely hope that the leaders of the Middle East will choose to pursue unity over division.