On five occasions Arabs have been offered their own state alongside a Jewish state.
Conservative economist and social critic Thomas Sowell has written extensively about what he calls visions. According to Sowell, visions are pervasive societal beliefs about the relationships among groups in society.1 We might refer to these visions as narratives.
False Narratives: The United States
For example, Sowell debunks the notion that the “top one percent” of Americans earns the lion’s share of national income and pays less than their fair share of taxes. Sowell explains that economic data do not support this narrative. The top earners in the US are not a fixed group of people, as proponents of this narrative would have us believe. The great majority of US families that fall into the top one percent of earners are in that group for only a year. That is because the great majority of top earners have acquired that status due to the one-time sale of an appreciated asset such as a house, farm or stock. In the year after the sale, these families return to a lower category of earners.2
This means that populist politicians like Bernie Sanders are shading the truth. There is in fact no class of super-wealthy who are taking advantage of the American people. And far from avoiding taxes, the great majority of top earners pay the lion’s share of income taxes.
These false visions or narratives are pervasive in the current national scene. Other examples:
“Women earn less than men for the same work.” Actually, on average women earn less than men because they work fewer hours.
“Americans and Europeans are uniquely responsible for slavery.” But history shows that slavery has existed for many thousands of years and that every racial group has at one time been both slave owner and enslaved. Far from being uniquely culpable for enslavement of Africans, Americans and Europeans have been slave owners for a far shorter period of time and with far less brutality than Muslim slaving of Africans. If Americans and Europeans played a unique historical role, it was in their tireless military efforts to wipe out slave-holding in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thanks to these efforts, slavery was ended in the world far sooner than it would otherwise have been.
“White police officers are more likely than black officers to shoot black suspects.” But two nationwide studies concluded that this was not the case. In reality, black police officers were more likely to kill black civilians because police departments reflect the racial makeup of the communities they police.3
Despite lack of data to support these false narratives, they persist. They fuel racial discord and violence, political demagoguery and misguided government programs to “correct” presumed inequities.
False Narratives: Israel
Just as false narratives have perpetuated lies about income distribution, women’s earnings, black slavery and policing in the US, they have perpetuated lies about the war between the Jews of Israel and their Arab neighbors.
As a result, many Americans believe the following false narratives:
-the Land of Israel has been in Arab hands since time immemorial, until Jews arrived from Europe in the twentieth century and forcefully evicted the indigenous Arab inhabitants.
-the Jews of Israel are European, and not Middle Eastern
-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been resolved because the Jews have been unwilling to compromise territory and allow the Arabs to have their own state. If only the Jews would “return” Judea and Samaria to its rightful owners, the Arabs, there would be peace in Palestine and the entire region.
-Jewish settlement is gobbling up the West Bank, making a viable Palestinian state impossible, and thereby preventing peace between the opposing sides.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
These false narratives obscure historical facts:
-Jews have lived continuously in the Land of Israel for over 3,500 years. They are the only surviving people indigenous to the area. No responsible Israeli (and certainly no mainstream politician) claims that Arabs have no rights to the land. But when the first Arabs arrived in Palestine in the seventh century as invaders and colonizers from Arabia, the Jews had already lived on the land for 2,000 years. For over 200 years of that time the Jews lived under sovereign Jewish governments. That is about the same amount of time that Americans have lived under sovereign rule in North America. The Arabs of Palestine have never exercised sovereignty in any period.
-Today at least half of Israeli Jews have no European roots. They are overwhelmingly people who have been ethnically cleansed from surrounding Arab countries, as well as their descendants.
-On five occasions Arabs have been offered their own state alongside a Jewish state.4 They have always refused. They refused offers from the British in 1936 and the United Nations in 1947. (Both these offers were approved by the Jews of pre-state Israel.) They refused Israeli offers in 2000 and 2008. Between these two offers, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Instead of building state institutions, they transformed Gaza into a terrorist launching pad against Israel.
-The large Jewish settlements in the West Bank largely hug the Green Line, the armistice line established by agreements with Israel and its immediate Arab neighbors in 1949. Most of the West Bank remains open and undeveloped land. That is, despite the presence of Jewish communities, there is no shortage of land on which to establish another Arab state.
False Narratives that Impede Israeli-Arab Peace
Many Arab leaders—-including the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—-believe that non-Muslim sovereignty over previously Islamic lands is a defilement and an insult to Islam. They pursue policies that reflect these beliefs. That is why Arab leaders throughout the Middle East have reacted with indignation at the existence of Israel, a Jewish state. And that is why they often invoke religious themes when criticizing Israel.
To these Arab leaders, once land is under Muslim sovereignty it must forever remain so. Many government, religious and secular institutions in the Arab world also teach this narrative: the Jews are conducting a powerful effort to defeat Islam and assume Jewish control over Muslim lands. Although people in the West rarely hear this narrative, it is a pervasive belief in Arab countries. This belief is not unlike the European Christian belief in the Middle Ages that promoted the false narrative that the Jews were in alliance with the devil to topple Christianity. Although Europeans have mostly abandoned this false narrative, it lives on in a similar form in the Middle East.
Finally, the intransigence of these false narratives is fueled by the rigidity of religious belief. Conservative clerics echo Mohammed’s declaration that the Koran is final and ultimate knowledge. It is not to be questioned. This rigid attitude is reflected in the major institutions of Arab societies. Thus, compromise with the infidel is tantamount to blasphemy, an offense punishable by death. Short term compromises are permissible, but only as a ruse to achieve the eventual defeat of the infidels.
Western leaders have failed to understand this dynamic. That is why we rarely hear religious explanations for the failure to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. Instead, Western leaders turn to misguided “solutions” such as territorial withdrawals (by the Jews), granting Arabs greater rights and freedoms, and economic development.
None of these will resolve the conflict because they all ignore the false narratives that underlie the conflict.
- Sowell, T. Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Encounter Books: San Francisco. 2005, pp. 247-291.
- Sowell, T. Economic Facts and Fallacies. Basic Books: New York, NY, 2011.
- White Cops are No Likelier to Shoot Dead African-Americans than Black Ones are. The Economist. July 24, 2019. Retrieved August 31, 2019 from:
- Brog, D. Why Isn’t There a Palestinian State? Prager University. Retrieved August 29, 2019 from: https://www.prageru.com/sites/default/files/courses/transcripts/brog-why_isnt_there_a_palestinian_state-transcript_0.pdf