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Nadim Koteich
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We rejected our fanatics. What are you doing about yours?

I find myself asking why every action Arabs take to foster peace with Israel is met with a rising tide of Israeli extremism
Nadim Koteich (courtesy)
Nadim Koteich (courtesy)

As Israel grapples with a complex political quagmire, those of us who champion peace find ourselves contemplating the nature of the Israel we will share our lives with. A perilous concoction of brews consisting of vehement antipathy toward Palestinians, the alarming retreat from any vestiges of peacemaking efforts between Palestinians and Israelis, and a resolute endeavor to dismantle Israel’s judicial infrastructure under the pretext of reform. These elements conspire to endanger Israel’s relationships not only with significant segments of its own society, but also with its regional allies and Washington.

As children, we would joyfully shout “abracadabra” before our homemade magic tricks, unaware that this incantation held deep roots in ancient history and the Aramaic language, used by various Semitic peoples, including the Jewish people. The possible origin of “abracadabra,” the Aramaic phrase “avra kehdabra,” which means “I will create as I speak,” represents the power of spoken words to create and transform reality. This concept endures today, as seen in the ultra-conservative rhetoric of Bibi Netanyahu’s far-right cabinet, which has shifted Israel’s image towards an increasingly fanatic state. The brazen declaration in Paris by Israel’s finance minister Bezalel Smotrich that, “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” all the while standing before a map depicting Israel’s borders encroaching into Jordan, had a profound impact on shaping Arab perceptions.

Moreover, Israel’s parliament elected to overturn a section of a 2005 law mandating the dismantling of four Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, as well as barring new settlement construction within the region. These tumultuous events are further exacerbated by Bibi’s relentless efforts to dismantle Israel’s legal system under the guise of “reform,” which threaten to undermine the rule of law and potentially pave the way for a dictatorship.

The present crisis unmasks the true nature of the conflict between the Arab Peace Axis countries and Israel, as it exposes a remarkable contradiction inherent in the Israeli state’s persona. While Israel embodies the height of modernity, showcasing notable achievements in technology, science, military prowess, and medical breakthroughs, it simultaneously harbors a stark contrast of regressive attitudes and religious extremism.

As an Arab advocate for peace, the recent developments prompt me to consider that those opposing peace in Israel appear more intransigent and unyielding than their Arab counterparts. Israel’s overtly religious persona, exemplified by Netanyahu’s administration, overlooks that the Peace Axis nations are actively combating zealotry and extremism within their own communities. This raises a critical question: how can these Arab nations reconcile coexisting with Israeli extremism? If Peace Axis countries are intent on isolating radicals within their societies, how can they accept the presence of extremists in the Israeli community, particularly when they hold positions of power? Invoking the notion that these are merely the results of democracy does not sufficiently address this conundrum. As democracy yields outcomes that counter its own principles, we are confronted with a challenge that has, in the past, unleashed unprecedented chaos during the first half of the 20th century.

Moreover, I find myself grappling with a perplexing question: Why is it that every theoretical expression and practical action taken by Arabs to foster peace with Israel is met with a rising tide of Israeli factions displaying greater fundamentalism, zealotry, and extremism? Under Netanyahu’s leadership, the current Israeli government’s political values, as expressed by its ministers, bear a striking resemblance to those of Hamas and Hezbollah, rather than the moderate governments found within the Arab Peace Axis. This iteration of Israel is far from the one we envision living alongside.

Courage

As I advocate for peace and coexistence, I often draw inspiration from individuals such as Yuval Harari, Daniel Kahneman, and Natalie Portman, pointing to Israel’s prowess in scientific and technological fields. The courage of many Israelis is evident not just among the elite, but also in daily protests in public squares, streets, and on social media. Their vision for their country largely aligns with what any sane person in the Middle East aspires to: social justice, prosperity, stability, and progress. Despite this, it is perplexing that Netanyahu’s Israel and its allies continue to undermine this vision, presenting to the Arab world an image of an Israeli equivalent to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, it appears that Bibi’s alliance is intent on reinforcing the beliefs of peace adversaries that they are justified in their stance, that peace is unattainable, and on persuading supporters of peace that their choice is unwise, prompting them to embrace the surging currents of extremism, fanaticism, and perpetual conflict. Urging us towards such conclusions is a disparagement of the human mind and our ability to envision harmonious coexistence. The government of Netanyahu proposes the perpetuation of history, insisting that we accept a future held captive by those dwelling in the shadows of long-gone millennia.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, once asserted that his country possessed the capacity to obliterate Israel within a mere seven and a half minutes. Paradoxically, it is the deeds of Israel’s own prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that appear more likely to precipitate such a catastrophic denouement.

It is indeed a complex crisis, evolving into an existential threat so severe that the Israeli president cautioned about the possibility of a “civil war!” Nevertheless, this crisis also belongs to those of us who look forward to a tomorrow unshackled from the insanity of the divisions that Netanyahu has exploited to an unparalleled degree. It belongs to those who hold firm to the belief in, and the pursuit of, a future where peaceful coexistence in the Middle East is possible.

About the Author
Nadim Koteich is an Emirati Lebanese media personality and a leading Arab commentator. He tweets at @nadimkoteich.
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