Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Hypothetical Gaza

Stephen Walt has spurred much conversation and controversy with his hypothetical in which the Arabs win the 6-day-war and drive the Jews into Gaza where they are conversely oppressed until:
...a group of hardline Orthodox Jews took over control of that territory and organized a resistance movement. They also steadfastly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, arguing that its creation was illegal and that their expulsion from Israel was unjust. Imagine that they obtained backing from sympathizers around the world and that they began to smuggle weapons into the territory. Then imagine that they started firing at Palestinian towns and villages and refused to stop despite continued reprisals and civilian casualties.

Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?

Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?

To me this question doesn't even merit too serious a response, yet I will give it my best. The circumstances would be so utterly different. For one, Israel is already surrounded by Arab States, closed off, in a sense, from her neighbors. It is already (and was more so pre-1967) a sort of Gaza, albeit a rather strong and wealthy one by comparison. Nevertheless, it is a country surrounded on virtually all sides by hostile enemies and less hostile allies.

Had the Jews been driven into some Imagined Gaza, and suffered the same constraints the Arabs suffer in the Real Gaza, obviously much of the world would take pity on them. Surely the vast majority of humanity has a tendency to root for the underdog, after all.

However, and here's the sticking-point, Palestine would never have come into being, so the presupposition that somehow the hard-liners in this Imagined Gaza would not recognize the "State of Palestine" is simply an absurdity too great even for the hypothetical.

Had Israel actually lost the Six Day War, and been driven from Israel, then the outcome would have been a divided Palestine, wherein Egypt, Syria, and Jordan all took slices. Likely enough, Jerusalem and the West Bank would have gone to Jordan (which would perhaps once again take on the mantle of Transjordan) and the Holy City, if anything, would occupy a greater global scrutiny than the questions that Walt asks.

Even likelier, the Jews would not have been plotted off in a Gaza-like region, but forced into yet another Diaspora. Many would likely have been massacred by the various Arab factions, whose leaders have never blanched at massacring their own and would likely not bat an eye at killing off the defeated Israelis.

Even were Palestine somehow to have emerged as a Sovereign Nation, certainly no Arab Government there would ever tolerate rocket-fire into its borders, or truck in aid to its citizens, and would respond without doubt more harshly than Israel has responded to the Gazans. This is not in any sense a justification for the Israeli actions, or blockade, or the policies of its Government, which have often been stubborn, intransigent, and foolish. But I see no historical evidence that would allow for any more humanitarian treatment should the tables be turned.

So back to Walt's questions:
Here's the question: would the United States be denouncing those Jews in Gaza as "terrorists" and encouraging the Palestinian state to use overwhelming force against them?
Hard to answer since this situation would never have occurred under an Arab conquest of Israel. Had it, somehow defying all evidence to the contrary, I'm sure it would be denounced by much of the world. Then again, the Arabs started the 67 war, so not only would they be the victors, but also the aggressors. Digging deeper into Walt's point, I agree that the US should do more to constructively criticize Israel. After all, the one-sided outlook hasn't helped anybody, and at some point the US will have to help save Israel from itself--largely by denouncing the settlements in the West Bank. However, no excuse for Palestinian terrorism need be given. The terror, from either side--and there were, in the lead-up to Statehood, many Jewish terrorist groups as well, not to mention British officers acting as terrorists, and of course many Arabs playing that role from the earliest days.

I digress. Back to Walt:
Here's another: would the United States have even allowed such a situation to arise and persist in the first place?
Did the United States intervene in '67? Likely we would have let Israel fall at that point, and would have done very little to prevent the ensuing massacre. Had the Israelis actually been cordoned off into Gaza (Arabs do live in Israel proper, by the way) then I suppose it would depend on the situation as it unfolded. Like I said above, I simply don't believe that a Palestinian State would have emerged, so the comparison is almost impossible to make. Had it happened, though, I think America would certainly denounce both sides, though quite likely the Arabs more.

Does this confirm the notion of a too-strong Israel Lobby in the United States? I don't think so, though sometimes I wonder if our politicians are too short-sided. I think the Imagined Palestinian State that would have emerged would seem as foreign to us as the other Arab States in the region, whereas Israel feels a great deal closer to home. We should never underestimate cultural affinity. It has great power to sway public opinion, to shape policy, and to inform how we view the world at large--how we interact globally and across cultures.

Besides that, Israel/Palestine is an oil-free zone. There isn't much more beyond affinity, and trade, that binds us. It is also unlikely that without that cultural affinity we would have formed a trade relationship with Palestine It's hard to imagine a similarly healthy economic or political relationship would have ever developed.

So perhaps the final answer to Walt's question is that this story would have gotten very little Press or global attention at all, and would hardly merit much attention from the US, had all the tables been turned. It would be another in a long litany of terrible world circumstances, from Africa to the Middle East to East Asia that we only spend half a second at a time on.

Little quagmires. Little ripples on the global scene. A speck of dust in our collective conscience. Just another plight to overwhelm our empathy.

Further Reading:

Alex Massie

Daniel Larison

Megan McArdle

Ross Douthat

Peter Suderman