So inured are Israelis to bad news that we often fail to note the good. American Undersecretary of State Mark Grossman recently told Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher publicly in Cairo that the democratization of the Middle East is too important to wait for full peace between Israel and the Palestinians. With that statement, Grossman put to sleep, at least for now, the pernicious myth that has guided American Middle East policy for three decades: that the Israel-Palestinian conflict holds the key to reformation of the region. Now even the State Department is signed on to the Bush administration’s democracy initiative.
The old myth could never bear a minute of scrutiny. For decades Arabs have murdered one another in numbers that dwarf Palestinian casualties. None of that bloodletting can be remotely connected to Israel. Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran, at a cost of millions of lives on both sides, and subsequently to invade Kuwait had nothing to do with Israel. And the same is true of Hafez al-Assad’s killing of 25,000 of his subjects in Hama, and the brutal, ongoing civil wars in Algeria, Somalia, and Sudan, which have claimed millions of lives.
Most importantly, Israel’s existence cannot explain the chronic failure of the Arab world to keep pace with the rest of the world, despite its immense natural resources. The 2002 U.N.-sponsored Arab Human Development Report, produced by Arab intellectuals, detailed the backwardness of the Arab world in freedom, knowledge, and the status of women.
The 22 Arab states rank at the bottom of the freedom scale of the world’s seven regions. Arab despots’ fear of their own people forces them to keep a tight control on all knowledge. Internet connectivity in the Arab world ranks behind sub-Saharan Africa. The entire Arab world translates one-fifth the number of books annually as Greece. From 1980-2000, the Arab states registered 370 patents compared to Israel, with little more than 2% of the population, which registered 7,652. No wonder the total GNP of 22 Arab states, with 280 million people, is less than that of Spain, with 40 million.
That failure has made the Arab world a festering sore producing a pus of hatred. As the great Orientalist Bernard Lewis notes Arab loathing for the West is perfectly natural: The poor and the weak will always despise the rich and strong, and particularly if they see the world as "a millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning."
Arab hatred of Israel is a subspecies of the generalized hatred of the West, only more intense because of Israel’s existence in the middle of the Arab world. Israel is not the cause for the Arab failure to join the modern world, but rather the excuse that Arab leaders require to distract their subjects from their ignorance, poverty, and lack of freedom.
Should John Kerry replace George Bush as president, however, we can expect to see a full revival of the old myth. Kerry has mentioned former president Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker as possible Middle East envoys. The formers Secretary of State Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski implied recently in the New York Times that the Bush administration’s focus on Arab democracy is a pretext to avoid "any serious American effort to push the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a genuine peace settlement."
A Kerry administration would focus again on "progress" on the Israeli-Palestinian front -- progress measured in signed agreements, without regard to whether the conditions for Palestinian adherence exist. Israel, as the party most susceptible to American pressure, would find itself under constant pressure to go along.
Israelis definitely have a dog, as the Americans would say, in the fight between Bush and Kerry.