Why has everyone been thinking so small?
In the news, on the street, at international conferences, and in classrooms galore, everyone is talking about the “two state solution” as if it signified the Second Coming. People who have never been to Israel, or to Ramallah, who own no military maps of the region, and who do not know a single Palestinian, all, every last one, monotonously intones this phrase.
President Obama, talked about the eternal, infernal two state solution or about “two states for two peoples.” Even Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, now says it favors a two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu implicitly but not explicitly supports a “two-state solution.”
I loved how Prime Minister Netanyahu stood up to President Obama when he firmly and clearly declared that the time for illusions—the kind that is always written in Jewish blood—is now officially over.
But why is everyone thinking so “small?” My colleague and friend, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, has a far more realistic and creative suggestion. When I first heard his proposal, I laughed. I thought: “Surely, this is some kind of Jewish joke.”
His suggestion is no joke. In fact, it has some serious support from both Israelis and Palestinians. Of course, things being what they are, no one will go on record supporting this idea, which is based on a sociological and historical analysis of Arab tribes and the consequent concept of Arab tribal city-states.
Dr. Kedar proposes the creation of no less than eight or nine independent and separate Arab city-states within the West Bank, in addition to Gaza. Of course, Israel would comprise the ninth or tenth state. He writes:
“There is no reason to assume that a Palestinian state will not become another failing Arab state, due to the fragmented society in the West Bank and Gaza, tribalism and lack of awareness of nationhood as demonstrated by the failing performance of the Palestinian authority since its establishment in 1994…Social stability is the key for political stability...the only successful model for an Arab state is the one which is based on a single consolidated traditional group such as each of the individual Arab Gulf Emirates.”
This actually makes sense. The Arab Gulf Emirates have been relatively successful because their inhabitants are, with some exceptions, largely homogeneous in terms of tribe, ethnicity, and religion. True, the oil wealth has also provided an incentive for unity. But in general, the Arab Middle East has always been composed of many tribes, religions, sects, and ethnic groups, all at war with each other and with the government. The colonial imposition of a central, western-style nation-state has not served the interests of the indigenous people but rather the interests of dictators and large corporations.
Thus, according to Dr. Kedar, there is essentially one tribe that “governs” (the hearts and minds in) Ramallah, another tribe entirely which does so in Nablus, yet another which presides over Jenin, etc. A small city-state might be able to become productive and join a confederation of similar city-states. After all, size alone does not determine the success or failure of a state. For example, Monaco, Lichtenstein, and Luxembourg are small states with a high quality of life, while Algeria, Libya, and Sudan are large states with poor quality of life. According to Dr. Kedar:
“The towns that will receive independence (from both the Palestinian Authority and Israel) are Hebron (the Arab part), Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tul-karem and Qalqilya…Bethlehem will require further consideration.” (In other writings, Dr. Kedar sometimes includes Bethlehem and questions Jericho).
Sociologist Philip Carl Salzman has written a compelling work about tribalism titled Culture and Conflict in the Middle East. Dr. Salzman notes that:
“In fact, states and state institutions have existed in the Middle East for at least four thousand years. There have been governments, police, courts, tax collectors, armies, and so on, far back into the distant past of the Middle East. But they were never really there to serve people generally. The state institutions were put into place to serve the people controlling them. Any moment of disinterested leadership or wise attention to the needs of the populace were followed by centuries of self-serving…thuggery. The populace of these states was not made of citizens, but subjects….For their own security and comfort, the populace was left on its own to look after its own interests.”
And that’s where one’s family, clan, tribe, ethnicity and religion take over. If you are an Arab man in need of employment, your family/tribe will arrange it for you. What we call “nepotism” is viewed as an essential custom and way of life. If you are starving, your family/tribe is supposed to feed you. If you need a husband, that, too, is arranged for you, not by the government but by your family/tribe.
There are other reasons that Dr. Kedar’s proposal ought to be considered seriously.
The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is unlikely to last. In March, 2007, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia negotiated a peace deal between Fatah and Hamas, but that peace was followed only three months later by a civil war in Gaza. In addition, most Gazans have never even been to the West Bank.
Ironically, the same people who criticized President Bush for cramming Western-style democracy down the throats of the Iraqis and Afghans are now so often the very people who support cramming Western-style democracy down the throats of the Palestinians.
Dr. Kedar’s proposal is useful for another very important reason. Leaving aside the obvious and maddening fact that Jordan was supposed to be the Palestinian state—a face rarely admitted—Israel absolutely cannot survive if “Palestinian” Arabs enjoy “territorial contiguity.” Prime Minister also said as much. Allow me to give him the final words:
"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines -- because these lines are indefensible….A peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.”
And then Netanyahu stated what is chillingly obvious:
"We don't have a lot of margin for error."