Saturday, June 06, 2009

A silly response to Obama's speech

Tonight I received an e-mail from a member of my synagogue, with the subject heading: "Something that we can all agree on re Obama speech". I'm pretty sure he sent out to a wide network of recipients.

Here is the e-mail:

Shavua tov!

From Saturday's NY Times letters:

To the Editor:

In President Obama’s push for Mideast peace, one key unasked question is: Can the Islamic world accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of an Arab-dominated region? If the answer is no, then all negotiated agreements are nothing more than subterfuge.

Howard Schwartz
Englewood, N.J., June 5, 2009

I wrote back to my friend:

The simple answer to this question is: yes, the Arab world can accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of an Arab-dominated region. Parts of the Arab world already have -- Israel has formal peace treaties and diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, diplomatic relations with Turkey, informal diplomatic contacts with Morocco and a few Gulf states, and recognition by the Palestinian Authority. The letter poses a silly question of slight rhetorical impact to a certain predisposed audience, but the question is totally and factually misleading. The Saudi/Arab League Peace Proposal of 2002 and 2007 states unequivocally that in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal, a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, and the creation of a Palestinian state in all the lands that Israel conquered in 1967:

"the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace."

The conditions for such recognition are utterly unacceptable to Israel, but the Saudi/Arab League Proposal in theory is a clear statement that the Arab world can accept a non-Muslim state in its midst.


  1. Here's the rest of the exchange:

    A point to keep in mind:
    There's a difference between acceptance of Israel by authoritarian governments, and acceptance of Israel by the Arab population. The latter is not the case (AFAIK) in Jordan and Egypt.

    Sorry, Jay, I will still disagree. I visited Egypt twice in the 1990s, and encountered a myriad of reactions to Israel. I think it is fair to say that the "Arab population" cannot accept an oppressive, colonizing Israel -- but there is a case to be made that if Israel had conducted itself in a different way the last 40 years, had not built settlements and stifled Palestinian aspirations at every turn, the "Arab population" might have regarded Israel differently. It is all theoretical so we will never know. By injecting the issue of authoritarianism and popular opinion into the argument you are moving off in a direction not addressed by the original question. Governments, whether authoritarian or democratic, often take policy positions unpopular with a sizable segment of mass opinion. Muslim sentiment may have something to do with popular rejection of Israel, but so does Israeli political and military behavior.

  2. Egypt is not Palestine, but Jordan is. I used to work with a Jordanian. He explained that "any area that was once under Muslim control, must be so forever." The Pal-Arab street, as much as the Arab government, cannot accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of dar al-Islam, any more today than they could during the Crusades.