January 9, 2005


Remapping the Middle East, Maybe (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN , 1/09/05, NY Times)

What is happening right now in Iraq, Israel and Palestine is a new Churchillian moment. The contours and contents of these core Middle East regions are up for grabs, only this time these contours are not being redrawn by an imperial pen from above - and will not be. This time they are being shaped by three civilian conflicts bubbling up from below - among Palestinians, Israelis and Iraqis. As the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi puts it, "Three volcanoes are erupting at the same time. Lava is pouring out of each of them, and we are all waiting to see how it cools and into what forms."

Like the recent tsunami, this sort of tectonic movement of geopolitical plates happens only once a century. This is a remarkable political moment that you don't want to miss or see go badly. But that's what's scary; when borders and states emerge from volcanic activity, anything can happen. What all three of these cases have in common is that they pit theocratic, fascist and messianic forces on one side, claiming to be acting on the will of God or in the name of the primordial aspirations of "the nation," against more moderate, tolerant, democratizing majorities.

Actually, they happen whenever we decide to shift the plates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2005 1:29 PM

Friedman at least realizes the possibility that we're successfully remaking the middle east and wants to leave something in the record he can point to later on to show that he played his part.

It's as if someone wrote in early '85 that cracks were starting to show in European communism, and perhaps the whole edifice was preparing to fall, or perhaps not.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 9, 2005 1:35 PM

If he wanted to really change things which could create a permanent peace, Bush could start by allowing the 3 parts of the phony nation that is Iraq to go their own ways, rather than trying to staple them together. There is no good reason for us to emulate British imperial conceit.

Friedman feels obligated to equate the settlement movement with al-Qaeda. I guess if it gets you on a panel at Davos or at a cocktail party on George Soros' yacht, encouraging the murder of the Jewish people isn't such a bad thing. The reality that Israelis understand is that there will be territorial accomodation because military exigency demands it. The so-called 'Palestinians' deserve nothing, it is just not worth putting Israeli soldiers at risk to preserve uneconomic outposts in Judea and Samaria or Gaza. There are a few irredentists but there aren't enough to fill a 747. The Israelis should pull back behind the fence, and if they need foreign labor use contractors from Eastern Europe, Africa and Thailand. No Muslim should be allowed on the Israeli side of the fence.

What then to do with the 'occupied territories?' The inhabitants are not indigenous to region, being the descendants of migrant workers from what is now Iraq and Syria. Now Abbas has the unenviable task of cobbling them into a country. What are they? A group of people no other Arab state will take. The detritus of the Arab world. What unites them? Only a common desire to murder Jews and steal the wealth they have created. Maybe it can become a viable state, maybe not. But in any event, the Israelis must wash their hands of the situation and if the Muslims starve, they starve. If they devolve into a civil war where all the sides start killing each other for a change, so what? It is no great loss, as their combined contributions to human history are outweighed even by those of Andaman Islanders who shoot bows and arrows at relief helicopters.

Posted by: Bart at January 9, 2005 2:09 PM


Sounds like America.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 2:32 PM

America in 1776 had a vibrant middle class and a history of law, order, justice, consensual local government, protection of individual rights etc for about 150 years. At the time of the Revolution, the average American was better read and wealthier than his British counterpart.

Nice try though.

Posted by: Bart at January 9, 2005 3:05 PM

America is a vast collection of the unwanted scum of every country, held together by nothing but ideas. It works fine.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 3:10 PM

America is the descendants of people who had enough guts to risk everything and travel a significant distance to start anew. Historically, about a third of immigrants to the US couldn't make a go of it and went back. The underclass of European and Asian society stayed there as anyone who has lived abroad can tell you.

What ideas hold 'Palestinians' together? Homicide? Rape? Theft? Robbery? Corruption? Thuggishness? Keeping women walking around in tarpaulins? Who is their Locke, their Hobbes? Their Bible is that pack of psychotic lies, the Koran. And their Jesus is a murdering pedophile named Mohammed. Their cross a big black rock in the desert.

Posted by: Bart at January 9, 2005 3:19 PM

I still don't get how that differs from Americans or Israelis of whom all the same is true?

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 3:22 PM

OJ, what Bart said seemed right on, and deserves better than a snarky one-liner.

He already asked the first question that came into my mind, but I'll ask mine anyway. What are the ideas that hold the Palestinians together? Ok, I'll grant "kill all the Jews and take their land so we can turn it back into a desert." But what other than that?

Posted by: ray at January 9, 2005 4:45 PM

That's a sufficient organizing principle to hold a state together. The reverse held Israel together until the demographics imploded.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 5:09 PM


THe Zionist dream has always been a positive one, creating a viable nation-state for a persecuted people spread all over the globe. Had European Christians not behaved so badly for over 1700 years it would have been unnecessary. There are arguments inside the Jewish community about what this means but it certainly does mean adherence to Western norms of law, order, economics, etc. The modern Israeli role as a major contributor in information and biotech are evidence of this, as is the independence of the judiciary and the vibrance of the politics.

When the Zionists first settled in the region, they built major universities. The Technion and the Weizmann Institute are top-shelf world facilities on a par with all but perhaps a few of the elite American facilities.

What have the 'Palestinians' built? Nothing. What are they planning to build? Nothing. Theirs is an ideology of nihilism, which may be the best explanation of their current cachet among the Eurotrash and the chattering classes.

Comparing the Muslim gangsters to the Zionist founders, except perhaps the crook and traitor Rabin, or more incredibly with the Founding Fathers is just obscene.

Posted by: Bart at January 9, 2005 5:43 PM


Positive? Not to the indigenous population. Israelis took what the Arabs had--eventually they'll take it back. Time and demographics are on their side.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 7:21 PM

What did the Arabs 'have?' The land was bought by the JNF and others from the Turkish and Egyptian landlords who owned it. Once the oil runs out or once alternate sources of energy are found and employed, the Arabs will be like so many cockroaches. All Israel has to do is hunker down behind the fence, continue trading with the 130+ nations around the world that want Israeli technology and wait for the mass suicide of the Islamic world.

Inside the fence, there are 6 million Jews and 1 million Arabs roughly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. The Christians know what their fate is when Muslims take over, so they are compelled to back Israel, even if their leadership plays footsie with the Muslim scum. Since Oslo, over 100,000 Christian Arabs have moved to inside the 1967 borders. The same case is true with the Druze. Thus, behind the fence, over 90% of the population is loyal to Israel. The Israeli birthrate is high, particularly among the more religious Jews, and the infant mortality rate is non-existent, unlike that for Muslims in their own nations.

In a high-tech world with a decreasing need for oil, the Muslim states become less important and Israel becomes more important. As long as Israelis do not succumb to leftish nonsense and understand the permanent threat that Islam is to their existence, they should do just fine.

What 'indigenous population?' As the old Zionist slogan said, 'A land without people for a people without land.' You might also want to read Twain's Innocents Abroad for a description of just how desolate and empty of population the region was less than a generation prior to the first Zionist pioneers.

Posted by: Bart at January 9, 2005 7:47 PM

All that matters is land. You'd rather Jews had it. Arabs would rather they have it. They will. (although we shouldn't rule out the possibility of Evangelicals moving in en masse.)

It's just a real estate dispute.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2005 8:05 PM

No,oj, it's a race. The Muslims/Arabs are in a race with destiny, with only two possible outcomes. Either way, they'll impose no threat to Israel or anyone else.

One outcome is that they have whatever passes for a Reformation, rid themselves of the militant muslims/wahabism, become tolerant of non-muslims, and get concensual governments (not neccessarily democratic, merely consensual.) The other outcome is to end up like the American Indians, with the remainder of the survivors living in zoos (read: reservations).

Events in Spain, Netherlands, etc. clearly show that they will not stop. Events will come to pass, and some Western country or countries will decide that they don't want to lose a second million of their citizens to the militant muslims and take them out. Look at what France recently did on the Ivory Coast without an eyeblink.

Posted by: ray at January 9, 2005 10:38 PM


I'll take the Arabs and give you the Europeans and Israelis and we'll add up who controls what countries at the end of this century. Demographics is determined by religion--secular nations haven't a prayer.

Posted by: oj at January 10, 2005 12:14 AM


I don't think it is about race. Instead, I would classify Islam with Communism and Nazism as murderous ideologies. Take someone from Tunisia or Egypt, separate him from his environment and introduce him to Western folkways and mores and he abandons Muhammad's nonsense in no time. Go to any college campus in America and you'll see this phenomenon. It is precisely a clash of civilizations, of alternate visions of what the world should be.


It takes a real stretch to classify Israel as a 'secular state.' Christianity has never had the public role and organized Christian leadership has never had remotely the poltical power in the US that the rabbinate exercises in Israel on a daily basis. Frankly, it's lack of 'secularity' is what bothers me most about it and I'm in favor of a much stronger connection between Christianity and the American state than we have now.

Posted by: Bart at January 10, 2005 6:37 AM


Its population is secular. Its state is secular. If it hadn't gotten the influx of Russian emigres after the Fall it would be close to gone already.

Posted by: oj at January 10, 2005 8:00 AM

Israel is far less secular than the US and the Russian immigrants, many, if not most, of whom are married to non-Jews are more secular than Israeli were prior to their arrival. Hence, the rise of Shinui as a counterweight to the traditional parties, along with a general strengthening of secular, free market oriented leaders like Bibi.

Also, about a quarter of the Israeli electorate votes for religious parties like Shas, UTJ and Agudat, which would be like a quarter of the US electorate voting for Christian Reconstructionists. By any definition about 40% of the Jewish population is observant. By analogy, that level of observance is maintained by no more than about 20% of Americans. It would be like the US being a giant Utah.

Israel holds on because its high-tech industries are desired partners all over the world. Take a look at the companies on the NASDAQ. Also, the largest private sector employer in Israel is a little company called Intel. The large religious population is if anything a hindrance rather than a help in those endeavors. Israel's natural rate of population growth is 1.25%(that of the US is 0.57%), Old Europe it's not.

Simply put, OJ, you don't have the slightest clue what you are talking about.

A walled off 'Palestine' left to its own devices, allowed to stew in its own juices will always be a potential threat to Israel, as the Muslim faith demands conquest of areas held by non-Muslims. However, the net effect of the vast birthrate of these illiterate, superstitious barbarians will cause is a threat to Israel on the same magnitude as that of Indonesia to Australia or Malaysia to Singapore. The threat exists and the population disparities are obvious, but all the force projection capacity is with the high-tech non-Muslim country, not with the low-tech or no-tech Muslim ones. And that disparity only increases with time.

Posted by: Bart at January 10, 2005 11:24 AM


Exactly (well, other than your demographic numbers for the US and rreligious observance and that the demographic problem is internal, not just external), that's way below replacement rate and falling and means it will be an Arab state soon. America isn't a racial entity. We'll be America long after we're white. Israel won't be Israel when Jews are the minority. Sharon's just buying a brief extension.

Posted by: oj at January 10, 2005 12:01 PM

Nonsense. The population grows by 1.25% per year not counting net immigration. If anything, the next peace accord will involve the transfer of some of the Muslim villages in Galilee for some of the lands where the more permanent settlements have been built, further reducing the Muslim percentage in Israel.

Posted by: Bart at January 10, 2005 12:27 PM


That's nmot the belief upon which Ariel Sharon and Israel are acting:


Posted by: oj at January 10, 2005 1:12 PM

As the article indicates, a little fine-tuning of the borders should alleviate the issue. Most Arabs in Israel live in Jerusalem and Galilee, most of the Arabs of Galilee are Muslim. Israel is not going to be able to surrender an inch of the Old City of Jerusalem because under Jordanian rule the relgious sites were barred to Jews. No Israeli government could survive that threat. It will also be difficult to evacuate the more extensive settlement towns like Ariel. Thus, a territorial accomodation will have to be made transferring some of the Arab towns into the putative 'Palestinian' state, and leaving some of the land acquired in the 67 war in Israeli control.

The Old City of Jerusalem contains about 60,000 Arabs. If other sections got added under the Jordanians, then they can be excised as well.

The number of Arabs inside Israel gets reduced and the demographic time bomb disarmed. Keep in mind that the article in its discussion made no distinction between Christian and Muslim Arabs, or between Druze and other Muslims.

Posted by: Bart at January 10, 2005 2:25 PM

Well, the US may or may not have been formed by the offscouring of the earth, but Australia pretty much was. They seem to be doing fine.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 10, 2005 2:57 PM


Alleviate the issue? Arabs have kids. Jews don't. Israel won't be a Jewish state by the end of the century unless it adopts apartheid or genocide.

Posted by: oj at January 10, 2005 4:15 PM


Australia benefitted from over a century of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence before independence. It makes all the difference.

Posted by: Bart at January 11, 2005 6:34 AM