By JONATHAN WOLFMAN
There will come a time, and that time will arrive sooner than many believe, when Near East Muslims will grasp that Jews are not, that Israel is not, what holds them back. This is a reason I am for (as every United States president since Truman has been for) a two-state solution. With a state to manage, Palestinians will be responsible to more than rhetoric and bullets and bombs. They and the nations who support them will have to come to terms with some stubborn and uncomfortable problems, none of which can be laid at Israel’s door.
1- Religious ideology (any religious ideology) that rejects modernity, that rejects the bases of the French Revolution and The Enlightenment, cannot hope to raise educational standards enough to be competitive and raise living standards for millions. Israel has nothing to do with the grip of the Arab world’s pre-modern religious ideology that retards economic development. The irony is that it was not always so in the Iberian and Near East Muslim world: it was a leader in math, the sciences, engineering, architecture and other forms of design until about four hundred years ago when it began to become increasingly reactionary, if not xenophobic, finding it more and more difficult to live with and near non-Muslims.
2- Misogyny, even when cultures try to legitimate it with religion–any religion–stymies the progress any region can make. Keeping women subservient and dependent work against progress. Israel has nothing to do with the lack of women’s educational and business opportunities in many Near East nations.
3- a) There’s a wholly non-religious aspect to what has kept Palestinians and millions of other Near East Muslims poor. Wealthy Arabs cannot stand poor ones. No nation, ours, Israel, is without ugly, dismissive, class-based prejudice. Yet what has to be confronted by poorer Near East Muslims themselves is the back-of-the-hand that rich, authoritarian Arab states have continually given to their poor co-religionists.
b) In part, of course, it’s been simpler for wealthy Arabs to refrain from helping to develop decent housing, robust schools on a large scale, and widening the circle of who benefits from oil. It’s been simpler and more useful for the wealthy autocracies to keep them poor so as to use them as a thorn in Israel’s side, as ready canon fodder. It’s been easier to point to Israel as the reason they live as they do. We all know that with a concerted effort, the oil states could, if they genuinely cared about Palestinians, raise living and educational standards and accomplishment in a generation. That they fail to do it has everything to do with class (and tribal) prejudice wanting Jews gone, and nothing to do with Israel’s existence or behavior.
The long-term solution will be about secure borders, mutual respect for Islam’s and Judaism’s holy sites, formal political recognition by Palestinians of Israel, and other issues yet to be negotiated.
But it’s more.
It’s also about core cultural/regional issues that Israel cannot influence and that only Muslims themselves can.
Ask yourselves: were Israel to be gone in the morning, would poor, Near East Muslims genuinely enjoy a new dawn?
I outlined, above, several intractable problems in the Near East Muslim world for which Israel is not responsible despite continuous criticism to the contrary. Muslims themselves have made and continue to make choices that keep the region from developing in ways that would sustain long-term, positive economic growth. I have argued that any culture that chooses to suppress half its population, women, cannot expect more than a halting development.
I am reminded of the 2011 Saudi imprisonment of thirty-two year old Manal al-Sharif, for organizing a protest during which she drove a car. Driving a car is, for women, illegal in the kingdom. So is her voting there as would be her operating a business and working, absent a husband’s or a father’s permission. Ms. al-Sharif’s real crime, though, goes beyond the stick shift. An internet technologies specialist with oil giant Aramco, she organized her protest on Facebook and Twitter, garnering over 600 names of men and women who see the rule for what it is: at best an absurd shackle not only cuffing women but any nation that would so easily infantalize them. In a nation where your name on a petition can swiftly have you disappeared, the 600-plus are to be commended.er efforts. Initially, she and her brother were arrested and detained. He was sent home with a warning; she was imprisoned far longer.
The routine suppression of women under law is simply never an avenue toward long-term societal success. This is true no matter how much oil you may have, no matter your religious beliefs. Certainly not all Near East nations deny women the right to drive a car. In how many, though, may they vote? In how many may they work outside the home without a man’s permission?
So while Israel is far from perfect – far – it remains important to see and it is only honest to acknowledge that nothing Israel has done or is doing results in this region’s longstanding choice to regard women as children, nor in that choice’s many consequences.
The truth is that Israel could hand over all of its land to a combined Hamas/Palestinian Authority, to the Lebanese, to the Egyptians, to the Saudis…and Near East Muslims would see no significant improvement in the quality of the lives these organizations and governments represent until half of those lives, women’s lives, were taken seriously.