Mideast Peace Shows Nationalism's Limits

Article excerpt

The happy prospect that Israel may at last be allowed to exist in peace is confirmation of the truth recently noted by historian John Lukacs in his book, "The End of the 20th Century and the End of the Modern Age": Nationalism has been the great survivor in the 20th century.

That was not always apparent. When Israel was created by the United Nations in 1948, the act was more a compassionate response to the suffering of the Holocaust than a nod to Zionism, or a fulfillment of the Balfour Declaration - a promise by Britain during the World War I to create a Jewish "homeland" in Palestine, with the proviso that the rights of other peoples be respected.

By the time of Israel's birth, 30 years later, the British had failed repeatedly to devise an acceptable partition plan and had become hostile to the Balfour legacy.

That hostility found reinforcement in unlikely places, even among some old-line Jewish organizations in the United States. The views of the historian Arnold Toynbee were typical. After an initial endorsement of the Balfour Declaration, he became a lifelong detractor of Zionism.

This was far from the only instance in which nationalism was underestimated. In St. Petersburg, in 1917, the Bolsheviks proclaimed worker solidarity to be the essence of all political loyalty. Though Marxist depreciation of nationalism was wholly different in character from Toynbee's condemnation of Zionism, here again was a similar historical error. …