The Poison of History; the Doctrines of "Jihad" and "Stages"

By Sanders, Ralph | Midstream, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

The Poison of History; the Doctrines of "Jihad" and "Stages"


Sanders, Ralph, Midstream


The question of achieving a genuine and permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs has become a central Middle East preoccupation. During the Annapolis conference of November 2007, weak Israeli and Palestinian governments pledged to work out a final peace agreement by the end of 2008 and to set up an independent Palestinian state. As expressed by many Muslim leaders, an action plan to eliminate Israel by stages could keep the two peoples from ever living side by side in peace, even if they do sign a peace treaty.

This essay seeks to examine "the eliminating Israel by stages concept" and by exploring its significance in Israeli-Palestinian relations. It addresses the concept's essential ideas and the ways in which Muslim and Palestinian spokesmen have presented them.

Israelis will benefit from tranquil times only if their political leaders and diplomats can achieve a permanent and genuine peace. It is not enough to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians; there must be an assurance that both sides will cease all hostile activities.

The concept of "eliminating Israel by stages," presents a major threat to a lasting peace. As Henry Kissinger recently suggested, the world demands that Israel concede to the Palestinians concrete, immediate and permanent concessions such as borders, the status of East Jerusalem, the return of refugees, water rights, and the removal of West Bank settlements.

In return, for the most part, the Palestinians are being asked to grant Israel less tangible concessions, such as the recognition of Israel and normalization of relations. As Kissinger notes, these concessions are abstract and revocable. Israel is asking the Palestinians to collect the terrorists' arms and to break up their infrastructure. This measure, although concrete, is revocable.

Over the years Israel and the new independent Palestine state most probably will have to negotiate unsettled details in any peace treaty. If a hostile environment ensues, someday the Palestinian state might rescind the treaty or extremists might continue to conduct terrorist activities despite it. Either action could lead to a dangerous situation.

Israel already has signed peace treaties with Arab states. After 20 years both Israel and Egypt seem satisfied that their treaty has held despite many trials. Israelis know full well that their aspirations for a broad fabric of relations with Egypt has not come to pass. However, the critical point is that Israel and Egypt have not gone to war and considering the environment that is quite a singular accomplishment.

Relations between Israel and Jordan seem less fragile. For example, when a Jordanian soldier murdered some Israeli schoolchildren who were visiting an island in the Jordan River, King Hussain visited the parents of each murdered child and asked forgiveness. This humane act won him great respect in Israel.

Dealings between these two countries have suffered no extensive turmoil and crises. But one must remember that both Egypt and Jordan recognize Israel. The Israelis must hope to achieve relations with a new Palestinian state at least as cordial as with Cairo, and hopefully as friendly as with Amman.

A LONG-TERM VIEW

Memories last forever in the Middle East. The eliminating Israel by stages' concept accords with the tendency of Muslims to view history through a long-term prism. Some Muslims remember Islam's domination of a very large part of the world, including the Middle East, in the 7th century. As the Spanish saying puts it, in that century the Muslim world stretched "de moros a moros," (from the Moors of North Africa and Spain to the Moros of the Philippines).

Over time the Muslims lost control of these vast territories, chiefly to European powers. Except for Turkey and Iran, weak Muslim nation-states did not begin to emerge until after World War II. As a result, a deep-seated desire took root among many Islamic people to reclaim Islam's past glory. …

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