There will come a time, and that time will arrive sooner than many believe, when Near East Muslims will grasp that Jews—that Israel—is not what holds them back. This is a reason I am (along with every United States president since Mr. Truman) for a two-state solution.
The long-term solution will be about secure borders, mutual respect for Islam's and Judaism's historical and holy sites, formal political recognition of Israel by Palestinians, and other issues yet to be negotiated.
But it will also be about core cultural and regional issues that Israel cannot influence. With a state to manage, Palestinians will be accountable to more than rhetoric, missiles, bullets, and bombs. They, and the nations who support them, will need to come to terms with some stubborn and uncomfortable problems, none of which can be laid at Israel's door.
Ask yourself: Were Israel to be gone in the morning, would poor, Near East Muslims—including Palestinians—genuinely enjoy a new dawn?
I offer three points for your consideration:
Religious ideology (any religious ideology) that rejects modernity 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 medievalism that has retarded much of the Muslim world’s economic development. The irony is that it was not always so in the 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.
No nation—ours, Israel—is without ugly, dismissive, class-based prejudice. Yet, what has to be confronted by poorer Near East Muslims is the back of the hand that wealthy, authoritarian Arab states have continually given to their far poorer regional coreligionists, as evidenced by the many decades of extraordinary and continuing economic disparity between the oil-rich Muslim states and Near East Muslim communities that have not benefited from oil. As far as I can see, nothing external has prevented the geologically fortunate and therefore far more economically robust Islamic states from helping to raise living standards in their much poorer, politically and religiously allied nations and communities. Certainly, Israel has not stopped them.
In part, of course, it's been simpler and more useful for the wealthy autocracies to keep the poor ones impoverished in order to use them as a thorn in Israel's side, as ready cannon fodder. It's been easier to point to Israel as the reason the poor countries and communities live as they do. With a concerted effort, the oil states could, if they genuinely cared about Palestinians, raise living and educational standards within a generation. That they fail to do it, I think, has more to do with class and prejudice against the Jews than with Israel's existence or behavior.
Any culture choosing to suppress half its population—women—cannot expect more than a halting development.
I am reminded of the 2011 Saudi imprisonment of 32-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 are voting, operating a business, and working without a husband's or 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 the names of over 600 men and women who saw the rule for what it is: an absurd shackle not only cuffing women but any nation that would so easily embed female infantilization in religion. In a nation where your name on a petition can swiftly have you disappeared, the 600-plus are to be commended. Initially, Ms. al-Sharif and her brother were both arrested and detained. He was sent home with a warning; she was imprisoned.
The routine suppression of women under law is never an avenue toward long-term societal success. This is true no matter how much oil (or whatever resources) you may have, no matter what 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? In those countries where women are more independent, general living standards improve.
So while Israel is far from perfect (as all Israelis and American Jews know), it remains important to see and only honest to acknowledge that nothing Israel has done or is doing has led to the longstanding choice in the Muslim Near East to regard women as children, nor to that choice's many consequences.
This is a repost, from 2010. I will offer a version of it on PASSIONATE JUSTICE RADIO this coming Saturday.