May 29, 2011
The Audacity of RealityBy Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Despite the avalanche of articles analyzing U.S. President Barack Obama's May 19, 2011 Middle East speech, one irony has not been mentioned. The president laid out a magnificent blueprint for the countries in the region to follow in order to ensure dignity, freedom, and hope for their citizens. But all the president had to do was look reality in the face, and find his vision reflected in Israel. Yet Israel was the only country which the president wants both to shrink, and away from which he told Arabs to turn.
Obama's refusal to credit Israel's freedom as a value for Arabs as well as Jews is symptomatic of an epic error: the insistence on acting on political ideology rather than asking what's really best for the people on the ground. Even just focusing on what's really going to help the Arabs in the Disputed Territories has been submerged in place of the fixation on establishing a Palestinian Arab State. Let's call those afflicted with this mindset the Palestinian Statists.
Earlier this month the grassroots organization Z STREET held a one-day summit in Washington, D.C. where speakers rewound this tape and tried to address the real issue of how to do the most good for all of the people who live in the Middle East. At that conference -- RETHINKING THE END GAME: Improving Lives in the Middle East -- the focus was on whether a Palestinian State would be a positive step not for Israeli Jews, but for Arab Palestinians.
The seven Z STREET speakers -- people who for decades have studied or lived in the Arab and Jewish quarters of that region of the world -- argued, as did President Obama, that peace in the region will be built upon the pillars upon which all of Western Civilization is built: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, economic dignity, entrepreneurship and independence, and respect for and the assurance of the equality of women and minorities.
But in his speech President Obama took Israel -- which should have been his Exhibit A because it is the sole country in the region that embraces and ensures these freedoms and opportunities for all its citizens -- and demanded that it:
In his impatience to "press the reset button" on the Middle East "peace process," as if it were a malfunctioning Sony PlayStation, President Obama and all those other Palestinian Statists ignore the real impact of this proposal even on the people they claim they most want to help: the Arab Palestinians.
You see, the Palestinian Statists have the causation reversed. They think that the Arab Palestinians should start a state, which will then create freedom and personal security. What these people ignore is the fact that a Palestinian State will be run, right out of the block, by men who oppose those very freedoms, think their country should be ruled by Sharia -- not as a democracy that guarantees human rights -- and who daily sacrifice their peoples' security in a never-ending war with the Jews.
The hard-headed reality is that the causation works the other way round: start with the freedoms and personal and economic security for the average Tom, Dick, and Muhammad on the street, and let government grow organically out of peaceful communities, composed of free men and women and safe children, oriented towards education and prosperity instead of martyrdom and murder. Another dose of reality: there is only one government anywhere in the Middle East that has ever provided freedom and security to the Arab on the street: that country is called Israel.
The Z STREET speakers provided a raft of cold, clear statistics and examples of the sharp contrast in quality of life for the Arabs.
George Gilder discussed the higher standard of living enjoyed by Arab Palestinians within Israel and in those disputed territories that Israel has governed. This he compared to radically lower standards of living for Palestinian Arabs in any surrounding Arab country.
Those at the Z STREET conference heard about the complete dependence -- upon Israel, not Jordan, or Syria, or Lebanon, but upon the only engine of free market capitalism in the Middle East -- of the burgeoning Palestinian Authority economy. The political economist Gal Luft explained that a huge source of wealth for the PA economy comes from Israel's transfer to the PA of millions of shekels. The PA isn't actually entitled to this transfer, because they've never recognized the state of Israel. As of now, the PA only has this deal via the Oslo Accords, the tattered remnants of which will be completely abrogated by a Palestinian State created before the incitement ends. Luft further revealed the pitiable level to which the PA economy will sink if it is torn from its interdependence with Israel for many reasons, including their current use of the Israeli sheckel which is stronger than the dollar, the yen, or the euro, and certainly stronger than any fiat currency of a Palestinian State.
From Steve Rosen, who has studied the Middle East for decades, we learned that all optimistic estimates of Palestinian governance rests on Salam Fayyad, whom Hamas, which Fatah recently remarried, has said it will not support. Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-born and Gaza-reared human rights activist, described the brutal misogyny evidenced by polygamy, female genital mutilation, and honor killings forced on Arab women under the system that will prevail in a Palestinian State -- not the Bill of Rights, but Sharia. And we learned as well that the freedoms President Obama sings about are protected -- for women, and gays and lesbians, and atheists, and journalists -- only in the Israeli territory that Palestinian Statists are so eager to shrink.
Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh writes for Western news sources for the simple reason that they let him tell the truth as he sees it, while the PLO house organ he originally worked for only permitted journalists to take dictation from the official propagandists. Abu Toameh told the Z STREET audience about the dashed hopes of Arab Palestinian journalists anywhere but in Israel for freedom in the media. He also informed us that every second person he meets in Gaza and in the territories want to move to Israel, not because they are Zionists or believe in Herzl or Jabotinsky, but because they want a better life. His bold assertion is backed up by recent polls.
So if the first part of President Obama's May 19th speech, the part about encouraging and enshrining western values of tolerance, freedoms, and economic entrepreneurship was correct -- and there were few if any critics of that portion of his speech -- then, it follows, that Israel which is the sole regional repository of those values, should be strengthened, and ties to it should be encouraged.
Rather than Israel being told that the world cannot wait much longer for the creation of a Palestinian State, perhaps those Palestinian Statists should be called upon to answer the following: why condemn Palestinian Arabs to live in a new, third world, Sharia-ruled, economically impoverished country, and deprive them of access to the economic powerhouse and western values-driven nation of Israel? Force them to answer to the audacity of reality.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is president of Z STREET, WWW.ZSTREET.ORG.