Aug 27 2009
Two seemingly unrelated yet dramatic developments occurred this week. South Korea launched a rocket into space. Meanwhile, the Israelis and Palestinians announced the possible re-start of peace talks.
The satellite the Koreans were trying to put into orbit sadly fell back to Earth, burning in the atmosphere. The plucky Koreans are surely undeterred. You can depend on them to ultimately succeed.
As for the peace talks I mentioned, they will probably go nowhere fast, just like most recent efforts. But even if they do make progress, it really doesn’t matter. Real peace, not just fragile cease-fires pretending to be peace, will require a different kind of thrust than mere diplomacy.
Let us imagine that the latest announcement of a new beginning for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians leads to something really genuine. Further suppose that talks gather momentum, somehow breaking the perennial deadlock of settlements, borders and the status of Jerusalem. Finally, let us visualize, on the eve of the signing of this historic treaty, the leaders of all of the Arab states and Iran are swept up by this peace fever and line up at the UN to sign a 1000-year peace treaty with Israel.
It would not matter.
Treaties may get both sides to not shoot at each other (which for the most part, has already been achieved, even between Israel and the Arab states with which it is still formally at war). But a lasting peace in the Middle East will not come so long as terrorists (think Hamas and Hezbollah) or revolutionaries (a la the innumerable Islamist political opposition groups) threaten to overthrow the Arab regimes. The horrendous social and economic conditions of the Arab make it likely that any peace agreement that might be reached in the short term would be overturned by radicals aching to tear up those treaties the deposed regime made with the “Zionist entity”.
This is not to let Israel and its backers off the hook. Peace in the region is still a far greater guarantor to Israel’s security than it’s current military superiority. But to truly achieve something more than a decades-long ceasefire, radicalism among its neighbors must be squelched.
Anti-Semitism plays a part, but is certainly not the most important reason why increasing numbers of Arabs are turning to radical Islam. Syria, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Iran and others just have too many young people, not enough jobs to go around, and no ability to change their situation so long as the thuggish regimes of the Middle East continue to hold sway. To drain the swamp of radicalism, these states themselves will have to open up their sclerotic political and economic systems, provide some measure of freedom and prosperity to their people and thus engender the kind of stability that can lead to true peace in the Middle East.
This brings us back to Korea. From a xenophobic and technologically backward hermit kingdom at the turn of the twentieth century, this place went on to be in turn an enslaved Japanese colony, a splintered yet liberated American protectorate, and finally a devastated war-torn mass of ruined villages and refugees the North Koreans left in their wake in the South. In 1950, this tiny country was broken, worse off even than the Arab Middle East of the time.
Sixty years later, South Korea is the 15th largest economy in the world, with an entrenched democratic political system and, despite the temporary setback of this week, an active space program. No one worries that South Korea, or a radical group within that country, will suddenly provoke war with it’s neighbor (which is particularly nice, since now we only have to worry about the North Koreans setting off a war along the most heavily fortified border on the planet). And Korea is merely one of the more dramatic examples of what a nation bereft of natural resources but willing to invest in its human capital can achieve within two generations.
But back in the Middle East, all of the Arab states, comprising a far larger population and geographic area than South Korea, have a combined GDP less than the country of Spain (at one time a Muslim outpost in Europe). Space program? The closest thing to an Arab astronaut we might see in the next while could only be a Hamas suicide bomber strapped to an augmented Ashoura rocket.
The point being, that for real, sustainable peace between Israel and its avowed enemies to take hold, extreme transformations must take place in the Arab world and Iran. Economic development alone is no guarantor of peace, since certain Arab states and Iran may simply continue to buy more weapons or fund terrorist groups. The transformation will be more about their young people getting trained to produce and sell the products and ideas that the rest of the world wants, rather than spending long hours considering the evil of Western influence and the extent to which Jews are biologically related to pigs and monkeys. It will be about political leaders focusing on building themselves up, not on the evils of foreign devils. These societies surely won’t change in order to make peace with Israel, but rather because this kind of development is what their people want. Peace could simply be a by-product.
With great resolve from the concerned nations of the Middle East to meet their internal challenges and defeat radicalism, “peace in the Middle East” can mean far more than just ink on paper .