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In Israel-Palestine, We Now Hear the Last Gasps of Globalization

The fantasy of a borderless world lies in smithereens.

Credit: Nick Beer

Around twenty years ago when, despite 9/11 and the rising China challenge, the age of globalization was still with us, I challenged in the pages of this magazine the latest fad embraced by Israeli intellectuals daydreaming about a “post-Zionist” Israel and their colleagues in the West: that of a one-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One State for Two Peoples is the idea that Arabs and Jews could co‐​exist peacefully and live in harmony in a bi‐​national state in the area stretching from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea—Historical Palestine (the Arab view) or the Land of Israel (the Jewish perspective).


For years following the end of the Cold War and the rise of Silicon Valley, Tom Friedman of “countries with McDonald’s don’t go to war against each other” fame, the prophet of globalization, was fantasizing about peace in the Promised Land. He argued that, in the struggle between the “olive tree” (Friedman’s metaphor for outdated nationalism, ethnicity, and religion) and the Lexus (which stands for democracy, open markets, the free flow of information, people, and money), the Lexus would win.

The collapse of the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Jewish State and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), then the failure of President Bill Clinton to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the 2000 Camp David Summit, followed by the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, seemed to have challenged the notion that a conflict rooted in history, nationalism, and religion was coming to a happy end, and that soon young and hip Israelis and Palestinians would be surfing the Internet, watching MTV, and making money in a new high‐​tech start‐​ups in the “New Middle East” (a term coined by the former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres).

I recalled that, not long ago, neoconservatives predicted that this is what trendy Arabs and Kurds would be doing in the new Iraq in 2010 where the “anachronistic identities” of ethnicity and religion were supposed to have disappeared. 

“In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communications have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism,” concluded the leftist historian Tony Judt in a  article in the New York Review of Books, all but dismissing the idea of an Israeli‐​Jewish state and by extension its mirror‐​image, a Palestinian‐​Arab one, and joining the chorus of those advocating a bi‐​national state. 

As he saw it, the world was characterized by a “clash of cultures” between “open, pluralist democracies and belligerently intolerant faith‐​driven ethno‐​states.” Israel, he warned, risked falling into the “wrong camp.” Again, if one assumes that an independent Arab Palestinian state would probably share the kind of radical Arab nationalism and militant Islam that pervades to one degree or another all the states in the Middle East, Palestine, like Israel, is also bound to become a dysfunctional anachronism. “So it’s good‐​bye anachronistic nation‐​state and hello borderless world, that is, less border between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza,” as I summarized Judt’s argument. 


But then against the backdrop of the disappearance of the multinational Soviet Union, the implosion of Yugoslavia, a divorce between Czechs and Slovaks, the disintegration of Indonesia, and the tensions created by the French separatist movement in Quebec (not to mention the rise of secessionist and nationalist movements elsewhere—Basques in Spain, Kurds in Iraq, Chechens in Russia, Kosovars in Serbia), the concept of bi-national Arab-Jewish State in the Holy Land was the one that sounded anachronistic. 

In fact, as I pointed out, a bi‐​national state would only produce an explosive situation in which Jews would dominate the economy and most other aspects of the new state, creating a reality of exploitation. At that point in time, a bi‐​national state would be a new form of occupation that would only create more violence in the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, resembling more the civil war in Yugoslavia than the era of peaceful co‐​existence under Marshal Tito. 

In a historical perspective, the Second Intifada and 9/11 were part of a powerful challenge to the globalization of the 1990s, as old and new political animosities started rearing their ugly heads. Two countries with McDonald’s—the United States and Serbia—went to war against each other. India went nuclear and then returned to its Hindu roots. 

And another globalist fantasy, that of exporting liberal democracy to the Middle East, either through the use of American military power or in the form of invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan or by the peaceful protests of the so-called Arab Spring, encountered the realities of the region where nationalist, sectarian, and tribal conflicts—Shiites vs. Sunnis, Arabs vs. Kurds, Muslims vs. Christians, and that old standby, Arabs vs. Jews—continue to dominate it.  

Moreover, Brexit and Trumpism were all signs that nationalism was replacing globalism as the mode of explaining international relations. The war in Ukraine and the clash with China make it clear that we have entered into an era of great power competition driven by geo-strategic and geo-economic interests that override the need to maintain the free flow of products, money, and people. 

Trade and investment in the global economy did not seem to have deterred any nation from launching costly military campaigns. The suggestion that those who make money do not make wars—that a capitalist peace would envelope all—proved to be a grand illusion. Nations create wealth so they have more resources to help fund their military goals.

In that context, the Israelis and the Palestinians made it clear that they were willing to continue fighting over religious sites in Jerusalem and olive trees in the West Bank even as they went online. Being a start-up nation did not transform Israelis into pacifist people. 

From that perspective, the Abraham Accords under which Israel signed peace accords with five Arab nations, in addition to the peace agreement it has with Egypt and Jordan, as well as the recent talk about normalizing the ties between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are not based on the notion of “perpetual peace” a la Immanuel Kant—the relationship between Riyadh and Jerusalem is not comparable to those between France and Germany or the U.S. and Canada—but on cold Realpolitik considerations, namely the need to contain the common threat of a radical and nuclear-would-be Iran. 

Indeed, as the war between Israel and Hamas demonstrated, the core historical and cultural conflict between Arabs and Jews is not going to end anytime soon in a form of “peace” so long as the Arabs do not recognize the Jewish national rights in Israel. 

The most that one can hope for is a long military truce, like the one between Israel and Egypt. That truce came about when Egypt recognized that it could not defeat Israel. A similar truce between Israelis and Palestinians would ensue if and when the latter came to the same conclusions. Don’t hold your breath.