Map of Middle East.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One hundred years ago today Great Britain and France split between themselves spheres of influences in a disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The secret arrangement was called the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Roughly speaking, it created the boundaries of the Levant as we know it.
But history seems to have taken its revenge on British diplomat Mark Sykes and his French counterpart, François Georges-Picot, who hammered out the agreement that bears their names.
Syria is gradually splintering into multiple entities. Iraq is fracturing along sectarian lines of its own. Shi’ite areas in southern Iraq close to the border with Kuwait are increasingly pressing for autonomy, with support from Iran. And Sunni tribes in Iraq have joined forces against the Assad regime, creating yet another distinct sectarian group in Iraq. Libya is no longer a single national entity and Yemen is being torn apart between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Even countries not created by Sykes-Picot such as Egypt are undergoing turmoil and instability.
It is no wonder that commentators, journalists and analysts of the Middle East – including the The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board – have for some time now declared the demise of Sykes-Picot.
Yet, among all the upheaval and bloodshed that we have witnessed in the region that has led to the breakdown of Sykes-Picot, there remains one oasis of stability: the State of Israel. And this is not a coincidence.
Part of the reason has to do with the national character of Israel. Unlike artificial national constructions such as Syria and Iraq that contain diverse populations, Israel was created for a specific people with a shared history, culture and religion. With all its internal conflicts – between religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi – there is nevertheless a common denominator that brings together the vast majority of Israelis.
But Israel’s relatively homogeneous population is only part of the explanation for its success. Much more significant is the fact that Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East. The disintegration of the old order in the region is more about the failure of corrupt, inept and violent autocratic regimes than about contrived borders that ignored ethnic, sectarian and cultural differences.
Sykes-Picot is not to blame for the disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, rather it is the autocratic nature of these countries’ political leaderships.
The Syrian conflict began as an uprising by all Syrians – men and women, young and old, Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurdish and even Alawite – against an unfair, corrupt autocrat out of touch with or callous to his people’s aspirations. And this was true for Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, and Bahrainis as well in 2010 and 2011.
In the midst of this upheaval, Israel stands out as a beacon of stability, freedom and economic prosperity. An advanced military based on a people’s army that is committed to the highest level of ethical conduct is successful at incorporating a broad spectrum of diverse populations – including Beduin, Druse and Christians.
While Israel is a Jewish state with Jewish symbols and legislation that gives priority to Jews in areas such as immigration, the country’s democracy also protects the basic human rights of a large non-Jewish minority. All citizens enjoy equality before the law, freedom of speech, the right to vote and other basic democratic rights.
Israel’s dynamic economy offers all citizens economic opportunities on par with other advanced economies.
This is not to say that tensions do not exist with Israeli society. These tensions are, however, manageable within the framework of democratic give and take and do not threaten to tear apart the fabric of society.
In the near future as part of an end to the civil war tearing apart Syria, talk will turn to carving up territories that were once under the control of the Assad regime. A coastal region will most likely be delivered to those loyal to the Alawite Bashar Assad regime; another yet-to-be-determined swath of territory will fall under the control of Sunni opposition forces; and a Kurdish enclave with ties to north Iraq and Kurds in Turkey will probably be carved out as well.
Within the framework of such an arrangement, it is time that the world recognize Israel’s 1981 de facto annexation of the Golan Heights. A century after Sykes-Picot, no other country in the region has provided more proof of its stability.
Now is the time to recognize it.