Here’s a quiz.
What Middle East story does the New York Times, the newspaper of record in the United States, deem so important that it devotes most of the front page of its 12-page Sunday Review section this week, including eye-catching art work, and the bulk of two inside pages?
Is it about Syria?
After all, the U.S. Administration’s surprise decision to turn to diplomacy and partner with Moscow to forge a deal on the Syrian chemical-weapons arsenal is one of the biggest geopolitical developments in recent history.
Whether the deal is workable, and if it will result in President Assad’s shortened or, perhaps, lengthened tenure as Syria’s strongman, is not an idle question.
Moreover, the ongoing stream of refugees from Syria, now numbering over two million and flooding into neighboring countries, including fragile Lebanon, is about as striking a political and human drama as they come.
No, it’s not about Syria.
Is it about the fate of Christians in the region?
Whereas Christians once constituted a significant percentage of the populations of many Middle East countries, their numbers have dropped rapidly, as minority communities suffer violence and persecution.
Since the status of minorities is a rather accurate bellwether of the health of societies, this, too, is no trifling matter.
But no, this week’s front-page Sunday Review story is not about the travails of Christians in the region, and what it means for where things are headed.
Is it about Turkey and how, exactly 90 years after the Kemalist vision of a modern, Western-oriented nation was introduced, Prime Minister Erdogan is dismantling that vision brick by brick, and replacing it with a different outlook, one that would make Atatürk turn over in his grave?
Just as Atatürk’s revolution nearly a century ago was among the 20th century’s biggest developments, so, too, is Erdogan’s quieter, but no less significant, about-face. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, abutting the Middle East, and a member of NATO, what happens in Turkey has implications far beyond its borders.
No, it’s not about Turkey.
Perhaps it’s about the rivalries for supremacy in the Middle East, with Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, among others, on the playing field, all seeking advantage in the shifting sands of the region, trying to protect their core interests, and sensing a vacuum created by America’s retreat.
This is a new version of the great power rivalry, and while the outcome is far from certain, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
No, it’s not about rivalries or axes.
Perhaps it’s about Egypt, the largest Arab country.
After all, the country is still in the midst of sorting itself out after the mega-events of recent years, and the direction it ultimately takes has profound implications for the region, the West, and the world.
Can the country resolve its internal conflicts, restart its economy, and provide some semblance of a future for its burgeoning population? If not, stay tuned.
No, that’s not this week’s feature, either.
Perhaps it’s about Iraq.
Ten years after the country’s invasion by the United States, Iraq is descending into the abyss of sectarian strife, with daily killings and bombings, while the country as a whole has moved closer to the Iranian orbit.
No, it’s not about Iraq.
Or perhaps it’s about the endemic problems plaguing the Arab world, those underlying issues which were highlighted in the UN-sponsored Arab Human Development Report and that continue to plague the region, making it so violent, unstable, and unpredictable.
No, it’s not about lagging literacy, limited women’s rights, sparse innovation, or a culture of blame rather than introspection.
Rather, the Sunday Review story is all about the “chimera of a negotiated two-state solution” between Israelis and Palestinians. Elsewhere in the lengthy article, it’s referred to as a “mirage,” “pretense,” or “fantasy.”
Zero chance for a two-state accord, the author, Ian Lustick, alleges, so back to the drawing boards he goes. The answer he comes up with – drum roll, please – is a one-state solution, just what none other than the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi advocated on the New York Times op-ed page in 2009.
Lustick envisions a future in which “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries might find new reasons to think of themselves not as ‘Eastern,’ but as Arab.” Zionism, he asserts, has become “an outdated idea,” and Israelis should accept that “Israel may no longer exist as the Jewish and democratic vision of its Zionist founders.”
So, from his rarefied perch in West Philadelphia, Lustick dispenses with the foundational Jewish link among a people, a land, and a faith.
He suggests that a nation whose population has grown from 650,000 in 1948 to over eight million in 2013, has been a member of the UN since 1949, belongs to the OECD club of the world’s most industrialized nations, has more start-ups listed on NASDAQ than all but one or two other nations, has the most potent military in the region, and continues to have a powerful national ethos, Zionism, in reality has no future.
Speaking of illusions, the word used in the title of the article (“Two-State Illusion”), he also blithely ignores the in-your-face Middle East reality that his solution will lead straightaway to inter-communal violence and bloodshed on a vast scale.
And he nixes the two-state path, even as many in the U.S., Europe, Israel, and some parts of the Arab world, knowing that Lustick’s answer is no answer, have laudably recommitted themselves to its achievement.
Oh, and on a personal level, I checked in with a few of those “Israelis whose families came from Arab countries” to sound them out about Lustick’s recommendation that they start to redefine themselves as “Arab.” Their reactions were largely unprintable, but rather colorful. Suffice it to say, they could only wonder if Lustick knows the first thing about the Middle East, even if the New York Times seems to think so.