This Middle East is new. It's much different from a decade ago, and even more so when compared to years earlier.
It may not look like the dream and slogans made popular by Shimon Peres and Barack Obama. They can quarrel who owns the label. Both have urged economic, social, and political reforms that look pretty much the same. They include national self-determination for Palestinians and just about everyone else, greater equality between ethnic groups and genders, greater wealth spread more evenly, more freedom of expression and political competition, and--expected as a result of all the above--peace.
Both--along with those singing in their choirs--have earned appropriate measures of praise and ridicule.
They've missed their target by some 180 degrees in much of the Middle East, as measured by the carnage in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, and down into Nigeria. Somalia is its same old chaos. Neither Egypt nor Turkey are free of serious internal problems, Jordan is even more pressed than usual by Syrian and Iraq refugees. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are carrying their misery, along with predictions of violence, to Europe..
Spillover has been most dramaticin France. While a month ago that country's politicians were at work in the UN trying to impose a settlement on Israel, now they are busy revising their constitution in a way that can make it much tougher against other Middle Easterners.
Some, alas, see Israel as somewhere at the center of Muslim fury.
Sweden's Foreign Minister expressed her analysis
“To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East of which not the least the Palestinians see that there is no future: we must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,”No surprise that an organ of the Palestine Authority was even more specific in blaming Israel for Paris.
"It is not a coincidence that human blood was exploded in Paris at the same time that certain European sanctions are beginning to be implemented against settlement products, and while France leads Europe in advising the security council that will implement the two-state solution, Palestine and Israel – which the Israelis see as a warning of sudden danger coming from the direction of Europe, where the Zionist, occupying, settling endeavor was born . . .The wise and correct thing is to look for who benefits. In short: They need to search the last place reached by the octopus arms of the Mossad… It is clear that its ‘Mossad’ will burn Beirut and Paris in order to achieve Netanyahu’s goals. He, who challenged the master of the White House, hides in his soul enough evil to burn the world."
Despite continuing noise from politicians far and near, Israel has done better than all others in this New Middle East. The country is more prosperous, with a larger population, and arguably more secure than ever in its history.
Israeli Arabs and Palestinians of the West Bank are also better off, but their version of what is politically correct keeps them from acknowledging participation in anything with Israel..
Paradise has not arrived. There's been upticks in Palestinian violence and the ugliness of their speeches, and more Israeli casualties than we've seen for some years. Along with the noise, however, Israeli security forces are working most intently in the West Bank against the enemies of both Israel and the Palestinian political establishment. Israel is also moving against domestic radicals, accompanied by loud accusations by Arab activists. However, a general strike called was only partially successful. Israel has shown itself able to deal with violence, so far without embarking on anything close to what it could do, and most Arabs seem to be going along for the sake of their own increased standard of living, and the much greater security they enjoy compared to cousins not too far away.
Numbers are far from exact, due to data problems in the Palestinian Authority and the unknown number of illegals who slip into Israel for work. However, it appears that there are some 200-275,000 West Bank Palestinians working in Israel or its industries and agriculture located in the West Bank. They make up perhaps a quarter to a third of West Bank Palestinians who have work. The compensation received from jobs in Israel or its settlements is more than twice what they would receive, if they could find work, closer to home.
Among the calculations of Israeli officials are the needs to balance the incidence of violence, the security required to guard against some of these workers who become violent, along with others who take advantage of the lack of total closure imposed on Palestinian areas of the West Bank, against the prospect of vastly increased unemployment among Palestinians and what that would mean for unrest.
The reality is that Israeli and Palestinian economies depend on one another. The balance of dependence is not even, but it is sufficient to cause personnel in both societies to think about the costs of a complete break and increased warfare, even while other Palestinians express the slogans of boycott, economic and sanctions, or while some Israelis demand putting an end once and for all times to the threats from Palestinians.
No doubt that Israeli Arabs do not get an equal share of governmental goodies, but it's largely their own fault. Voting for anti-establishment parties that fail to trade support for benefits, and insist on non-stop campaigns against the legitimacy of Israel, reflects something askew in Arab conceptions of politics. However, Israeli Arab leaders, like those of the Palestinian West Bank, seem to know some limits of protest and opposition. Arabs of Israel benefit from Western-quality social services and--along with West Bank Palestinians--benefit from Israeli security activities directed against greater radicalism.
This assessment is by no means acknowledged by the Arabs/Palestinians. As we have learned, however, the Middle East doesn't operate like the Middle West.
Shimon Peres and his preaching of a New Middle East that ain't coming the way he wants is closing out a long career somewhere close to the peak of the respect he has enjoyed. He's been as complex a person as anyone hereabouts, due to the length of his service, the many tasks he has performed, and the capacity of biographers to describe him as variously hawk, security maven with a good deal of personal responsibility for Israel's nuclear capacity, peacenik, competitive son of a bitch who aspired to take no prisoners in political infighting, and lately a nice old man who was a decent President. Somewhere in his file is the slogan of "anybody but Peres," which led the Knesset in 2000 to choose a President who was known as a sexual harasser and who became a convicted rapist.
Prominent among Peres' competitors was Yitzhak Rabin, whose own reputation shot up from equally tough son of a bitch to iconic national hero as the result of a dramatic death. For Israelis old enough to have seen the bitterness between them, it is whimsical to hear Shimon Peres among those leading the ceremonies of praise for Yitzhak Rabin.
Rabin's cheering section is certain he would have brought peace to Israel and Palestine. They're right up there with JFK's group certain that he would have withdrawn early from Vietnam, and Abe Lincoln's people sure that he would have found a better way to deal with freed slaves and White Southerners.
All that's behind us, however, as we enjoy our place in a New Middle East, even if it isn't the one that Shimon or Barack aspired to create.