Reflections on Europe and the Middle East


We have returned from eight days in Northern Italy to the Middle East, where my residence is approaching 40 years.

I''ve taken advantage of Israel''s location and airline connections over the years to all the countries of Western Europe except for Luxembourg and the even tinier ones, most of them more than once, as well as the most western of the former "eastern" cities of Prague and Budapest.
Yet again I have been impressed by what has developed on the ruins of World War II and the poverty that came after. Now it is significantly more wealthy than during my first trips in the early 1970s.
Reminders of what had been centuries of violence are the paintings in churches and museums, as well as plaques identifying those who killed as soldiers, resistance fighters, or simply because they were Jews.
The peace that prevails and appears as strong as that between the American states is one of the truly great accomplishments of international politics. We should assign much of the responsibility to the enlightened policies of the United States in the decades after the war.
One needn''t apologize for those policies being motivated, perhaps in large part, by anti-Communism.
While several of my American friends continue to echo Eisenhower-like antipathy to what they call European socialism, the realities are more complex. Western Europeans are generally healthier and live longer than Americans. That may result from better education as well as medical care more widely available. One doesn''t see anything like the incidence of obese waddlers common to the US. The central cities of European cities are generally cleaner, safer, and more pedestrian friendly than American counterparts.
One must be concerned about clusters of the young and not so young who have zonked out, as well as migrants from Africa or the Middle East.
The wealth apparent in the centers of Bologna, Verona, Venice, and Padua does not appear in the cities and villages of Sicily. Similar contrasts appear between the best and the least within other European countries. However, one doesn''t see the physical or social contrasts apparent within short distances of one another in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or other US cities. 
Not yet profiting, or perhaps unable to benefit from any enlightened outsiders, are Israel''s neighbors in the Middle East. 

The White House and State Department did not accomplish anything positive by dumping Hosni Mubarak. After applause for  Mohamed Morsi, they are trying to decipher what is appropriate with respect to Mubarak''s younger copy, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. 

Syria, Iraq and Libya are disasters, with Afghanistan, Sudan, and Yemen not greatly different, Northern Nigeria and its Muslim neighbors are serious worries, and Iran hardly a model for anything positive.
My sense of Afghanistan''s enlightenment remains shaped by the English speaking Afghan who asked about traveling to the US by bus.
Palestine is more peaceful than others, and protected from the chaos of Syrian refugees, but with competing leaderships closer to comic opera than good government.
What benefits exist for Palestinians owe as much to  financial aid from elsewhere and Israel''s heavy hand used against extremists, as to anything actively pursued by a Palestinian leadership.
Israel has its own crazies,  no less driven by religious zeal than Islamic extremists. They are less violent than their Muslim counterparts, but the vandalism directed by some at Arab civilians and religious sites, and the demands by others for unlimited settlement expansion do not help us locally or internationally.
The Palestinians are the darlings of western leftists, including American Democrats and Jews who cannot think of any other political alternative.
BDS and a single state between the Jordan and the Sea are the current slogans.
Israeli politicians resist both. A developing deal to sell Israeli gas to a Spanish company that would process it and sell it in Egypt stands as the most prominent, but not the only indication that BDS has little traction beyond North American and European leftists.
There are also reasons to doubt what the western left sees as the inevitable development of Palestinian nationalism.
I''ll risk a charge of blasphemy to suggest that the Palestinians are not ready for a state.
One must admit that Palestine is not worse than a majority of countries already represented in the UN. Only a few may fit the definitions of "failed states" to the extent of Somalia, but most do not provide their residents with democracy, administrative and judicial transparency, personal security, or decent public services. 
With all that, there are problems on the way to Palestinian statehood. 
There is Palestinian nationalism, but it is at least somewhat at odds with Islam. Fervent Muslims can agree to hate Jews and Christians, but are not so sure about national loyalties.
Hamas and Fatah currently are in the midst of one of their unity agreements, but few observers are optimistic about the West Bank and Gaza keeping to this one any longer than several of its predecessors.
There are substantial indications in polls done by Palestinians that the Palestinians have little faith in their leadership. Those inclined to be secular don''t like Hamas. Abbas and his crowd have overstayed their mandate by more than five years, and are ridiculed more among Palestinians than among Americans or Europeans for their corruption and lack of concern for Palestinian needs.
Among the recent findings of a Palestinian pollster:
"Positive evaluation of conditions in the Gaza Strip stands at 15% and positive evaluation of conditions in the West Bank . . .  at 30%; 80% believe that corruption exists in PA institutions in the West Bank and 64% believe it exists in the institutions of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip 
Only 31% believe that people in the West Bank can criticize the PA in the West Bank without fear and only 22% believe 
people in the Gaza Strip can criticize the dismissed Hamas government in the Gaza Strip without fear
Positive evaluation of the performance of the Haniyeh government stands at 37% and positive evaluation of the performance of Al Hamdallah government stands at 41% 
Satisfaction with the performance of President Abbas drops from 53% three months ago to 46% in this poll." 
While Europeans may have thought they had the luxury of living in a post-nationalist world, the Russians of Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationalists are currently feistier than Scots, Catalans, or Basques.
Neither Obama, Kerry, the EU, Putin, or whatever stands as the government of Ukraine having the key to quieting things. Failure there may cause us to judge Kerry''s failure on Palestine to be only a tiny glitch.