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Defining moments ; The Failed State

Friday, May 23 2008 @ 01:47 AM CDT

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US think tanks may have coined the term "failed state". They refuse, though, to apply it to Israel, the one state that meets all their criteria for failure, argues Gamil Mattar*

A "failed state", according to the US think tanks that coined the term, is one headed for extinction, that threatens the security of its immediate neighbours and the wider international community because it triggers conflict and war and practises various forms of discrimination against groups or peoples under its control or within the range of its threat.

My generation has seen the birth of many nations. Within the space of two or three decades after World War II, UN membership doubled, swelled by newly independent states from Africa and Asia. The bets at the time were on the ability of these nations to survive and it was a general optimism that won out. Moreover, the newly independent nations continued to survive in the face of enormous obstacles thrown up by international powers and despite enormous mistakes committed by new ruling elites that were either corrupt or insufficiently trained in the principles of government. Most of these nations still exist, persisting doggedly in the face of cruel circumstances. Others are floundering, but refuse to be intimidated by American claims that they are failed states, which is to say on the verge of extinction. I have never heard anyone, in an official or non-official capacity from the nations that emerged in the post-World War II period, whether successful or not so successful, discuss the likelihood of the disappearance of their state. The sole exception to this rule is Israel.

On the very day it was established Israel's founders articulated their fears of the extinction of their state, the same "threat of extinction" that has been chorused until today, when Israel is celebrating the 60th anniversary. The refrain has been chorused by Jews in Israel and Jews abroad, by Jews of every political stripe -- secular, liberal, conservative, ultraconservative, extremist, fundamentalist and terrorist -- and by the new Jews who are sometimes discovered in Africa, India, China and emerging nations in Asia. The refrain is echoed by neo-conservatives in the US, by the advocates of the revival of conventional colonialism, and by proponents and apologists of the neo- colonialist enterprise. It has also been taken up, albeit in a pitiful way, by Arab media figures, politicians, academics and others on whom the term "neo-colonised persons" might be applied.

All these people believe, whether out of conviction or a cynical desire to instigate the Jews against the Arabs and other peoples of the world, that Israel does not have the luxury to conclude a just peace as it is understood by many Arabs, international lawyers and rights advocates. A just peace, they argue, will bring into being a situation in which the Palestinians and Arabs will be equal to the Israelis, which, in turn, will result in the extinction of Israel. Israel, they continue, survives by virtue of the special relationship it has managed to forge with the US. The day that relationship collapses, the day Israel loses the sympathy of American public opinion or its ability to influence Congress, the White House, the bastions of the economy and the nerve centres of political thought and culture in American universities, research centres and national strategic think tanks will be the day extinction looms. No one among Israel's political and intellectual elites denies Israel's total and absolute dependence on the US, and all the pretexts, incentives and means of coercion employed by Zionist organisations in the US to ensure that US policy-makers bend to their will do little to alleviate the overwhelming impact of this dependency on the Israeli psychology. I do not believe that Israeli, or Zionist leaders abroad, are overly upset by all the literature on the power of the Zionist lobby and its infiltration of key decision-making institutions in the US. What matters to them is the need to continuously repeat the refrain of threats to the existence of Israel and, simultaneously, to hold ruling institutions in the US and elsewhere responsible for confronting that threat and, through this dynamic, to reassure Jews around the world that Israel, as threatened as its existence may be, still controls Washington.

The state that has just celebrated its 60th anniversary while continuing construction of a wall to protect it from its neighbours is a failed state. Costa Rica, by comparison, is a model of success, as are India, Honduras, Qatar, Kenya and Uganda, all of which have succeeded in establishing themselves within clearly demarcated borders recognised by their neighbours and the international community. That Israel's rulers have yet to determine where their final borders will be is, in itself, evidence that Israel is a failed state. One of the American criteria for ranking a country as a failed state is that the state has not succeeded in imposing its will over all its territory or to realise peace and security among the peoples of the territory that it "plans" to incorporate. Accordingly, Israel is not fully established, or the Israelis have so far failed to fully establish their state.

On the pretext of a permanent threat to their state's existence, the Israeli leadership has followed a strategy of "permanent war". It was born out of war against the Palestinians and the Arabs. The view that the Arabs started the war against the emerging state is nothing less than silly. Were they supposed to welcome the new European invaders -- the terrorists of the Haganah, Irgun and Stern gangs -- with flowers? The permanent war continued -- against Egypt for a long time, until Egypt was eliminated from the equation, against Lebanon, and, via the US, against Iraq. The American invasion of that country falls neatly within Israel's ongoing war against the Arabs. And now that Israel is reaching the end of its Arab opponents it is readying itself, or others, for a war against Iran and, either before or after, a war against, or in, Pakistan.

Not that Arab and Islamic countries are without fault. Some of them have not completely succeeded and others still fear disintegration. No Arab ruling elite, though, has ever spoken of the extinction of their state. If anything, the tendency is to exaggerate in the other direction and boast of its permanence. Nor has any Arab or Islamic state made permanent war the foundation of its strategy, contrary to Jewish and non-Jewish neo-conservative claims about the violence intrinsic in Islam and Arab culture.

One can easily understand why a movement that insists upon the holocaust as the moral and ethical foundation of the relationship between all other peoples with the Jewish people, and with Israel in particular, is so adamant to keep alive stories of the extinction of the state. The holocaust and the threat of extinction become inseparable when commemoration of the holocaust is used to deter anyone who might question the right of the Israeli state to represent the Jewish people, and when the spectre of the extinction of the state is used to keep the memory of the holocaust alive. But why should a state that is confident of its legitimacy, beliefs and existence on the ground need to derive the energy for its survival from a catastrophe, of which there have been so many in the history of mankind? Many states came into being and succeeded in becoming permanent and stable entities without having to continuously strum on the memory of their historic catastrophes. In other words, if Israel had attained the success commensurate with a 60-year old state it would not have to rely on the historic catastrophe of the holocaust as its raison d'ĂȘtre.

If Israel is to merit the praise it receives from the powers that helped it establish and survive then it seems only right that it offer these powers and the rest of the world the proof that it is capable of surviving as a state committed to internationally accepted norms of humanitarian behaviour and legal ethics, as opposed to surviving by imposing its will by brute force. Surely it is not the measure of success when a state lives in constant fear of the day when the waters of the West Bank, sources of energy and economic aid will dry up, and when, after 60 years, it remains incapable of ensuring the smooth, peaceful influx of its essential needs from the environment in which it has chosen to live. Is not a failed state one that has failed to integrate itself into the life and culture of the region?

Zionism has succeeded as a racist, colonialist military venture. It has succeeded in convincing the leaders of the world of the notion, regardless of its truth or falsity, that the Jews are the masters of mankind and possess unprecedented powers of influence. But it has failed to found a stable and secure state, which is to say, a state that can survive and succeed.

* The writer is director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research.

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