Just a Few Questions

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I am all mixed about United States policy on the Middle East. I have heard about three hundred times since Israel’s recent invasion of Palestine that we should support Israel because it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Why then, does the US provide economic aid to Egypt, a dictatorship with phony elections?

This is above my pay grade, but can some higher-up enlighten me? While you are at it, please explain why the US also gives economic aid to Palestine? Also, why did the U.S. go to war to reinstall a dictatorship in Kuwait and preserve one in Saudi Arabia? And why did the same people who now emphasize that the US should support Israel because it is the only democracy in those parts, support that war. Really, I’m confused.

Confusion turned to bewilderment when I heard about the US’s yawn at the overthrow of a democratically-elected president in Venezuela. As reported in the Guardian:

Despite the U.S. insistence that nations in the Western Hemisphere follow democratic procedures, the Bush administration did not protest when the popularly elected Chavez was forced from office Friday.

While Latin American leaders were condemning the coup, the State Department said Chavez was to blame for his fate. A spokesman charged that Chavez authorized followers to open fire on demonstrators, leaving more than a dozen dead and hundreds wounded. (April 16th)

So, in the Middle East, the US must support the only democracy, even when it uses violence against civilians, but in Venezuela, the US loses no sleep when a pugnacious democrat is ousted (for two days). If there is a unifying principle here, please let me know.

Also, why use democratic-ness as a criterion for resolving what appears to be a dispute over land with each side posting historical (hysterical) maps to prove its point? What does democracy have to do with it? When was the proper owner of these disputed lands decided by an election in which all claimants could vote? And why should such issues be decided by an election, anyway? Clue me in, please.

Also, let me know if the Palestinians voted to allow the Israeli Army into Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. If not, how is it that the democratic-ness of the internal decision-making process of Israel justifies its rule or control over others not party to that decision-making process? And more broadly, isn’t using democracy — mob makes right — as the ultimate criterion for right and wrong a fancy form of ethical nihilism?

Anyway, Israel is a democracy. It says so right there in its constitution. Hey, wait a minute, Israel has no constitution. That’s okay, I suppose. The US hasn’t had one either since 1861. If the US had a real one, its federal government would not be able to steal money from its subjects and give it to states and proto-states in the Middle East so they can kill each other, and make each other angry, resulting in some of the combatants retaliating against Americans while other combatants engage in espionage against the United States.

Here are some other things I’m confused about. For thirty years, supporters of Israel have told us that the Arabs don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. I don’t speak Arabic, so I took them at their word. Recently, however, supporters of Israel have denied it is u201Coccupying Palestine.u201D This is u201Cdisputed territory,u201D they say. Sure sounds like Israel doesn’t recognize Palestine’s right to exist either.

Still more confusion. In response to Palestinian claims to this or that territory currently controlled by Israel, and in response to Palestinian violence in support of those claims, if you say, hey, Israel won the wars, the Arabs lost, case closed; that’s fine. You can endorse that theory — might makes right — if you want, but please don’t use that theory to condemn violence by the other side. They are, apparently, merely trying to overturn the results of previous wars, which attempt is perfectly consistent with the philosophy that might makes right. Why should Palestinians accept the verdict of wars fought in the last sixty years when Israelis don’t accept the verdict of a war with Babylon in 586 BC which led to mass exile from Israel? Talk about Arabs and Serbs holding a grudge.

Tying together my confusion about the democracy and might makes right arguments, we are told that (1) dictatorships surround Israel and have attacked Israel over the years, and (2) the actions of those dictatorships are (somehow) binding on the lives and property of millions of Palestinians who never had a chance to vote them up or down. Please explain the logic to me.

Finally, why is private-sector terrorism wrong, but public-sector terrorism right? Oh, I forgot. States cannot engage in terrorism, by definition. Silly me. However, a corpse by any other malefaction would smell as foul.

I expect no answers to the questions I have raised. (Please write all hate mail in Arabic or Hebrew.) To expect propaganda to be logical or coherent is absurd. To expect the disputants to do more than rationalize their interests is nave. The only hope for true peace in the Middle East — application of classical liberal and libertarian principles: individual freedom, private property, return of property to its just owners — seems unlikely. All the classical liberals in Israel and Palestine could fit into a small bus. Reasoned dialogue is virtually impossible. Where reason is absent, force fills the vacuum. Supporters of the Israeli point of view such as Rush Limbaugh advise that peace can only be secured when one side has decisively defeated the other by force of arms, oblivious to the possibility that anti-Israeli forces may also take their message to heart.

Fortunately, might makes right only for awhile: "Throughout history, force appears as the arbiter of the moment. . . Reason, organically slow — reacting against force only when the ill effects of the latter become so general as to be inevitably obvious — finally confirms or annuls its judgement." (Bunford Samuel, 1920)

At this moment, however, the conflict in the Middle East seems insoluble by the United States or by any outsiders. It involves irreconcilable views based on fervently held and unshakeable religious and ideological beliefs. It involves collectivist thinking on both sides — u201CEvery Arab is responsible for the acts of any Arabu201D; u201CEvery Israeli is responsible for the acts of any Israeli.u201D What is needed is individualist thinking: which individuals did what to whom and when, and what must the wrongdoers do to make the victims whole?

If there is any hope, it lies in the exhaustion of the disputants and the exhaustion of their ideas. Everything has been tried and has failed except one thing. The answer is before our eyes: freedom itself. Jews and Arabs lived peacefully together in this region for centuries, with neither side compromising core religious principles. What can make that possible again are the principles of classical liberalism: peaceful commercial relations and individual rights. Classical liberalism stands opposed to bloodshed, hate, and conquest. For all sides to agree to these ideals is the best and only guarantor of peace.

April 24, 2002

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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