Hudna is an Arabic term indicating ‘truce’ or ‘armistice’. It derives from a verb root meaning ‘calm’. Israelis had been suspicious of previous proposals for Hudnas given its place in Islamic doctrine and history. Islamic doctrine dictates that Hudnas with non-Moslems should be limited to ten years and should only be agreed upon if the Moslems are weak. Its purpose is to provide time to rebuild strength in order to renew the conflict with non-Moslem enemies after the ten year period. Historically the Arabs had often made use of this device. The Israelis regarded the suggestion as a cynical ploy by a weakened Palestinian resistance to gain time, rearm and resume the struggle at the time of their choosing. Israeli suspicions were legitimate as many on the Palestinian side did have deceitful intentions.
But Israeli belief in a final peace with the Palestinians had been waning while support for an interim agreement that would provide peace and quiet (in lieu of real peace) had been rising. The idea of the Hudna no longer seemed unappealing. This was reinforced by an historical analysis that moderated Israeli public opinion. A best case scenario would set the stage for an eventual peace. But even a worst case scenario – in which the Palestinians resumed hostilities after 10 years – would still have benefited Israel. It would have provided ten years of relative quiet, enabling development that would have increased Israel’s advantage over its enemies. This had been the historical pattern.
In the 60 years of its existence every period of relative calm was better used by Israel than the Arabs. The gap in the relative strength of both sides always grew to the benefit of Israel. In the period 1948-1956 (the year of the Sinai War) Israel absorbed over a million immigrants, organized a regular and reserve army and grew its economy by 9% a year. In the period 1957-1965 Israel built one of the best armies and air forces in the world, grew its economy an average of 9% a year and absorbed hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
The period of 1967-1973 also enabled robust economic growth, significant aliya from the West (for the first time) as well as the upgrading of relations with American Jewry and the United States. The period of 1991 (Madrid conference) to 2000 (2nd Intifada) enable 4-5% yearly economic growth which is substantial for a mature economy. This facilitated the absorption of over a million highly educated immigrants and the transformation of Israel into a high-tech power house (Silicon Wadi). It was also a major factor in the normalization of relations with the future super powers of China and India and the reestablishment of normal diplomatic and economic ties with Africa. It helped strengthen scientific and economic ties with the European Union and the United States and triggered peace with Jordan as well as economic ties with some Persian Gulf and North African States.
The Oslo Accords have come to be seen – post facto – as a Hudna. Perhaps if they had been sold as such at the outset rather than as the harbinger of a New Middle East, a great deal of disappointment and cynicism might have been avoided. With the perspective of hindsight we see that for the Zionist project the Oslo Accords were an achievement and not a mistake. Given all this, it was generally agreed that even a worst case scenario would leave Israel in better economic and security shape than its enemies.
The previous several decades of world history reinforced this view. Democratic, free-market countries with solid constitutional protections and mature technological and scientific foundations had been able to take better advantage of the global economy than totalitarian, theocratic or autocratic countries. Over any given period of time the gap between open and closed societies has been widening at an increasing rate. Since economic and scientific power is the underpinning of military power the Israeli public realized they would be better off regardless of the outcome of the Hudna.
But the worst case scenario did not occur. The reason being that during this ten year Hudna the Palestinians were forced by external and internal pressures to concentrate on development. The donor countries became more stringent in supervising the use of their money and insisting it be used for development rather than corruption. The majority of ordinary Palestinians had become sick of corruption, violence and poverty. They became outspoken in insisting that their leaders provide them with a better life. These pressures did not stop the smuggling of arms. Nor did they end Islamic dreams of eliminating the Jewish state. They did not bring about the immediate cessation of Kassam rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli population centers. What they did was to begin to bring Palestinian leadership identified with economic and social development to the foreground and begin to push leadership identified with armed struggle and dreams of an Islamic state in greater Palestine into the background.
The inertia of development began an historical process of marginalizing advocates of violence. Discreet pressure from the European Union helped eliminate racist incitement in the Palestinian educational system and media. More importantly, the EU exerted pressure to amend the Hamas Covenant of 1988. The Europeans finally recognized that the ideology and mass psychology underlying the Covenant had become the greatest obstacle to peace – greater even than the occupation. In Israel, the ideology and mass psychology of the occupation had been eroding since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip while the Hamas worldview had penetrated the very soul of the Palestinian psyche. Even those European leaders and opinion makers most hostile to Israel and dismissive of the substantive importance of the Covenant could not deny its psychological implications vis-à-vis Jewish public opinion and how this would limit flexibility on the Israeli side.
The Covenant maintained that the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was authentic and called for the extermination of Israel and the creation of a greater Islamic state in Palestine. It called all Arabs and Moslems that did not adhere to this position, traitors to Allah and implied they were deserving of death. Article 22 was especially embarrassing to the apologists for the Palestinian cause. It revealed the anti-Semitism at the heart of the Palestinian national movement. There was no way it could be interpreted as anti-Zionism. It contained every canard against the Jews in the canon of anti-Semitism.
With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there…They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.
Article 28 contains a lie that Goebbels would have been proud of:
We should not forget to remind every Moslem that when the Jews conquered the Holy City in 1967, they stood on the threshold of the Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed that “Mohammed is dead, and his descendants are all women”…Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep!”
Examples of the Koranic origins of Moslem anti-Semitism were also contained in the body of the Covenant. For example Article 7 contained the following:
The Prophet, Allah, bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him…”
Western countries and moderate Arab and Moslem leaders realized that these views as well as the situation on the ground had to be transformed and that different regional background music had to be created to enable progress on the peace front. Moral absolutes were relegated to the sidelines, particularly because the moral absolutes of Islam could not tolerate any semblance of Jewish autonomy. Nor could they tolerate the peace process. As article 13 of the Hamas Covenant says:
Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.
To counteract this implacable attitude, practical steps were formulated designed to create a situation that might eventually enable peace. At the most basic level this moderated the obsessive sanctimonious moralizing at Israel as well as the cessation of the endless stream of hostile United Nations resolutions. It was finally realized that all this did was make the job of the advocates of peace in Israel more difficult. Or as one British diplomat put it – in classic British understatement: “this kind of conduct is not useful”.
Defusing the Palestinian Problem
One of the reasons the 2000 Camp David talks broke down was the issue of the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian leadership claimed the right of return to Israel according to their interpretation of United Nations General Assembly resolution 194. Israel countered that this would mean the destruction of the Jewish State and of Jewish self-determination. Since self-determination is defined as a right in the United Nations Charter this interpretation of resolution 194 was, in Israel’s eyes, in contravention of the Charter in addition to being a Bill of Attainder. Consequently 194 should have been deemed unconstitutional on two counts.
Most thinking Palestinians realized that Israel could never give in on this issue. But Palestinian leadership also could not give in on the right of return as long as so many Palestinians lived in refugee camps. Their constituencies would not permit it. Behind the scenes diplomacy determined that the solution was to make the refugee problem a non-issue.
Alleviating the predicament of the Palestinian people replaced the problem of Palestine as a focus of concern. The West’s growing independence from Persian Gulf oil was an enabling factor. The first step was the weakening of the hinterland of Palestinian militancy. This was achieved in several ways:
- The myth of Gaza’s population density was finally dispelled. It was noted that Gaza was two thirds the size of Singapore with only half the population. The EU initiated the Gaza Project – dedicated to copying the Singapore development model. UNRWA (the sustainer of suffering and conflict) was dissolved and handling of the Palestinian refugees was transferred to the UN High Commission on Refugees. As a result all international law and codes of practice that had been applied to every other refugee problem now also applied to the Palestinians. The international dynamic became to resolve the plight of the refugees not to sustain it.
- About 250,000 Palestinian refugees remained in Lebanon. Their camps were more internment than refugee camps. Unlike Jordan the Lebanese did not permit Palestinian integration into the economy. The Palestinians were not citizens and had no rights (in contravention of international conventions and protocols on refugees). They lived in squalor with no hope of a better future. They were therefore the most radical of all the Palestinian communities regarding the right of return. They were also excellent candidates for terror recruitment. EU and American pressure was put on Lebanon to end their discriminatory policy. The Lebanese were forced to grant refugees all the constitutional protections and rights granted to Lebanese citizens. An economic incentive was added. The refugee camps were given “free port” status by the EU. Significant economic improvement in their situation followed. This benefited all Lebanese society. This branch of Palestinian militancy was neutralized.
- In 2007 the European Union and the United States joined in a project to generate a 10% yearly economic growth rate in Jordan over a period of 10 years. 60% of Jordan’s citizens were Palestinian and they constituted the largest refugee population. Jordan’s population was 90% literate with over 15% of their population possessing a post-high school education. Economically they were part of the undeveloped world but sociologically they were part of the developed world. They had the human resources to support a high growth rate and to become a modern middle class society relatively quickly. This project, along with other steps, eliminated the refugee problem in Jordan and lessened grassroots pressure on the Palestinian leadership regarding the right of return. This branch of Palestinian militancy was also neutralized.
- Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer initiated a project to build industrial parks in refugee camps within the Palestinian Authority. He was supported in this by the EU (which exerted pressure on the PA to cooperate). The EU gave these industrial parks a status equivalent to Israel’s economic agreements with the EU. This parity stimulated international investment and rapid development. These camps have become modern well run towns and cities. The United States and Canada granted them similar access to their markets. Within 10 years residents of the Palestinian Authority had become middle class. Another branch of Palestinian militancy was neutralized.
- The United States “encouraged” Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to evolve into a Hong Kong/Taiwan development model. This would be a model for the rest of the Arab and Moslem world. They were offered defense agreements contingent on pursuing this path and not continuing to depend primarily on petrodollars. The success of the Energy Project and the liberation of the world from OPEC oil had made such a course of action economically imperative for these countries. It also made America’s military presence not obligatory. Since their very physical existence depended on the American security umbrella they succumbed to American pressure – especially as the younger generation of leaders in these countries recognized the urgency of the economic imperative. This development model required a larger domestic population. Significant immigration from Jordan and Egypt was encouraged. Each country committed to absorbing 250 immigrants a day each from Jordan and Egypt respectively. Within 5 years over a million Jordanians (most of them Palestinians) and a million Egyptians had become permanent residents of these countries. As a consequence, the Hashemite component of the Jordanian population surpassed the Palestinian and because of the Jordanian development project described above the standard of living of both Hashemites and Palestinians improved significantly. An additional branch of Palestinian militancy was neutralized.
- Israel embarked on an educational affirmative action policy amongst Israeli Arabs – especially amongst women. The subsequent decrease in the size of Arab families because of the improved status of women generated a significant improvement in their standard of living (within the next decade it should equal that of the Jewish population). This has neutralized militant tendencies within the Israeli Arab community.
- The end of petrodollar power and modernizing trends in the Middle East led to the collapse of the Assad regime. Its successors required massive foreign aid from the US and EU. This was made contingent on the Syrians giving full citizenship to Palestinian refugees in Syria and the closing of all the Palestinian terror organizations. The last branch of Palestinian militancy was neutralized.
These developments made the right of return of Palestinian refugees a dead issue – removing Israel’s greatest fear. Improved governance and the steady rise in the standard of living in the Palestinian Authority was a significant factor in dampening Palestinian militancy. This, along with the growing fatigue with the Palestinian question in the West and in the Arab world forced Palestinian leadership into a more practical mode. When the Benelux Confederation Model (Israel, Jordan and PA) was broached they became its most vigorous supporter.
Neutralizing the Settler Problem
In 2007 there were about 300,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank. About 250,000 of them were living on 2% of the West Bank land that was contiguous to Israel proper. At Camp David and in subsequent negotiations the Palestinians had already agreed in principle that these areas could be annexed to Israel in return for an equal area of land from Israel contiguous to the Gaza strip. An alternative land trade came to be seen as more practical from the point of view of Israeli public opinion. The Gaza Strip would expand into Egypt and Egypt would receive a strip of land from Israel along the southern border of the Negev desert. The Egyptians did not reject this possibility out of hand.
The problem was therefore limited to about 50,000 settlers. It was well known at the time that many would were willing to leave their homes if they were properly compensated. Many were in desperate economic straits, unable to make a living and not able to afford to move.
No Israeli Government was politically capable of financing such a step. The United States would also have found it politically difficult to establish a fund for this purpose. But the European Union had no problem in this regard. They established a special fund and by 2010 over 20,000 settlers had been helped to relocate. The Israeli Government succumbed to combined US and EU pressure to stop building or expanding settlements. This process eroded the number of settlers on disputed land. By 2015 they numbered fewer than in Gaza during the 2005 disengagement. The final withdrawal in 2018 was less traumatic than predicted.
During Ehud Barak’s premiership Israel and Syria had been close to a peace agreement. It entailed Israel giving up the entire Golan Heights in return for a full peace agreement with Syria (and by implication Lebanon). This was the Land for Peace principle enshrined in United Nations decisions 242 and 338.
But the deal fell through. Not because of land but because of water. The Syrians wanted the border to be on the waters edge of the Sea of Galilee (the 1948 ceasefire and pre 6-Day War border). The Israelis wanted the border to be 300 yards from the waters edge (the 1947 partition plan border) because the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest water reservoir and as such has great strategic value. The Israelis were afraid that, despite a peace treaty, Syrian dissidents or terrorists would attempt to poison this reservoir with biological or chemical weapons and bring Israel to its knees.
In 2008 this fear was neutralized in the following way. Israel gave up the entire Golan Heights (to water’s edge) in return for a major European financed desalinization project designed to supply all the fresh water needs of Israel’s coastal plain and the Gaza Strip. This did not prejudice any of Israel’s rights to the water of the Sea. Israel became a major net gainer in its water resources; it gained a strategic water reserve in case of sabotage and most of all it had a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon. Syria received the Golan Heights and agreed to close all Palestinian terror offices in Damascus and to cease being a conduit of Iranian arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel was the major beneficiary of this deal. Syria simply got back what the entire world thought was rightfully hers while Israel achieved strategic aims of profound importance.
Economic Cooperation as a Basis for Peace
Regional economic cooperation and mutual economic projects became the norm of all international aid. It was characterized by the highest level of cooperation between Europe and the United States since the end of the Cold War. The following regional projects were undertaken:
- The Tri-State Transshipment Project was based on projections for a doubling or tripling of EU—Asian trade by 2030 and the inadequacy of the Suez Canal to handle this increased traffic. The Red Sea Jordanian Port of Aqaba was selected to become one of the biggest container ports in the world, rivaling Singapore (the biggest transshipment port in the world in 2007). A rail line from Aqaba was built. Its route was through the Israeli side of the Arava, then along the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea and continuing on the Palestinian side of the Jordan Valley up to Beit Shean in Israel. Jericho became a gigantic warehousing and logistics staging area – employing Palestinians and Jordanians on both sides of the river – in which containers were unpacked and repacked. From Beit Shean the line continued by way of the Yizrael valley to the ports of Haifa, Ashdod and Gaza. The ports had to work on a 24/7 schedule. This forced the Israeli Ports Authority to hire large numbers of Israeli Arabs – since Jews could not work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Peace with Lebanon and the subsequent availability of its ports made it a four nation project. The project created tens of thousands of well-paying jobs for all four countries. Israel’s multi-lingual society provided the project with an additional edge over other transshipment hubs – in addition to its favorable geographic location.
- The Dead Sea Development Authority was another tri-state project that included Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Israel did not have to give up any of its preexisting assets – not the hotels and not the Dead Sea Works. But all future expansion of the Dead Sea’s economic potential (tourist and natural resources) was to be developed cooperatively with equal benefits for all three countries. The first thing on the agenda of the Authority was to reverse the catastrophic shrinking of the Dead Sea as a consequence of the diverting of normal water flow from the Jordan River. This was causing sinkholes that were threatening to swallow the hotels and the Dead Sea Works complex and prevented any significant subsequent development. Three projects were undertaken. The first two were made possible by the massive desalinization project that was part of the Syrian peace agreement. First, all diversion of normal water flow from the Jordan River was ended. Second, the direction of Israel’s National Water Carrier was reversed. Seawater from the Mediterranean was pumped back up to an area adjacent to the Sea of Galilee and from there carried to the northern part of the Dead Sea by a newly constructed aqueduct. A third project was the construction of a canal from the Red Sea that poured water into the southern portion of the Dead Sea. From the water level shrinking up to a meter a year in 2007 it is now rising.
- The Arava Agricultural Authority was a bi-state project that included Israel and Jordan. The entire Arava became a giant, fully automated agricultural plantation supplying fresh vegetables to Europe year round. Irrigation water was supplied by the Red-Dead canal. Proceeds were divided equally between Jordan and Israel.
- The EU sponsored an expanded Orient Express. It began in Cairo and traveled along the coast of Sinai into Israel through Lebanon and Syria to Istanbul and from there to Paris. It became one of the tourist wonders of the world and helped stimulate a tourist explosion to the Middle East. It became one of the backbones of development and the biggest job creator in the region.
- The Tri-State Tourism Authority included Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Part of its development strategy was built on the Orient Express and it maintained active tourist cooperation with Syria and Egypt. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea were all venues where jurisdiction overlapped and required cooperation. From two million foreign tourists a year to Israel/Palestine in 2006 over ten million now visit the holy land. Since every million tourists generates an additional 30,000 jobs this means that an additional 250,000 tourist jobs have been created. Moreover these jobs are now relatively well paid. Israeli social commentators had noted the dismal wages in the tourist sector and asserted that its expansion would have constituted an institutionalization of poverty in much the same way as labor intensive industries had done several generations earlier. Agreement was reached between the Histadrut, the Government and the hotel sector. Wages would be doubled across the board. To offset the added expense and still keep prices competitive, property and added value taxes were recognized as a deductible expense. These “lost” tax monies were made up by the taxes generated from economic activity stimulated by the increased buying power of such a large segment of the population.
- The Egyptian Science City in the northern Sinai was built with EU funding. At its center was the finest Polytechnic University in the Arab world. Its population was composed of technical academics that Egypt produced each year in numbers its economy could not absorb. It was a half hour trip by the new high speed rail line from Tel Aviv. Hundreds of Israeli high-tech companies built branches there and employ tens of thousands of Egyptian scientists and engineers. Today Science City not only sustains itself as a subcontractor to Israeli high-tech but has developed its own culture of innovation which is beginning to revolutionize Egyptian society in general. Perhaps more importantly tens of thousands of Egyptian intelligentsia are interacting daily with their Israeli counterparts on an equal basis. This group had been the most anti-peace constituency in the Arab world. Today they are at the forefront of creating a culture of peace in the Arab world. Instead of being the chief enemies of normalization, the Arab intelligentsia joined the Arab business classes in seeing its benefits.
- European Jewry helped fashion a wide coalition that made the Euro – Mediterranean Free Trade Area a reality. The Free Trade Area acted as a neutralizer to political and religious radicalism across the southern Mediterranean. It also enabled indirect relations between Israel and a half a dozen additional Arab countries.
The Democratization of the Moslem World
The question that had troubled the world since 9/11 – can Islam become democratic? – was answered with a ‘yes’ and this reinforced the peace process described above. The demise of petrodollar power was essential to the process, since it forced the Moslem world to adapt itself to the norms of globalization. This process was accompanied by a clarification of terms and values on the part of the western democracies. What the West really wanted to spread around the world was constitutionalism. They realized that the theme of Fareed Zakaria’s book The Future of Freedom (Norton, 2003) – that you must constitutionalize before you democratize – was essential unless you wanted to create monster regimes. The real question was what kind of democracy did you want – Majoritarian or constitutional?
Majoritarianism places no limits on the will of the majority, or the leaders that speak in their name. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro were 20th century examples of Majoritarian rule. Hitler was elected in a democratic manner and was supported by the majority of the German people. There was little doubt that the majority of their respective peoples also supported Castro and Mao. Democratic elections in the Middle East had produced a fanatic regime in Algeria that resulted in a civil war that cost 200,000 lives and the election of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority.
Constitutionalism is the limitation of the powers of the sovereign in its dealings with the individual. The sovereign could be a King – as in England’s constitutional Monarchy – or it could be ‘the people’ – as in the constitutional republic of the United States. In both cases the rights of the individual are protected by a Bill of Rights against the arbitrary passions of an individual monarch or a majority of the people. The Constitution of the United States protects the individual from the majority and from the government that represents that majority.
To be effective it was necessary that the constitutionalism of Moslem countries be expressed in that part of the traditional language of Islam that sanctions and validates the inalienable rights of human beings created by God in His image. Islam has the cultural resources to provide this language. It is monotheistic and the monotheistic inheritance has given us two fundamental concepts without which democratic principles could not develop. The first is we are all made “in the image of God” and the second is we are all descendents of Adam and Eve.
During the Peasants Revolt in 14th century England one of the leaders of the Revolt queried: “if we are all descendents of Adam and Eve why should some be more privileged than others?” The biblical idea that we are all made “in the image of God” led these Englishmen to logically conclude that: “we are all equal in the eyes of God” and if we are all equal in the eyes of God why shouldn’t we all be equal in the eyes of manmade law. These biblical concepts germinated in English culture until they received their full secular expression in the American Revolution and the Constitution of the United States.
Equality before God is inherent in all the monotheistic religions. Its most radical expression is the Moslem pilgrimage or ‘Haj’ to Mecca. All the pilgrims are obliged to dress exactly alike so there is no differentiation between class, race or nation when they stand before God – because all are equal in the eyes of God. The ‘Haj’, joined with other Islamic traditions that define the inherent, inalienable rights of the individual enabled progressive Moslems to use their tradition to move Islam towards democracy. This was analogous to the founding fathers of the United States using the cultural constituents of their English forbearers – Common Law, Magna Carta, Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights. One cultural asset that the Moslems have that no other religion has is that its founder was a businessman and would have had little trouble with the globalized economy. Mohammed was a merchant and the economy of the Caliphate when it was the most advanced civilization in the world was a global economy.
What was still lacking in Islam was the secular western tradition of self-criticism and focus on the future that arose during the European Enlightenment. There was no Islamic Voltaire or Swift and there was too great a preoccupation with the past over the future. But self-criticism and the consequent focus on the future was the natural outcome of the initiatives described above. Joining the global economy required a focus on the future. In the early part of the 21st century many Moslem intellectuals (both Arab and non-Arab) had begun to address these deficiencies. Self-criticism and future oriented habits of thought, accessible and acceptable to the Moslem masses, by Moslem intellectuals and businessmen have generated a democratic transformation. This has been both a consequence of the peace process and a contributor to it. A New Middle East did not result from the Oslo Accords, but it is being built today.
Pessimism had been the intellectual fashion in the late 20th and early 21st century. It reflected contempt for Enlightenment optimism. To be optimistic was to be naïve. It provoked condescension at best and hostility at worst. Today, however, it is optimism that is in fashion. To be pessimistic is to be shallow. It is indicative of a poverty of imagination, an inability to apply logical thought to the future. The optimistic human being is no longer a rarity – even amongst intellectuals and academics. Social commentators have called this The Exodus from Pessimism. The Jews were the collective Moses leading the way. The notion that the future is volitional is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and reflected in the Talmudic concept Ha’Reshoot Netuna (it is up to us). It formed the backbone of the policies and projects described in previous chapters. We imagineered the future we desired and engineered our way to it.
Peace in the Middle East was a consequence of this imagineering and engineering. Unapologetic Jewish self-esteem, a realistic evaluation of the political constraints of the globalized world and a proper respect for the legitimate positions of the Arab world combined to bring us to the point where we are today.
Peace has always been its own justification and needs no other sanction or rationale. Yet peace in the Middle East did have other constructive consequences, such as reinforcing trends of democratization in the Islamic world. Democratization moderated Arab nationalism. It encouraged an authentic culture of self-criticism. The period known as The Second Caliphate dawned and the Arab world began developing like China after 1979 and India after 1991.
From 2010 until 2020 the countries of the Arab League sustained a 7-8% economic growth rate that was not dependent on oil but on goods and services. This forced them to depend on human not natural resources. Dependence on human resources in a globalized world of real time change required the empowerment of the individual which required an ongoing process of democratization.
Women had been the most misused and underemployed human resource in the Arab world. Their low status had long been recognized as a major factor in the backwardness of the Arab world. Their development now became a keystone of Arab development. Gender apartheid became defunct in the Moslem world and women became a primary development resource. Israeli Arab women especially became an example for their sisters across the Middle East.
The leap from medievalism to modernity was exemplified in a television documentary about the Israeli Bedouin. It focused on a family in the Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat – some 30 kilometers north of Beersheba. Following is a précis of the documentary.
The family lives in a two story villa with 200 meters of living space, complete with every modern amenity. The father is a mathematics teacher who augments his income by translating educational computer games into Arabic. The mother is a nurse at Soroka Hospital. They have three children – one boy and two girls. The boy has just finished his MBA while working in the marketing department of an Israeli High Tech firm – writing promotional material in Arabic. In anticipation of his father retiring from teaching he has given notice to his employers. He intends to expand his father’s small translation practice into a dynamic export company to other Middle Eastern countries. The eldest girl is an eye doctor – specializing in eye diseases common to the Middle East.
The youngest daughter has just finished her first degree in architecture and is applying for graduate studies at MIT. The family has a traditional Bedouin tent on their front lawn which they use to receive guests in the traditional way – before retiring to the house. In many ways it is similar to the Jewish custom of constructing a Succah at the Jewish holiday of Succoth (to memorialize the booths that the children of Israel constructed every night during their 40 years in the desert during the Exodus from Egypt). The difference being that the tent is a permanent fixture.
Rahat has three major economic branches. The first is tourism. The town has several 3 star hotels and dozens of Bed and Breakfasts with adjacent models of traditional Bedouin encampments. Families come from around the world to experience the Bedouin way of life. The Bedouin are openly contemptuous of anthropologists and other academics who criticize this commercialization of Bedouin tradition.
The second is architectural consulting based on Bedouin tent ventilation principles as a model for creating energy efficient buildings. These principles were first used by New York based Israeli architect Eli Attia in designing the famous Crystal Cathedral in Los Angeles (for Johnson and Burgee Architects). Bedouin architects have formed partnerships with Jewish firms and this service has become a major Israeli export. The third is translation and localization services of various kinds. In addition, many individual Bedouin have become desert scientists – combining the considerable empirical knowledge acquired from their tradition with the methods and mathematics of modern science.
The film deals with all these aspects.
In Israel, peace liberated Religious Zionism from its fixation with the occupied territories. Following the withdrawal from the territories two factions evolved out of Gush Emunim: the melancholy faction and the Tikkun Olam faction. The Tikkun Olam faction took the energy and idealism that had been devoted to the territories and applied it to solving problems preoccupying Israel and the world. They became major players in re-branding Israel as the bridge between the developed and the developing worlds and played a disproportionate role in projects described in previous chapters. This transformation was compared to the industrial revolution in Japan when the energy and idealism of the Samurai tradition was transformed from a warrior ethos into an economic development ethos.
Initially the settler movement underwent an understandable period of dismay and spiritual desperation. But the majority chose to redefine themselves and to try to renovate their historical mission within the context of Tikkun Olam. This was to the benefit of Zionism and Jewish culture in general.
The original self defined mission of religious Zionism had been to be a uniting force in Jewish life: a bridge between the past and the future, between secular and religious and between the political right and political left. They had fulfilled this mission with considerable success before they became obsessed with the territories. This obsession caused them to be a divisive force in Jewish life, alienating secular Jews from tradition and isolating territorial moderates from the Zionist discussion. They had forced Israeli public discourse to be so preoccupied with the territories (pro or con) that it left room for little else.
In 2006 a study made by the American Jewish Committee found that 70% of American Jewish young people no longer saw Israel as a vital component of their Jewish identity. It concluded that Israel’s preoccupation with its own internal debate had caused it to neglect formulating a new paradigm for relations with the Diaspora. Such a paradigm should, of necessity, include an updated version of the social idealism that had characterized the founders of the State – one that would inspire young Jews around the world to cultivate Jewish ambitions. 2007 was the turning point. The projects and initiatives described in previous chapters created a new paradigm of Israel-Diaspora relations and an updated version of Zionist social idealism. The practical pursuit of peace and the peace arrangements that were its consequence reinforced these developments and prodded religious Zionists into reinventing themselves in the image of their original mission.
The ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) in Israel went through a similar transformation. They realized that unless they joined the general society and economy their poverty would deepen, resentment against them would widen and their impact on the cultural values of Israel and the non-Orthodox Diaspora would be increasingly insignificant. A new generation of forward looking young Rabbis, born and raised in post-State Israel, issued a series of Psakim (Rabbinical decisions). The theme of these Psakim was that Haredi men in particular were obligated to take a major role in supporting their families economically, as was the case in the Diaspora.
Two factors were enlisted in making this argument. First were the arguments of the Rambam, known to the world as Moses Maimonides of whom it was said “from Moses to Moses there was none like Moses”. He is generally considered the greatest Rabbi of the rabbinical era of Judaism. He believed that a Jew should not make his living from religious pursuits or study. Second was the realization that 80% of adult Haredi men not working tarnished the image of the entire community in the eyes of many Israelis and put religious practice itself in a negative light. The situation in their opinion constituted a Hillul Ha’Shem (transgression against God) and had to change.
This attitude, joined with opportunities opened up by the Internet, enabled a social revolution in the community. Both men and women could now become part of the global economy without compromising their traditional values. Working from their homes or communal communications centers they could plan their work day according to flexible hours. The men could attend Yeshiva and the women could attend to home and children and both could also devote several hours a day to making a living.
The Haredim became an important human resource in Israel’s drive to become a global player in non-tangible exports. They were disproportionately represented in translation services, graphics, animation and the development of computerized educational games as well as dozens of other professions facilitated by the development of the Internet. As Israeli futurist, Dr. Rabbi Moshe Dror, had pointed out the Talmud page and the non-linear methods of finding information characteristic of Yeshiva studies were analogous to the methods used to surf the Internet. It was as if Yeshiva culture had been pre-adapted to the Internet age and the Haredim took to it like fish to water. Companies employing or outsourcing to Haredim advertised it and thus gained a certain qualitative distinction in the world market. Over 60% of Haredi adults are now in the work force – up from less than 40% in 2007. The tensions and resentments that had characterized the relations between secular and Haredi Jews in Israel have all but disappeared. They have become fully integrated and respected members of Israeli society.
The revolution in Israel Diaspora relations has been led by the private sector. The promotion of $1,000 clubs begun by the Ziv Group Ltd. has spread throughout the entire economy. Small and medium sized Israeli companies dealing primarily in non-tangible services have in aggregate increased their turn over by over two billion dollars a year. Almost 80% of Diaspora Jews participating in this activity contribute their earnings to Diaspora organizations. Israel is no longer receiving one cent of Diaspora contributions. Instead Diaspora organizations are receiving over 150 million dollars a year as a result of being supportive of Israel’s economy. An historical irony that has been detailed in an essay entitled Israel’s Vital Contribution to the Diaspora’s Financial Well Being (Commentary, Feb. 2019).
But the truly revolutionary impact has been made by one company IDT Global Services www.idtglobal.com . The brainchild of the founder of IDT Corporation Howard Jonas it was established at the outset of the second Intifada in 2000 with less than 20 employees. By 2007 it had close to 2,000 employees and today (2020) it has close to 20,000 employees in Israel. Almost all of its employees have been Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews. It has thus been a major player not only in the development of Israel as a non-tangible services export center but also as a major factor in integrating the ultra-Orthodox community into Israel’s economy.
The revitalization of European Jewry has been impressive over the past decade. At the beginning of the 21st century few had been optimistic about its prospects. Almost every discussion about the future of European Jewry was pessimistic. Its recovery is testament to the practical power of envisioning optimistic alternative futures in areas that ostensibly have nothing to do with the Jews.
The renewal began with the African Sugarcane Project, an offshoot of the Jewish Energy Project. In 2008 it was decided that European Jewish contributions intended for Israel be diverted to developing several large sugar cane plantations in equatorial Africa dedicated to producing ethanol as an additive to gasoline. This would reduce dependence on OPEC (and indirect financing of terror), help ameliorate African poverty and be good for the environment. Sugar cane was 8 times more efficient than corn as a food stock for ethanol.
The organized European Jewish community joined with environmentalists and European citizens of African descent to lobby for mandating the immediate universal use of E10, a blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol. It is a high-octane, clean-burning fuel approved for use by all major car makers. It required no new infrastructure. Tanks, pumps, lines, and dispensers that were in current use for gasoline could be used for E10 ethanol blends without any modification. Conventional refineries could easily produce it.
The universal application of E10 in Europe saved the equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil a day. When the United States and Canada adopted the same policy they saved close to the equivalent of one million barrels of oil a day. Japan and the rest of the world adopted the same policy and by 2010 the equivalent of over three million barrels of oil a day was being saved by this step alone. This exceeded the entire export of Iran and thus helped the West impose its reverse oil boycott on Iran.
This new lobby caused the EU to mandate flex fuel engines capable of using E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) for all new cars. When the rest of the world followed suit it resulted in the saving of the equivalent of 2 million barrels daily consumption each year for the past twelve years (a total savings of 24 million barrels of daily consumption).
Profits earned by the project were used to maintain boarding schools for African aids orphans. Celebrities such as Bono and Richard Branson were asked to serve on the Board of the Project. Bono’s interest in alleviating African poverty and Branson’s interest in alternative energy made them natural allies.
The planning and construction of the plantations was executed by Israeli companies. Agricultural equipment, fertilizers and insecticides were bought from Israeli companies. As a consequence Israel’s economy benefited more than if the money had been donated directly to Israel.
The imagination of a project that was good for the environment, alleviated African poverty, helped AIDS orphans, indirectly undermined terror funding and still managed to contribute to the Israeli economy generated a great deal of enthusiasm. Previously unaffiliated Jews re-identified with the community. A European branch of Ruth was established and non-Jewish spouses of mixed marriages sought ways to identify with the Jewish community. The Society for Humanistic Judaism became the framework of choice to identify with the Jewish people. This was especially true among young people looking for a meaningful way of life and who discovered that in their past they had a Jewish ancestor. The humanistic Jewish option was more in keeping with the European Enlightenment tradition.
The Jews In 2040
From the perspective of 2020 we can take pride in what the Jewish people have accomplished since 2007. But a vigorous civilization should never be satisfied with past accomplishments. It must always formulate ever greater visions of the future if it is to sustain its vigor and maintain its relevance.
Self-actualization and self-transcendence are the eternal challenges of the human condition. They are the essence of what it means to be human and must be addressed by every generation in its own way. This is especially true of the Jews. If Jewish history reveals anything it is this fact. Jewish culture is never as dynamic as when it is touching the nerve endings of the general human condition. This is the eternal truth of Jewish history – from antiquity when the Hebrew community discovered Monotheism to the Enlightenment, when Jews as individuals made discoveries, had insights and created ways of economic and social interaction that changed the course of civilization.
How is it that this numerically insignificant people has had and still has such an impact on society at large? How is it that one hundredth of one percent of the human race produces 30% of its Nobel Prize winners? Why is it that a country smaller than New Jersey in area and population preoccupies the world to the degree that it does? The answer I believe lies in a Jewish attitude towards life that is beyond doctrine or tradition. An attitude that is more sociological and psychological than philosophical. All Eastern philosophy and much of Western philosophy have been concerned with achieving equanimity, composure and tranquility in the face of the absurdity of existence. The Jews, on the other hand, seem to thrive in an attitude of never-ending dissatisfaction. We are never content; we are always looking for new ways to do things, to correct things (Tikkun Olam). More than the people of the book we are the people of the eternal question. “Why?” and “why not?” are our two guiding lights!
We are the people who constantly question God, challenge God and wrestle with God. It is our never-ending questioning and challenging that has produced our contribution to humanity at large. It has probably also contributed to anti-Semitic attitudes. Many people are annoyed by an entire culture that is querulous. Being querulous can be dangerous. Just ask Socrates. Just ask the Jews.
The purpose of Zionism was to enable us to explore our uniqueness without suffering constant physical threats. We were to accomplish this by becoming like the goyim in terms of our external characteristics (the framework of a State defended by a powerful army). Zionism was not meant to turn us into a nation like other nations in terms of our internal characteristics. It was meant to provide us with a secure framework in which to pursue our uniqueness not to encourage us to become like everybody else. It was meant to be an instrument with which to confront the future with certainty and security, not to idolatrize the past. It has performed this task.
We have neutralized all external threats and have successfully addressed the internal demographic threat. For the first time since Hitler Jewish populations worldwide are growing and the median age of the Jewish people is declining. We have ameliorated the demographic peril by way of imaginative undertakings designed to counter external threats. We can now in 2020 say, for the first time in over three thousand years that the physical survival of the Jewish people is assured. Now what?
What cultural edifice shall we build on this foundation of physical security? From the vantage point of 2020 it appears that the entire history of the Jewish people until now has been but an introduction, a preparation for our true task. The body of our collective book of life remains to be written. We have never been in this position before. All the conditions – both Jewish and universal – are in place and amenable to the Jewish people fulfilling its universal potential. That of which the prophets spoke we can now do and if we do not we sin against ourselves and our history.
What is to be the organizing principle of human civilization in the future? If we can work this out for ourselves as Jews we will be a blessing to the world.