Don’t Debate If You Haven’t Read This is a new section of The Debating News that selects debate-worthy articles or news everyday for their readers. A motion would also be worded at the end of the article or news and included in the motion bank.
by Ross Douthat
Published by: New York Times
Date: June 06, 2010
Watching the Israeli government’s botched, bloody attempt to enforce its blockade of Gaza, I kept thinking about Outremer.
That’s the name — French for “beyond the sea” — given to the states that the Crusaders established in the Holy Land during the High Middle Ages: the principality of Antioch, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli, and the kingdom of Jerusalem.
Out of a mix of amnesia and self-abnegation, we tend to remember the Crusader states only as deplorable exercises in Western aggression. (Never mind that in an age defined by conquest and reconquest, they were no less legitimate than the Muslim states they warred against — which had themselves been founded atop once-Christian territories.) The analogy between Israel and Outremer is usually drawn by Israel’s enemies: “Jews and Crusaders” is one of Osama bin Laden’s favorite epithets, and Palestinian radicals often pine for another Saladin to drive the Israelis into the sea.
But Israel’s friends can learn something from Outremer as well. Like today’s Jewish republic, the Crusader kingdoms were small states forged by military valor, based in the Middle East but oriented westward, with distant patrons and potential foes just next door. Like Israel, they were magnets for fanatics from east and west alike. And when they eventually fell — after surviving for longer than Israel has currently existed — it was for reasons that are directly relevant to the challenges facing the Israeli government today.
The first reason was geographic: the Holy Land is easier to conquer than defend, because its topograpy and regional position leave it perpetually vulnerable to invasion. The second was diplomatic: the Crusaders were perpetually falling out with their major neighbors, from Byzantium to Egypt, and the support they enjoyed from Western Europe was too limited to save them from extinction. The third was demographic: the ruling class of Outremer, primarily Frankish knights and their retainers, was a minority in a territory whose inhabitants were largely Eastern Orthodox and Muslim, and they had difficulty achieving the kind of integration that long-term stability required.
A decade ago, before the collapse of the peace process, the Israelis seemed to be faring better than Outremer on all three fronts. Their potent armed forces and nuclear deterrent more than offset the weakness of their geographic position. After decades of isolation, they had forged reasonably stable relationships with many regional powers — including Turkey, Jordan and Egypt — and an enduring bond with the world’s superpower, the United States. Their substantial Arab minority was better-treated and better-integrated than minority populations in almost any other Middle Eastern state. And they appeared to be disentangling themselves from the long-term occupation of a much larger Arab population in Gaza and the West Bank.
Ten years later, though, only the military advantage endures. Diplomatically and demographically, Israel increasingly faces the same problems that bedeviled the 12th-century kings of Jerusalem.
In the wake of the Gaza and Lebanon wars, and now the blockade-running fiasco, the Jewish state is as isolated on the world stage as it’s been since the dark Zionism-is-racism years of the 1970s. Meanwhile, its relationship with its Arab citizens is increasingly strained, the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank seems destined to continue indefinitely, and both Arab populations are growing so swiftly that Jews could soon be a minority west of the Jordan River.
Israel can probably live with diplomatic isolation so long as the American public remains staunchly on its side. But it will have a harder time surviving the demographic transformation of its territory. If the Jewish state can’t extricate itself from the West Bank, it may be forced to choose between the quasi-apartheid of a permanent occupation, and the dissolution that would likely follow from giving Palestinians a significant voice in Israel’s politics.
Israel’s critics often make this extrication sound easy. In reality, it promises to involve enormous sacrifices, of land and everyday security alike — whether in the form of extraordinary concessions to a divided Palestinian leadership, or a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank that would be more wrenching than the 2005 retreat from Gaza.
What’s more, either approach would almost certainly invite stepped-up violence from the irreconcilable Palestinian factions and their Iranian and Syrian backers, who will see any retreat as a cue to escalate the struggle.
As Walter Russell Mead put it recently, Israel may “have to pay virtually the full price for peace … without getting full peace.” Nobody should blame Israelis for shying from this possibility.
Yet it may be the only way to guarantee their survival as a nation. Outremer was finally overrun by Muslim armies. But if Israel is destroyed, it will be destroyed from within.
This House Believes That Israel Should Not Be Blamed For Their Insecurities