A Separate Peace (Part I)

March 12, 2007

A Separate Peace (Part I)

Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has been controversial not just for its puzzling lack of punctuation (Isn”€™t the title missing a colon and a comma?) but for its provocative title.

When I heard it was being furiously denounced for anti-Semitism by all the usual suspects, I hoped that meant that the 82-year-old Carter had reached that highly entertaining stage of the Presidential life cycle identified in John Stewart’s America (The Book) as “€œThe President as Angry Coot.”€ I was looking forward to another Plain Speaking, Merle Miller’s bestselling 1974 collection of the aged Harry Truman’s fascinating fulminations.

Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, however, turns out to be blandly suave, a reasonable and readable quick introduction to the well-known problems besetting the Holy Land, although hardly the final word on this convoluted and endlessly contentious subject.

The main evidence for Carter having given in to the cranky pleasures of Elderly Tourette’s Syndrome is his use of the A-Word in his title, which has given the Neocon Establishment fits.  That Carter’s 1978 Camp David Accords have”€”by sidelining Egypt in subsequent Arab-Israeli tussles”€”assured the Jewish State of regional military supremacy means nothing to them.

The Soweto-like conditions imposed by Israel on the West Bank might well remind disinterested observers of the old South African regime. Many Israelis themselves are sick of being drafted to perform, in effect, outdoor prison guard duties in the Occupied Territories.

Carter somewhat underestimates Palestinian terrorism as a justification for Israeli oppression in the name of security. But, he might well ask, are the Israeli Army checkpoints all over the West Bank to protect Israel proper”€”or merely the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which the U.S. government (officially, anyway) agrees with the rest of the world are illegal?

Most of the media attacks on the Nobel Peace Laureate’s use of the term “€œapartheid”€ to describe the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Israel’s 1967 conquests are based on the following syllogistic logic:

First Premise: If, as we know by definition, apartheid is pure evil;

Second Premise: And if, as we also know by definition, the Jewish State is by definition good;

Conclusion: Then it follows that anything Israel does can”€™t be apartheid. It just can”€™t.

It is possible, however, to step back, take a deep breath, and attempt to consider things calmly.

Let’s think about “€œapartheid”€ for a moment, and what it means. Taken literally, it signifies “€œapartness.”€ In its historical context, a policy of “€œapartness”€ can be seen as a response to the daunting demographic circumstances faced by European settlers in South Africa and the Holy Land that European settlers in North America simply didn”€™t have to deal with—Old World germs having previously killed off most New World Indians.

If so, things become more complicated.

Because, you see, apartness has proven a widely successful solution to the problem of how people who don”€™t agree on the fundamentals of social organization can get along”€”by living apart, under separate governments in separate countries.

Ironically enough, apartness for Israelis and Palestinians”€”in the form of a two-state solution”€”is exactly what Carter advocates. For peoples who cannot come to some amicable arrangement within a single country (the Swiss being close to the exception that proves the rule) peace depends on apartness.  

At the beginning of the 20th Century, there wasn”€™t much national apartness. There were only about two dozen states in the world, and just a handful of those, such as Switzerland, minded their own business, while the rest were empires. The rise and fall of empires engendered endless bloodshed in the 20th Century.

Yet, following the collapse of the mischief-making Soviet empire in 1991, the world has taken a surprisingly large step forward toward the “€œbroad, sunlit uplands”€ of harmony. Strange as it may seem while watching the 24-hour cable news channels with their voracious appetites for bad news from around the globe, for the last decade and a half humanity has been living (despite the best efforts of the current Administration) in a new golden age of world peace, at least compared to the savage standards of the last century.

With 192 member states in the UN, most humans now enjoy a sense that they are more or less ruled by their own people, sparing them the insult to their honor of being governed by foreigners. These rulers, in many cases, are objectively worse at governing them than the old imperialists. Yet, to paraphrase FDR, from their subjects’ viewpoint, while the new bosses may be sons-of-bitches, at least they are our sons-of-bitches.

At the continental level, apartness is highly popular.

The ancient roiling of the world that kicked into high gear with the outward explosion of the European race after 1492 has been slowing down. Europeans succeeded in conquering North America and Australia overwhelmingly, but have been expelled from most other continents.

As the most educated members of the ruled races came to historical consciousness, typically in schools provided by their European overlords, they began to find subordination to another race to be an intolerable insult. That’s why political control of the world is now much more homogenous on the continental scale than a century ago, when Europeans ruled most countries on other continents

European settler enclaves on non-European continents”€”such as French Algeria, Rhodesia, and South Africa”€”have been ground down, in the first two cases utterly, and South Africa is likely just a matter of time. Russia has lost control of Central Asia. Latin America only partly an exception: it has settled into an intermittent low-intensity twilight struggle among partly blended races”€”the descendants of the conquistadors who still rule most of that continent, and the Indians and blacks whose suffering is given voice by the likes of Hugo Chavez.

Today, most countries outside the New World are now ruled by elements relatively indigenous to their continent. A clear historical pattern has emerged: European settlers either take over an entire continent politically and demographically or lose power everywhere and find themselves expelled. There is, however, one famous exception to this rule: Israel.

The fact that Israel stands against such an epochal trend helps explain the inordinate excitement and loathing Israel arouses among its neighbors, just as decolonized Africa’s political elites found the continued existence of Rhodesia and white-ruled South Africa far more upsetting than the dismaying conditions in their own countries. Israel is a reminder of the European superiority to which these non-Europeans were once subjected themselves.

This resentment is basic human nature. To be part of a winning team is the desire of red-blooded young men everywhere. And conquest is the ultimate team sport. That some other nation could colonize your people is the ultimate, unpardonable insult. For how can one race sincerely apologize to another for being more competent?

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? (That’s why the neocon’s expectation that the American conquerors of Iraq would be greeted with dancing in the streets was so psychologically absurd.)

The problem with South African apartheid was not the idea of apartness, but the manifest dishonesty of its implementation. South African whites didn”€™t actually want to live far apart from blacks. Who else was going to serve them as cheap maids and farmworkers? They couldn”€™t possibly be their own hewers of wood and drawers of water, now could they? 

Upon visiting South Africa in 1954, the hard-headed science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein noted acidly that the Afrikaners had replaced slavery with “€œa serfdom for the entire black race which leaves the black man no more free than he was more than a century ago without putting the Voortrekkers”€™ descendants to the inconvenience and expense of being personally responsible for the welfare of chattel slaves.”€

South African whites may have enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world (when their abundance of servants and acres was counted), but their sprawling, well-maintained houses were built on sand.

Over time, the demographic balance shifted radically against the whites, as their fertility dropped and their control of epidemics lengthened black lifespans. Rather than, say, retreat to a defensible homeland in the Cape and achieve genuine apartness, they chose, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, to make a deal with the statesmanlike Nelson Mandela while the old man was still alive.

So far, their economic wager”€”that, with Communism discredited, the African National Congress wouldn”€™t do anything stupid to the economy”€” has stood up. South Africa has tremendous resources, so the white elite has been buying off the black elite with cushy jobs and shares in corporations. For less fortunate South Africans of all races, however, the transfer of power has meant epidemics of rape, robbery, and homicide.

In the long run, though, South Africa’s prospects are grim. South Africa will probably go the way of its northern neighbor, Zimbabwe, which preceded it into majority rule by 14 years. The final destruction of South Africa’s white minority will likely begin with a power struggle among black factions in which a South African version of Robert Mugabe strives to win re-election by paying off his supporters with white property.

In contrast, Israel’s position on the demographic curve is less fraught at the moment. With less territory than South Africa, Jews still outnumber Arabs by a comfortable margin within the pre-1967 borders (although Arabs have just about caught up within the post-1967 Greater Israel).

Although the Israeli Jewish total fertility rate (2.6 babies per woman) is quite high for a First World country, they are losing the War of the Cradle: Palestinian Israeli women average 4.6 babies, with similar rates in the Occupied Territories.

So, in the long run, how can Israel avoid the fates of South Africa and Rhodesia? How can it move from apartheid to genuine apartness?

I”€™ll offer some suggestions next time.

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