This is a paper was delivered by Laroui during the Fifth Annual Convention of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates in October, 1972 at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California.****Whenever I speak about any aspect of the Palestinian problem to Arab or non-Arab audiences I feel compelled to state at the outset that i am not a Palestinian, As a matter of fact, I am not even from the area touched directly by the war. I accept the fact that the ideological and political positions of those living in what are called “the confrontation states” are of more relevance. However, I have been asked to present the viewpoint of the Maghreb states and I will try to outline it as clearly and completely as I can.
Zionism should not be taken solely as an ideological movement. As such, it is only a form of extreme nationalism. We cannot condemn it on ideological, liberal or humanistic grounds without, as the same time, condemning all sorts of modern nationalistic movements including our own. We have to take Zionism as the theory underlying the political strategy and tactics of the present Israeli establishment.
What are the main characteristics of this theory? The idea of God’s justice is perceived to be the basis of Zionist policy. This does not imply that one day there will be justice, God’s justice, on earth. Rather, it means every success achieved by Zionism is a mark of God’s blessing. I should add here that it is in this sense that many Christians are Zionist, whether they like it or not, because they believe in their hearts that is would not be possible for the Jews to score such victories against great odds if it had not been an undertaking blessed by God. It follows then that if victory is the fulfillment of God’s promise, its fruits must be retained. If you look closely at Israel’s so-called peace plans, you will find that giving up portions of conquered territories is not regarded as giving back the territories to their legitimate owners, but only as a means of buying something, namely the elimination of the Palestinian movement.
I think that some people misread the significance of Israel’s motives in claiming it maintains a distinction between the state of Israel and that of the conquered territories. Back in the 30’s Ben-Gurion declared that Zionists did not intend to force Arabs out of Palestine in order to make room for the Jews. Later, however, he was to add that this did not mean Palestine was theirs even if they were the majority, because they were only de facto occupants. Martin Buber once expressed a thought essential to Zionist dogma: “This land, the land of Palestine, recognizes us, and only us.”
Another related aspect of this question concerns the new Jew as a marker of history. When we say that the aim of Zionism was, and is, to have a Jewish state, this is an over-simplification or a half-truth. The state as designated here represents a very specific notion. It does not denote the accepted meaning of the word—having a home, a flag, a passport, the vote, or a place in the international community. The state, in this sense, is only a means to an end. The aim is to set up a state in a Hegelian sense which could make modern history essentially by reviving past history. What is fundamental here is to seek revenge for what happened in recent history. This idea explains the expansionism of the state. The Zionists want a state like no other state.
As a consequence of the above, we can say that a third aspect is the obvious indifference to the Jewish situation in the world. This is well-known. Also obvious is the strong opposition to any possible progressive development in the Arab world. Since the major issue is the protection and development of the state, the enemy is no longer the traditional anti-semitism the conservative or the racist. Now, the enemy is the Arab. Therefore, every step toward liberation, unity or modernization of the Arab world is taken as something to be opposed and undermined. Hence, the tacit alliance with Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and certain central African states, which directed against Arab interests. Hence, also, the clear preference given to traditional regimes such as Jordan, Morocco and, to some extent, Tunisia.
Opposition to any kind of economic development or liberation in the Arab world is apparent. It is sufficient to cite Israel’s protests against specific beneficial commercial terms conceded to the North African states by the European Common Market. it has been said that the facts mentioned above are part of America’s imperialist policy. This is true, but we should not disregard that fact that they are also part of the Zionist vision. Many people in the left, particularly in France, draw a specific conclusions from this analysis which links imperialist American policy with Israeli policy. According to them if the Arabs accept or recognize Israel, she will withhold her support from American imperialist policy and will even help them to liberate their economy and recover their independence and unity. It seems to me that this is wishful thinking, Israel cannot continue to be Zionist while at the same time acquiescing in the realization of the historical aspirations of the Arabs.
Finally, as a fifth aspect one must cite the rejection of the idea of a Palestinian people or a Palestinian nation. Here again the question is not one of a majority or a minority. Even if the Arabs were to become a majority in the future, as they were in the past, to the Zionists they will be without a legitimate status. This explains why the idea of using non-violent tactics such as those used in the United States is completely irrelevant and indicates compete misunderstanding of Zionist philosophy. In the United States, there is no metaphysical definition of the American citizen. There is only a legal definition. Zionism rejects the legal definition. Naturally, there is a contradiction in the fact that some Arabs have an Israeli passport. But in point of fact, they are asked to be loyal to Israel as a Jewish state. They are asked to forgo their own identity. Here, we have a link between this definition and the old German philosophy of Hegel. All this has nothing in common with the French or Anglo-Saxon concepts of nationalism and political theory.
Some may say that this analysis is correct but is the unfortunate result of more than 20 years of confrontation and war. A new policy of peace and coexistence would change the situation.
Let us examine this argument closely. At the core of it is the long-held view that the confrontation was the option freely chosen by the Arabs inside and outside Palestine. In opposition and reaction to Arab hostility, the argument goes on, Jewish policy aimed in the beginning only at securing a home. The idea of having a powerful and expanding state was only the outcome of the hostilely, and that the Jews in Palestine did not originate the idea. They were only forced to accept this situation.
Here we should recall that the essential concept of Zionism, according to its founders and advocates, is the need to normalize the Jewish situation. Zionists believe that anti-semitism is inevitable, that their condition is the result of interrupted history. They maintain they had been a nation, and still are, in the ethno-cultural and religious sense. Their land was still theirs historically; they only thing they lacked, the Zionists believed, was a sate of their own. Without a state or a government, they insisted, the Jews will always remain a problem, a burden a parasitic minority, a point of friction for themselves and for other. In practice the Zionists have necessarily sought a powerful state, not just a state of any kind size or power. To normalize the Jewish people the Jewish state must impose itself on its neighbors in order to be accepted.
There is no question that during the past 40 years Zionist policy succeeded in achieving its designated objective. This success was the real reason for the complete Zionization of the Jews inside and outside Palestine. It is not the Zionization of the Jews which made possibe these success, but quite the contrary. As soon as political moves taken on Zionist initiative proved successful, Zionism looked more and more plausible and was presented as the easier, more practical way to solve the most obvious problems of the Jews. Opposition to Zionism on religious liberal and socialist grounds grew weaker and weaker because it had been assumed initially that Zionism is not workable although it is an easy solution to the Jewish problem.
What conclusion can we draw from all this? First, any change of direction in Israel’s development, however small it may be, woudl be considered by Zionists a terrible setback and the beginning of the end. No Zionist can ever be convinced by ideological debate. he cannot consider even the possibility that his might not be the best alternative. If Zionists were not convinced by their co-religionists, how can we possibly expect them to listen to us. Moreover, in any discussion, ideological or political, Zionists will always demand in advance our acceptance of their political axioms which happen to be at odds with out national aspirations.
Secondly, if political success was, and is now, the only vindication of Zionism, the only possible refutation of Zionism must be the stubborn fact of history In order to make Zionists rethink their ideology in relation to the Jewish question they must face successive political failures. And I use the term “political failures” because to have any effect, military setbacks or defeats must be “political” defeats. If they are not they will be meaningless.
The French say: facts are stubborn. To the Zionists, to the Israelis, the only meaningful opposition is to the stubborn facts. It is the moral duty of the Arabs to help Israel control her appetite. I still think this is fundamental because by our own weakness and confusion we make it easier for Israel to continue her policy than to change it. Change always brings about uneasiness. It creates a political and moral crisis and, therefore, cannot come easily. It must be imposed on people by the stubborn facts of life. What are these stubborn facts?
When we say that the problem in Palestine or in the Arab Middle East is the presence of the Zionist entity, our view of the question, as Arabs, is superficial. We should, in my opinion, see the problem essentially as an Arab one, because in the last analysis Israeli successes are no more than the consequences of Arab failures. I mean that they manage to capitalize on them. And I am not referring here to the well recognized problems of economic under-development, illiteracy, or the scientific and technological lag. I am only discussing the political aspects.
To summarize, the following factors have contributed to Israel success:
First out failure to take a firm stand on the Palestinians. We accuse the Zionists of denying the existence of a Palestinian nation. Before Israel, it was Britain’s policy to make of Palestine and Arab problem. The Arabs themselves spoke then, and are sill speaking, of the Arabs of Palestine. If Arab leaders and intellectuals continue to vacillate between two ides and ideals—the concept of a single Arab nation, on the one hand, and that of a loose federation platform. Moreover, the Palestinians themselves do not seem to have definitely made their choice between Palestinian nationalism and Arab nationalism. This is not merely a theoretical problem which can be dealt with by intellectuals and discussed at leisure Indecision undermines the capacity to formulate a strategy for it has a specific bearing on relations with Arab governments. It has been a factor in the rejection of certain plans, such as the Rogers initiative, and is has had tragic consequences in Jordan. If the Palestinians link their future with a total Arab revolution and a unified Arab state, this would lead to the formulation of a specific strategy, tactics, and organization. If they see their future in the context of an independent national state, their strategy, tactics and organization will be shaped accordingly From what one reads in books, pamphlets and newspapers, the decisive choice has not yet been made.
Second, our failure to discuss seriously the problem of Arab unity. On the one hand, the popular basis or inclination for unity is a fact, yet on the other, each and every Arab government—with the exception of Libya—is acting though there will never be any kind of unity. We are, therefore, providing Israel with a good argument to refuse any discussion. We are also giving Europeans and Americans reason to discount the possibility of any Arab unity. We all realize that one of the everlasting weaknesses of Egyptian policy is its incapacity to choose between an Arab and an Egyptian destiny. The same is true for Lebanon or the Sudan. The result is that have been unable to assure ourselves that a movement for unity need not necessarily mean a united republic. German unity was unlike Italian unity; the two did not emulate the process which led to French unity, and so on. All kinds of possibilities exist, but we choose the worst of all solutions. We talk of theoretical unity, thus fanning everyone’s fears in the Middle East, Africa and Mediterranean Europe. In practice, we are not working towards unity. This has assured our enemies that they can embark on their own plans, such as the Iranian move in the Gulf, with impunity.
Third, our failure to take firm position on the essential problem of our national resources. Nothing is more significant in this regard than the stand taken by certain Arab governments toward the nationalization of the oil industry—Algeria and Iraq. As political strategy this has resulted in good relations with France and has served what is generally termed the battle of destiny. To view natural wealth merely as a source of monetary gain for the states, as is the case in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, etc., is a form of intellectual blindness to the real causes of our political weakness. How can we criticize some foreign governments because they help our enemies when we ourselves are helping them indirectly?
Fourth, the question of facing up to the problem of religious, cultural and national minorities in the Arab world. We do not discuss this question because we do not take Arab unity seriously. If we were to subject this question to a class analysis, we would realize that there is no logical or political contradiction between a unification process and recognition of local autonomy.
These failures are primarily political. I intentionally did not mention economic or military shortcomings because however great our future economic or military capabilities, they will amount to nothing as compare to Israeli and American capabilities is they are not sustained by clearly defined political aims. This is what is meant by strategy. Her we have the stubborn facts. If we could take definite stands on these issues—the Palestinian nation, Arab unity, economic liberation and local democracy—we would have a viable strategy. These are indestructible weapons in the long run. They will be effective with out friends and enemies alike.
When Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, Al Ahram’s editor-in-chief, asked Brandy to help Egypt, the West German Chancellor asked, “But what does Egypt really want?” Heikal, who reported this, is himself a classic example of political vacillation. When aims have been defined and a real strategy has been outlined, one does not fear air attacks, punitive expeditions or terrorism from the enemy. But if we continue to waver, if we lack the courage to take strong stands, how can we make demands of our enemy, asking him to adopt stands which would force him to reconsider his whole situation? How can we expect non-Zionist Jews to sway their co-religionists if what they are to discuss with them are indecisive situations? How can they present their case on humanistic grounds as defenders of the Arab cause.
All this should be part of a cast effort to reshape our thinking and change our attitudes if we are to have any chance of recovering our rights or even conducting a dialogue with those among the Jews who are willing to discard the extreme views of Zionism which prevail today. If they accept the real fact of the rights of the Palestinian people as a separate entity, if they can recognize the existence of viable Arab unity, if they can perceive legitimate Arab actions toward true liberation and democracy and if their own claims are no longer the total negation of all Arab aspirations, then there will be peace in that tragic land of Palestine. But, again, we ourselves must give gaily evidence of our adherence to the aims just cited.
How can these aims be clarified? I think that is essentially the task of Arab intellectuals. Up to now the Arab intelligentsia has not been faithful to its task which to say the truth—the historical truth, not the passing political, social or ideological half-truth. Most of the Arab intellectuals in the Middle East merely recall past glories and are apologists for present regimes or ideologies. There was some change after 1967. Many books were published then, heralding new thoughts and ideas, but there was a reaction in 1970, financed and supported by a kind of unholy alliance between Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and unfortunately, Algeria. i hope that Arab intellectuals will recover from this period of despair and cynicism and face up to their task which to present a critical assessment of their society.
And here I must add a comment regarding the revolutionary character of the Palestinian Resistance Movement. It is true that this movement could constitute a liberalizing and modernizing element. It could also bring about a reactionary, fundamentalist counter-movement just as Zionism itself played a dual role in the Middle East. Out experience in the Maghreb states demonstrates clearly that while the Palestinian problem served as a rallying point for different liberal, revolutionizing movements among the intellectuals, it also enhanced the stability of the existing regimes the character of which was conservative or anti-revolutionary.
Therefore, when we say the Palestinian movement is a revolutionary movement, we should not use the word in a negative sense, meaning that it is an anti-peace, anti-stabilizing movement. We should use it in the sense that if it is taken objectively in all its implications—ideological, intellectual and political—it will be the starting point of a complete change of the Arab mind. But in order to assume this role, it must clearly define its objectives and strategy. What is the Palestinian nation? What are its components? What are its peculiarities? What are its relations with the Jewish and the other Arab entities? What kind of Arab unity does this imply? What kind of state is required by the actual situation of the Palestinians, etc.?
Discussing these questions will enhance the political chances of their solution. Additionally, Palestinians will help the Arab intellectuals in further developing their thinking along modern lines. Thus, they will contribute positively, as a revolutionary element, to the progress of the Arab world from Iraq to Morocco.
Abdallah Laroui, "The Intellectual's Role in the Face of Zionist Successes," in Margaret Pennar, The Middle East: Five Perspectives, Information Papers, No. 7, October, 1973, (North Dartmouth, MA: Arab-American University Graduates, Inc.)