The New York Times' Week in Review recently contained a long oped column by Efraim Karsh, a British academic well-known for his rightwing opinions about the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Most of the column focuses on historical and contemporary divisions in the Muslim world, or on what Karsh calls "incessant infighting within the House of Islam, which has never ceased."
It is not hard to detect that Karsh's real purpose is to argue for an American military attack on Iran and an end to the Obama administration's "imperious approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict," his way of characterizing the administration's woefully weak efforts to bring about a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Apparently, however, the Times failed to notice both the obvious inconsistency and badly misleading nature of Karsh's argument. When Karsh is arguing for a hardline on Iran, his argument about Muslim internal divisions serves his purpose, since it supports his assertion that "they would be unlikely to rush to Iran's aid in the event of sanctions, or even a military strike." Indeed, he claims, "most other Muslim countries would be quietly relieved to see the extremist regime checked."
But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suddenly the Muslim world is united in refusing to accept the existence of Israel: "Muslim states threaten Israel's existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam....Any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is far less important than a regional agreement in which every Islamic nation can make peace with the idea of Jewish statehood in the House of Islam....And that, depressingly, is going to be a lot harder to pull off...."
The wording is sufficiently ambiguous (no doubt deliberately so) to allow Karsh to deny that he is dissembling -- but can there be any doubt that he means readers to believe that the Muslim states of the Middle East are united in refusing to accept the existence of Israel? Just which Muslim states can Karsh have in mind? As I've discussed in a previous blog, Egypt and Jordan long ago reached peace agreements that formally accept the existence of Israel within its pre-1967 borders, and ever since 1988 Yasir Arafat and his PLO successors and present governors of the West Bank have repeatedly said that they would accept the same terms. And there is increasing evidence that even Hamas in Gaza would not challenge a two-state settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That doesn't leave many others in "the House of Islam." It is an established fact that since the 1990s Syria has repeatedly sought a formal peace agreement with Israel, provided it withdrew from the Golan Heights, Syrian territory conquered and occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. And since 1982 Saudi Arabia has repeatedly and publicly offered Israel peace and normalized relations with the Arab world, conditioned on the withdrawal of Israel from all the territories it conquered in 1967 and a two-state settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, the Saudis have successfully convinced the rest of the Arab world to endorse such an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, for in 2007 the twenty-two states of the Arab League unanimously endorsed the Saudi peace plan.
So who's left in the Islamic world? Well, of course Karsh wants to focus on Iran--that is, a single state. Anyway, Karsh's argument doesn't even work very well for Iran, for it is far from obvious that Iran poses a genuine threat to the existence to Israel, as opposed to a rhetorical one, nasty as that is; it is often overlooked that even the present Iranian government has said it would go along with an overall settlement if the Palestinians did so.
In short, it is not just that Karsh's argument is self-contradictory, it is demonstrably false. Too bad the New York Times didn't notice.