The Belgian/Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab's attempt to understand where Zionism came from is a welcome departure from the partisan approach of commentisfree.
He dismisses conspiracy thinking
such as the notion that Zionism is exclusively a form of imperialism; that Israeli, Jewish and Zionist are synonymous; that the creation of Israel was somehow, in hindsight, inevitable; or that there was some sort of collective Jewish conspiracy to fulfil the Zionist dream.
He shows how the Zionist project struggled for support, even (especially) among the Jews of Europe. He points out that the Balfour Declaration was not simply an imperial act of benificence (as if any country, imperial or otherwise, made its decisions in order to 'do good') but was calculated to achieve political ends far removed from Zionism.
Like the hollow promises of independence Britain made to its Arab allies to encourage them to rise up against the Turks, a more pragmatic motive was the need to draw America into the first world war and Britain hoped that by supporting the Zionist project it would win over the opposition of American Jews, many of whom were of German extraction or were great admirers of Germany's enlightened kultur and bildung.
He goes on that it was only after the Holocaust that enough international and Jewish support was gained to enable the creation of Israel.
The near-extinction of the Jewish people more than six decades ago still casts a long shadow on the Israeli and Jewish mindset. This existential complex and deeply seated fear of annihilation - even if it seems impossible in the current context - is something that Arabs need to understand and empathise with if we are ever to overcome Israel's legendary security paranoia and forge a lasting peace.
Does annihilation really seem impossible? From the conventional military point of view, it does. But add a few nuclear missiles to the mix, as Iran is trying to do, and that changes everything. It would add the means, lacking until now, to the will, which has always been present.
What about the one-state solution that Diab espouses? He calls it a "bi-national federal state", or a "single geographical entity ... with a functioning, fair and democratic political apparatus". That would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Not annihilation, obviously, but it would no longer be the one place that people like Nicholas Sarkozy can run to when history sets about repeating itself. It could only happen if everyone in the region forgot the last 100 years. It's a non-starter.
One brief quibble. When talking about the motivation behind the Balfour Declaration, he says,
Another motive was sympathy for the plight of Russian and eastern European Jews and the romantic appeal of the "restoration of a Jewish state planted in the old ground as a centre of a national feeling, a source of dignifying protection", as George Eliot expressed it in her 1876 novel, Daniel Deronda. Like contemporary America, some British Protestants held the belief that the second coming of Christ would only occur after the Jews were re-established in their land.
I don't think he intended it, but that does seem to count George Eliot among such nutty protestants, and she was most definitely not, at least after the age of 22. The extraordinary support she gave to proto-Zionism in Daniel Deronda (her last novel, published in 1876, when she was 56) has more to do with her "faith" in the Jewish tradition to find expression in a state that would be a "light unto the nations".
There's precious little of Diab's goodwill at the European Parliament, where they've been hosting a gabfest under the title "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace".
"Israel is an apartheid state," was the most often-heard charge, closely followed by calls for a boycott. The West should cut its economic ties with the Jewish state, the speakers urged, and engage the "democratically elected" Islamists now running Gaza. No, this was not a Hamas rally somewhere in the Palestinian territories. This was Brussels, where the European Parliament last week played host to the "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace." Speaker after speaker presented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an exclusively Palestinian perspective. Israel was accused of human rights violations while Palestinian terrorism and incitement went unmentioned.
The United Nations - Shield of the Party of God.