February 16, 2011
The 22-state solution
Has the world ever witnessed such a radical and overnight transformation of one country? Have we ever seen a nation, in 18 short days, go from a place that represents darkness to one that represents hope, renewal and liberation?
I’m not talking about Egypt; I’m talking about Israel.
In the branding business, we have this thing called “truth transformation.” In a nutshell, it says that if your brand has “issues,” you can fix them only by finding a deep and meaningful truth. A legendary example is Pepsi, which made great headway against Coke by showing that “in a blind taste test, more people prefer the taste of Pepsi.”
Well, it turns out that in a blind taste test, more Arabs prefer the taste of Israel.
I’m not sure people realize yet the extraordinary nature of this transformation. Israel, the most maligned, boycotted and condemned country on the planet, the nation held perennially responsible for the frustrations of millions of Arabs across the Middle East, turns out to have what those frustrated Arabs are now clamoring for: freedom, human rights and a system that protects those rights.
Overnight, this brave and besieged little country has gone from demon to model — from being the curse of the Middle East to its potential cure. We may not see such a radical shift of perception again in our lifetimes.
And yet, hardly anyone is talking about it. I see two reasons. First, the hero country that ought to be promoting this transformation, Israel, is focused more on immediate security than on exporting its democratic gold to its neighbors. This is not unreasonable. Israel already has serious threats on its doorsteps — like Hamas and Hezbollah — and its deep wish is that the chaos of newfound freedom in Egypt will not result in a new security threat.
Second, and more important, the global forces that have worked for years to undermine Israel are now suddenly on the defensive, and they’re desperate to keep you focused on “big, bad Israel.” They can see the writing on the wall. The edifice that took them decades to build — making Israel global enemy No. 1 and the Palestinians the world’s glamour victims — is now in real danger of crumbling.
Just look at the facts. There are 330 million Arabs in the Middle East region who, according to Freedom House, live in countries considered “not free.” While those Arabs languished for decades in misery and oppression, where do you think the world concentrated its attention and its billions in aid? That’s right, on the Palestinian Arabs who represent less than 1 percent of that total.
And what did the world get in return? A split group of permanent victims who teach the hatred of Israel while refusing to make any real concessions for peace. Talk about a crummy deal.
That’s why I wouldn’t want to be with the Palestinian PR machine right now. They worked so hard to pull a Houdini and convince the world that Israel is the scourge of humanity and Palestinians the world’s biggest victims, and now look — millions of competing Arab victims come to Tahrir Square and steal the attention.
From now on, anyone who pushes for a boycott of Israel can and should be denounced as a hypocrite who couldn’t care less about Arab victims not connected with Israel. And good luck to anyone trying to claim with a straight face that pressuring Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should remain the central mission of the world — not when millions of other Arab victims who have lived for so long under the “occupation” of brutal dictators are finally getting their voices heard.
And not when those Arab voices are craving the very freedom and human rights that Israel, with all its warts and imperfections, already offers.
It is also laughable now for peace-process junkies to claim that a three-state solution (Israel, Palestine and Hamastan) is “more urgent than ever,” and would help fix other Middle Eastern problems, like the threat of a nuclear Iran or bringing human rights to the Arab world.
Israel can surely keep chasing the dream of peace with Hamas and the Palestinians, which would be wonderful if it ever happened. But if the world is really serious about responding to the revolution of Tahrir Square, then the real urgency is to stop ignoring the 99 percent of Arab victims not named Palestinians.
In other words, instead of the narrow-minded “two-state solution” mantra that is repeated ad nauseam, the future of the Middle East should revolve around a more just and inclusive “22-state solution,” whereby the nations of the region would gradually be exposed to the liberating and dignifying values of democracy. Maybe the United Nations, instead of issuing another condemnation of Israel, can send a mission to the Jewish state to pick up some pointers on how they might introduce democratic institutions and economic prosperity to the rest of the Middle East.
I’m not holding my breath. The industry of maligning Israel is a deeply popular one, and the obsession with Palestinian victimhood is a global phenomenon. Still, the wrenching process of “truth transformation” has begun. The fact that the freest Arabs in the Middle East live in Israel is a truth that Israel’s enemies cannot bear. In the post-Tahrir Square era, more and more Arabs will come to see that Israel was never the enemy — but a model to aspire to.
Once the shock of that truth wears off, we’ll see how many will taste it.