I have recently returned from a trip to Israel, 29 years since last being there. The changes I observed were startling, the differences amazing. What I observed was a vibrant, growing, modern post-industrial society, which I last observed as a struggling, developing country beset by social and economic problems. Poverty, and the growing gap between rich and poor were evident, but so was the dynamism of the society as a whole. This gap was not specifically between Jews and Arabs, as Arab villages and towns were also flourishing within Israel itself. (The West Bank is another matter).
Even more striking was the contrast between this country and their next door neighbors, especially Syria and Egypt. Both are in crisis, turmoil and, in Syria's case, civil war. President Morsi was overthrown by a military coup while I was in Israel and bombs were exploding in Iraq.
As familiar as I am with the Middle East conflicts, the history (less the polemic) of the region, (and the polemic as well), I could not help but wonder about the contrasts. Even under an oppressive occupation (the Security Wall outside Jerusalem is a stark reminder of the reality of hatred and violence always just below the surface on both sides of the conflict), life in the West Bank is relatively calm and peaceful compared to Syria and Egypt.
When one takes an objective view, it appears clear that both Israelis and Palestinians started out at pretty much the same level in 1948. Neither population was well off, neither was any more or less well served by British colonialism. Britain crushed the Arab Uprising with force, and closed the borders to Jewish refugrees from the holocaust, dumping them in concentration camps (a sad and bitter irony).
In part, Israel succeeded and the Palestinians failed bercause Israel won the war in 1948. The Jews had established political, educational and social institutions which easily transformed into governmental and societal agencies upon gaining independence, the Arabs did not. The Jews were more independent, while the Arabs put their hopes on their neighbors, especially Egypt, Syria and what became Jordan. The outcome of the war was an independent Israel and a disjointed and scattered Arab population of refugees. The rest, to coin a phrase, is history.
I could not help but wonder what might have been had the Palestinian Arabs accepted partition and established their own state, if there had not been a war and the intrusion of outside armies? Assuming no war, and a negotiated border while the situation of the ground remained fluid, could two states have flourished? Once the war was over, the lines began to harden. Israel sought to develop the territory under its control, while the Palestinians were either displaced (a common result of war, see Europe post WW II and the Balkans, more recently) or under the control of, mainly, Egypt and Jordan.
I could not help wondering what life would have been for the Palestinians in their own state. Would they, also, have reached a point development akin to what I observed in Israel? Perhaps not. Perhaps the region would have had two more failed states, neither with the resources to move ahead. On the other hand, two cooperating ministates could have fostered mutual development, to the benefit of both. Then there is the pernicious role of outside forces pursuing their own interests at the expense of the locals.
Humans are sometimes trapped in their own cultures and fail to distinguish forests and trees. Poor decision making based on raw emotion rarely leads to good ends. To some extent, the role of leadership can play either a constructive or destructive role, historically speaking.
Of course "might have been" is the stuff of fiction and "what will be" is the stuff of fantasy. I cannot help but think that a rational, objective "man from Mars" visiting Earth, and having no "skin in the game" might wonder about the sanity of the Human Race. Lip service is paid to the value and sanctity of life, but in reality, life is cheap and readily wasted in the service of causes that challenge existence and engender responses in kind.
I was a pacifist once, but reality intruded.