IS, Palestine and the question of separatism

With bombs no longer falling in Gaza, the global community has turned its attention to the newly christened Islamic State. The Islamic State and Israel-Palestine issues seem as different as can be––the former is a universally feared enemy while the latter is an unending moral quagmire. The common denominator, however, is separatism. This is the idea that political borders can and should be drawn along racial, ethnic and religious lines. It is a regressive doctrine that is both untenable in light of globalization and the best guarantee of endless conflict.

IS is the most obvious and extreme kind of a culturally homogenizing movement. It is beyond separatist; the IS doesn’t just want their own caliphate of only Jewish people, they want to spread and wipe out as many infidels as possible.

In a recent visit to the White House, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speculated that the unprecedented alliance of Arab nations needed to eradicate IS could be used to build the long-awaited two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is the case. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has compared this situation to post-World War II climate. He asserts that an alliance of desperation will evaporate as quickly as it was formed.

Friedman likens Israel’s strategy regarding Palestine to the United States’ approach to the Soviet Union. But in the battle of East versus West, the U.S. was––and is––fighting for principles that are easy to get behind, specifically the idea of freedom over totalitarianism.

Netanyahu does not even pretend that spreading or maintaining democracy is his goal. In May, he announced his intent to amend Israel’s basic laws (which are analogous to a constitution) in order to define Israel as not just a Jewish state, but as a state for Jews only.

“The state of Israel provides full equal, individual rights to all its citizens, but it is the nation state of one people only––the Jewish people––and of no other people,” Netanyahu said.

This ethnic separation that right-wing Israelis want is a pipedream. Currently, the major roadblock to peace is the continued “settlement” (i.e. colonization) of Palestinian territory by Israelis. This is largely driven by the notion that certain territories belong to the Jews independent of international law.

Denying Palestinian right of return will not change the fact that many Israelis are ethnically Arab. If national ethnic purity was ever a good idea, it is simply not possible in a globalized world. The only recourses left to a separatist nation are to either subjugate ethnic and religious minorities or expel them.

The desire for ethnic and religious separation is not a product of the nation-state itself, but a geopolitical manifestation of the human tribal instinct. How do we stop that instinct from taking over? Friedman points to quality of life, economic stability, peace and basic tolerance as areas to focus on to achieve this goal.

Pluralism needs common ground as much as it needs diversity. The idealized melting pot of the U.S. is a good model, but racial tensions and ignorance are still present here and everywhere else in the world.

As President Barack Obama has described it, we are working toward “a new order,” one that is entirely novel to our species.