On 26th November, The Henry Jackson Society hosted ‘Global Terrorism and the Palestinian Cause: how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been hijacked by extremism’ featuring Yossi Shain, Romulo Betancourt Professor of Political Science, Tel Aviv University.
Professor Shain opened the talk by noting how Israel has come to dominate the obsessions of the Islamist movement. He said that he wanted to focus his talk on why it is that Islamists will never accept Israel’s right to exist.
He started by examining the roles that nationalism and religion have played in the Arab world. He argued that, prior to the 1967 war, nationalism reigned supreme. In turn, Islamic radicalism was suppressed by the likes of Nasser in Egypt and the Ba’athists in Syria and Iraq. However, from 1967 to the Iranian Revolution, religion began to assert itself more forcefully in the political movements of the Muslim world.
Professor Shain argued that the holy sites, a source of contention since the British mandate, became a tool for Palestinians and others to express their hostility to Israel. Israel went from being seen as a bastion of British colonialism to a religious rival. He argued that during the Camp David and Oslo peace accords, Arafat would on occasion resort to the language of Jerusalem. Professor Shain said that when ‘the Palestinians are losing attention they have to bring religion to the fore’.
The professor argued that the ‘secular nationalist leader can always resort to the language of religion and say they are fighting for al-Aqsa’ to shore up their legitimacy. Indeed, he noted that the decline of traditional Arab nationalism in the face of Islamism had had disastrous, unforeseen consequences. He pointed to the destruction of Iraq and Syria, and almost Egypt, caused by Islamic radicalism.
He closed his talk by noting the West’s confusion when faced with popular movements in the Islamic world. He said that ‘the West is always confused by the masses in the streets’. The West confuses people in the streets with democracy, forgetting that democracy requires stable institutions and the rule of law.