I usually avoid writing about international affairs because I am far, far from expert in the field but tend to have strong opinions nonetheless. For some folks this would be a recipe for disaster, but I am saved from suffering or causing any harm by the happy fact that I have no power or influence whatever. For this, let us all be thankful.
However, as I read about the latest episodes in the Palestinian Authority's unique form of constitutional convention (click here for just one example), a sort of thought experiment occurred to me. Now that you have been fully cautioned, I share it here with you: Suppose that by the application of some miraculous power the people of Israel were to agree to be transported instantaneously to somewhere else in the world, say, oh, New Mexico. (Assume that the people already in New Mexico are agreeable.) Then let ten years pass. What would then be the situations in New Mexico and in the place where formerly there was the state of Israel?
As for New Mexico, its population would be quadrupled to begin with and its Gross State Domestic Product tripled. After ten years, with the Israeli portion relieved of its present burden of defense spending and the cost of that wall (which they are actually building, unlike the one here, which, by the way, is in part inspired by a short fence south of San Diego that was built by - ha ha! - illegal aliens), my guess is that it would rival California in GSDP (in 2005, to give you a baseline, New Mexico tallied about 4% of the Golden State's output). It would also be a tourist (you should pardon the expression) mecca. And it would be peaceful.
And in Greater Palestine, or whatever it would be called? Do we foresee a stable regime, a flourishing economy, a happy people? Not so much. In Lesser Palestine, formerly known as Gaza, the result of being left alone to govern themselves has been chaos, featuring an impotent government and regular running gun battles in the streets between rival "political" parties. Evidence of actual governance, of civil society, of an economy, or of any real interest in having any of these, is scant to the point of invisibility. Given the deserted resources of Israel to play in, do we suppose that they would play nicer? How long would it take to wreck the industrial infrastructure left behind and turn it into primitive weapons and burned-out headquarters for a welter of gangs and minifactions? And, absent those Jews, what would they even be fighting over?
A few years ago one of Iran's leading clerics, Hashemi Rafsanjani, made a statement that he apparently thought was just awfully telling: "[T]he application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would produce minor damages in the Muslim world." What's grimly amusing is that, although Rafsanjani was apparently pointing to the geographical extent of the Muslim world, his claim works equally well as a kind of reverse Ozymandias boast: "Lo, we have not built anything worth destroying." (I distinguish here between building something and hiring something built by outsiders who know how.) And bear in mind that Iran is one of the more developed parts of the Muslim world, much more so than most of Arabia.
It is often noted that the existence of Israel has been very useful to the oligarchies of Arab and other mainly Muslim countries. They have had only to keep their populaces sufficiently aroused against the "Zionist entity" to deflect internal criticism of and opposition to their own stultifying regimes. Such criticism, if permitted to express itself freely, would surely have to include the question: What have you built?
Two more predictions arise out of my thought experiment: Ten years on, the utterly desperate chant "Death to America" would still be heard from those sad lands; and the BBC would still think it a cogent point.