Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
The conflict in the Middle East is a turbulent situation of great significance to the entire world. This study examines the internal political scene of Israel and its affect on the overall Middle East situation. It focuses on ideology, structure, and policy within Israel as components of that scene.
The ideology of Zionism provided the justification for the creation of Israel and continues to form the basis for governmental decision making there. An analysis of the principles of Zionism and of the statements, writings, and actions of Zionist leaders showed that the ideology could reasonably be interpreted as racist and expansionist.
More important than the ideas of Zionism is the actual implementation of those ideas through government policy. Israeli policy in regard to citizenship, immigration, security, economics, labor, land, and political representation is examined. Important characteristics of Israel's economy are its dependence on foreign capital and assistance and its continuing attempts to attain self-sufficiency. The study shows clearly that discrimination against Arabs and Jews of Asian and African descent living in Israel is widespread and that the rights, benefits, and opportunities for these groups are not equal to those of European and American Jewish immigrants. More significantly, it is indicates that government policy is partly responsible for these inequalities. and has worked to place Western Jews in a superior position in Israeli society.
Another part of Israel's implementation of Zionism has been its action concerning Jewish control of land. From the time of early Jewish immigration to the present, Zionists have attempted to increase the territory inhabited and controlled by Jews. The methods used to accomplish this have included purchase, acquisition of abandoned land, expropriation of inhabited land through expropriation and force, and military invasion of other nations. Israeli expansionism is related to the Zionist principles that Jews should establish a state with boundaries similar to those of ancient Israel and that all Jews should be gathered into that state. Adherence to these ideas requires territorial expansion and Israeli policy has clearly shown expansionist tendencies.
One of the most significant determinants of policy in any country is political structure. In Israel, structure is dominated by political parties. Israel is a multi-party, parliamentary system in which no party has ever gained a majority in the legislature. Rule by coalition has meant that major policy changes have been difficult to achieve. The Labor Party and its views dominated Israel for thirty years, tempered by the need for negotiations with and concessions to the other parties. In Israel's centralized structure, local government, interest groups, and public opinion are relatively insignificant. In a system with these characteristics and Israel's strong ideological commitment, it could be anticipated that a high degree of policy consistency would exist. This has proven to be true in Israel. Although Begin's Likud government has a different public position on major issues and uses stronger rhetoric, the substance of its actions are similar. It has returned the same land Labor was willing to return and has generally followed Labor's plans for establishing settlements in the occupied territories. Israel's system of multiple parties, parliamentary government, rule by coalition, and centralized government makes policy consistency a significant feature of its politics.
Also contributing to this policy inertia is the nature of leadership in Israel. The structural features mentioned above, the superior position of Western Jews, the historical necessity for Jews to operate secretly, and the limited access to important information in Israeli society have created an elitist system of leadership. The characteristics and views of this elite, and in fact the specific individuals in the elite group, have not changed much in Israel's history.
The ideology of Zionism and the translation of its principles into social structure and government policy has had a tremendous impact on the conflict in the Middle East. It has worked against the creation of good relations between people, cultures, and nations there and prevents a lasting solution to the Palestinian question. Israel can not grant equal rights to Arabs within its borders without compromising Jewish control and it can not allow Palestinian self-determination withou giving up territory it needs to accomodate more Jewish immigration to Israel. The country's political structure and the nature of its leadership have contributed to its policy consistency and make major changes unlikely in the future. The most successful force in creating any policy change has been external pressures, particularly from the United States. This is most dramatically illustrated by the Camp David Accords which were a direct result of U.S. mediation efforts. However, Camp David did not succeed in extracting major concessions from Israel or in setting adequate groundwork for a solution to the Palestinian problem. Flexibility on policy questions by Israel is necessary to achieve a fair and permanent solution to Middle East problems. The ideology of Zionism, Israel's political system, and its elite leadership severely restrict Israel's ability to be flexible. Internal change in Israel is a necessary ingredient in the achievement of Middle East peace and stability.
Hight, David, "An Analysis of Israeli Domestic Political Characteristics and Their Affect on the Middle East Conflict" (1980). Masters Theses. 3101.