As the nation states established in the Middle East by the European colonial powers following World War I have begun to disappear, new self-proclaimed states are arising to take their place. The breakdown of the established borders began following World War II when, in November 1947, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 recommended the establishment of an Arab state, a Jewish State and a Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem with an economic union within the British Mandate of Palestine. The recommendation was accepted by the Jews, but was rejected by the Arab states and the recommendation was never implemented. In May 1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent state of Israel. War between the Jews and Arabs ensued. The 1949 Armistice agreements established the Green Line or “1967 lines” between the combatants. During the June 1967 “Six Day War”, Israel occupied the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jorden River, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. The occupation of the Sinai continued until the 1978 Camp David Accords, which returned the Sinai to Egypt. In recent years, Jewish leaders have begun to insist that the State of Israel as presently constituted be recognized as a “Jewish State.”
Following the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) arose as a resistance organization against the occupation. The 2007 U.S. troop surge and the “Sunni Awakening” forced the remnants of AQI to decamp to Syria. The chaos of the 2011 Syrian Civil War allowed AQI to reconstitute itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Making effective use of Gulf State financial aid and captured weapons, ISIS in 2013 and early 2014 was able to eliminate the colonial border between Syria and Iraq and, in June 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the “Islamic State” (IS) in the territory ISIS had conquered.
It remains unclear what these proclamations mean in practical terms for people living in these states. Judaism has been a religion of blood relationship, tribe and place since Yahweh was seen as the god of the Israelites more than 2,500 years ago. One does not become a Jew, one is born a Jew. It doesn’t matter if one is a diaspora Jew or a Jew living in Israel, for Jews, whether practicing Jews or atheists, Israel from Iraq to the Nile River is the tribal homeland. Since non-Jewish residents of Israel are not members of the tribe, defining the status of non-Jews in a Jewish State is a major problem for Israel’s leaders. Until this issue is resolved, continued violence will be the order of the day in Israel. Currently, the Israeli strategy appears to be one of making life so difficult for non-Jews that, in the words of Mitt Romney, they “self-deport.” Given the attachment of Palestinian Arabs to this same land, self-deportation is unlikely to be a successful strategy.
IS leaders on the other hand have a different problem. Islam, since its founding by the Prophet Mohammed, a member of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, has been an inclusive religion that superseded tribal boundaries. In order to become a Muslim, one need only ascribe to Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger. The uniting of the fractious, warring, nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula created a fearsome Army of Islam that spread Islam throughout the Middle East and North Africa within a century. The ranks of Muslims expanded as Christians persecuted as heretics by either Rome or Constantinople found Islam an appealing refuge. Many Christians converted in order to be able to fight in Saladin’s Muslim army against the Crusaders. As a result of this inclusiveness, Islam has grown today to 1.5 billion adherents. The Islamic State’s problem is that the violent, intolerant version of Islam that it proclaims has very few followers and supporters in the greater Muslim world. Observers on the ground in IS controlled territory report that fewer than 10 percent of the population subscribe to the ISIS view of an Islamic State. IS is able to maintain control only by threats of extreme violence and by delivering government services in areas wracked by chaos and instability. While IS is very good at recruiting disaffected youth as fighters, in the longer term, IS, given its philosophy that education should only include religious subjects, faces major problems in recruiting the technical skills needed to deliver services. Oil refineries, power plants and construction projects do not respond well to sermons. The extreme violence is also likely to wear thin with tribal leaders.
The Jewish and Islamic states face difficult, deep seeded, ideology- driven problems that will be hard to resolve. Unless they are able to overcome these problems, the prospects for long-term viability are uncertain.