A great proportion of Georgetown students have taken International Relations – after all, it is a requirement for students in the School of Foreign Service. I personally did poorly in the course, but I learned enough to understand the key tenets of realism, a term used to describe relations between states in the context of an anarchic world. Many scholars of international relations would stop me here to point out that the concept of realism is simply a model – the real world constantly presents the opportunity for negotiation, therefore mitigating the default lawlessness of world affairs and providing room for common ground to be sought and achieved.
This criticism is completely valid, but one factor can completely toss negotiation asunder and inexorably force international relations more towards academic realism: When the rhetoric of one side is too bellicose, narrow-minded or otherwise completely immutable, the other side is simply left with a set of undeniable realities concerning a situation and must formulate their response accordingly.
If you anticipated that I am referring to the present conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, you are correct. I do not seek to take sides on this issue, since there are countless hoards of more intelligent and articulate people to debate this issue thoroughly on both sides. History tells us, however, that a simple moderation of policy on one side after Israel’s creation would have led to a situation more pleasant for the world as it currently stands. Inevitably, harshly worded swaggering has been the greatest enemy of peace in the Mideast.
The Six-Day War of 1967 stands as the most stunning defeat for the Arabs in the region. The West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, the unholy trinity of territories standing in the way of a final settlement between nations, all changed from Arab to Israeli hands in this conflict. Today, most world leaders would consider it exceptionally generous for Israel to return to its pre-war borders. The humiliation for this defeat on the Arab side has created deep wounds that only continue to fester.
And yet, this war was originally fought out of Israeli self-defense. The leader of Egypt at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser, even through a short-lived unification with Syria, was trying to assert himself as leader of the entire Arab world, a title future leaders like Saddam Hussein would also try to adopt. Due to his perception that the “Naqba” – the creation of Israel – was an insult to all Arabs, anyone trying to fill the position of leader was inevitably forced to make proclamations concerning Israel and its continued existence. Though Nasser did not truly want war, his rhetoric being only political grandstanding, the lack of diplomatic relations with Israel forced the Jewish state to assume the worst. Combined with a unification of Arab military commands, increased Arab militarization of borders and attempts to drain Israel’s water supply, war seemed, at least to Israelis, as the only option left available. After only six days of fighting, the equilibrium had changed, the Arabs massively worse off. In the end, rhetoric was to blame.
Although at the time the true intention of Nasser was to eventually find some way to defeat Israel, radicalizing his publicly stated policy proved to be counterproductive to this end. Since destroying Israel is no longer a realistic possibility, groups (like Hezbollah) that seek such an end should follow the example of modern-day Egypt and Jordan. These states, despite once being bitter enemies of the Jewish state, have found common ground and made lasting peace with their former adversary.
Now, Iran – in the way of focusing on sectarian hegemony – is once again attempting to fill the role of Arab national leader. Unwisely, however, they too are adopting the hateful rhetoric of genocide that in the past has spelled doom for the offending nation and any prospects for regional peace. Since Iran is now suspected of seeking nuclear weapons, Israel may once again be faced with a belligerent enemy who preaches the end of the Jewish state.
War became inevitable in 1967, and the harsh statements of Iran may make it unavoidable in 2006. If peace is what we all want, then hate should not be what we hear, be forced to discuss, and eventually sort out.
Jeffrey Planchard is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and a member of THE HOYA editorial board.