Mordechai Kedar doesn’t believe Israel can find peace alongside a single Palestinian state. Instead he proposes a nine-state solution, with the establishment of eight separate entities — or “emirates,” as he called them.
It’s a plan, he told an audience in Scotch Plains on Feb. 18, which has been featured repeatedly in Arab media without eliciting angry backlash. Asked why the Israeli government hasn’t adopted it, he said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked him, “How do I sell it to the Americans?”
Kedar, an assistant professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University, outlined his plan to an audience of around 70 people at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus.
Kedar said his inspiration comes from places like Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. “Places like that are the only stable areas in the Arab world,” he said.
The key to their success and the central theme of his thesis is “tribalism.” Kedar sees it as the cornerstone of Islamic culture, and the source of cohesion in homogenous areas. And all of that stems from the desert origins of various Arab peoples, where scarcity of water made such unity essential for survival.
Tribalism was the factor he tried to warn the Americans about on the eve of the Iraq invasion in 2003, and it is what Great Britain repeatedly ignored in creating the artificial state borders for Iraq in 1920.
He insisted that tribalism explains why the Arab Spring has unfolded in such different ways in different countries. In Tunisia and Egypt the leaders fell quickly because they had no claim to tribal loyalty; it took a much harder fight in Libya because Muammar Gaddafi had the support of his Gaddafi tribe and its allies. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority has long been at odds with the majority Sunnis. “Syria is in the process of breaking apart into homogenous units,” he said.
When audience members asked about the viability of small autonomous areas, and where their revenue would come from, Kedar was emphatic that neither issue matters.
“People don’t get claustrophobic in Lichtenstein,” said Kedar, who is also a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a member of the Herzliya Inter-Disciplinary Center’s “Facing Radical Islam” study team.
Where a hereditary leader rules over a single tribal group, the culture is preserved and the people remain loyal to the hierarchy — with some adaptation to modern “instruments,” Kedar said. “Where the leaders used to ride camels, now they have golden Lamborghinis.”
Jews are not immune to tribalism, Kedar conceded, citing the largely Syrian Jewish community of Great Neck, NY. Communal pressures to marry within the Syrian community have left many young people single. “They are paying a very high price” for retaining their identity, he said. “Should we be more accepting of outsiders?”
Cultural divisions have had — and are still having — their impact in parts of Europe too, he said. And when collective identity is the dominant cultural force — as opposed to the kind of individualism that prevails in the United States — human rights, including the rights of minorities, or women, or gays — will never be as important as the binding dictates of group loyalty.
Kedar’s talk was cosponsored by the Israel Support Committee of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield, Temple Beth O’r Beth Torah in Cranford, Temple Beth-El/Mekor Chayim in Clark, Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, Temple Sholom in Fanwood, and the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.