In the present day, Israel and the West are increasingly threatened by the growing power and hostility of Islamic radicalism. More and more, Islamic extremists are finding the encroachment of Western civilization and institutions in the Middle East unacceptable to their world view of religion as the arbiter of societal norms and cultural identity. Aspects of Western culture, from popular media to liberal thoughts and decadent writings, are becoming seen as direct challenges to the primacy of Islam in Arab society. The increasing pervasiveness of Western involvement in regional economics, politics, and culture has escalated this dilemma to dramatic levels.
There is a growing rift between the cultures of the Western world and those of the Arabic nations of the Middle East. Islam has become the guiding motivation in domestic and foreign relations, shaping the actions of extremist movements like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as influencing the policies of secular governments, such as the Palestinian Authority. One of the most profound manifestations of the changes sweeping over the Middle Eastern political arena is the development of overarching hostility and antagonism towards Western civilization. Religious movements are increasingly viewing Western culture and society as incompatible with Islam's role as the bedrock of law and culture in Arabic society. The concepts of Western culture are becoming perceived as threatening to the rule of religion in the Middle East. The entrenchment of this viewpoint lends itself to the creation of an overarching Islamic policy of hostility towards the Western world. This stance is strikingly different from the nationalist era of the 1960's and 1970's, when the forces of nationalism were still open to negotiation and cooperation with Western civilization. The outlook for cooperation and moderation in the new, religious-based polity of the present-day Middle East is exceedingly bleak.
Skeptics of this position who contend there is a lack of cohesion between different Arabic communities and Islamic religious movements should remember the rapidity with which the radical ideologies of movements such as the Hizbullah and Hamas have been internalized in Arab countries. Whether there exist rifts of ideology between various religious movements is of little importance. Whatever their differences, they are dwarfed by the incompatibility between Islamic civilization and Western culture. In the end, there does not need to be a united front of Islamic opposition toward Israel and the West, only a greater opposition to them than to other elements of Islam and Arab identity. Whatever incompatibilities in ideology and implementation arise between the forces of radical religiosity, they are minor compared to the perceived threat of domination by Western civilization. These movements will therefore, by necessity, band together despite their differences to annihilate all representatives of Western culture's unacceptable encroachment. This is evident in the recent Palestinian support of Iraq in response to US pressure. Anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiment is coalescing Arabic unity against the forces of Western power. This paradigm places Israel in grave danger - what is more antagonistic than the establishment and perpetuation of a satellite of Western power upon the holiest of soils?
Similarly, this antagonism extends to the United States and its attempts at peace in the region. The American strategy of escalating involvement has proven ineffective in stimulating dialogue among the parties of the Oslo Agreement. Far from moderating the raging hostility of the Israeli-Arab conflict, increasing US intervention has had the effect of widening the rift between Western and Islamic cultures. While American policymakers believe heightened involvement through diplomatic missions and international pressure is necessary for a diffusion of the conflict, the forces of Islam see the same escalation as aggravating the threat of a Western eclipse of Islamic civilization.
The impact of this perception cannot be understated. While Islamic culture shuns the imposition of moderation and foreign-imposed norms upon their culture and societies, Israel does not. Israeli society, Western in values and mindset, is inherently more proximate to the American cultural perspective than to that of Islam. The outcome of this proximity is that, while Islam categorically rejects proposals of moderation and cooperation, Israel is prone to accept these same proposals. The resulting one-sided negotiations are both dangerous and futile; American pressure declaws Israel while doing nothing to curb the raging anti-Westernism of Islamic radicalism.
By neglecting to examine the direction of religious radicalism and its growing rejection of Israel and the West, the US continues to implement policies that can only serve to aggravate the antagonism of Islamic movements towards the West. Israel, as the lone outpost of Western civilization in the region, will be the first to feel the resulting Islamic wrath. Fettering Israel to the confines of the Oslo Accords through diplomatic pressure and bullying, the United States is contributing to its demise. The fact is, gains achieved through negotiations cannot succeed if they are not implemented. America must stop its blind coercion of Israel in its attempts to normalize the political dynamic of the region. A unilateral application of the dictates of Oslo will serve solely to bind Israel's defensive capability and fracture its territorial integrity. At present, the application of the Oslo agreements is wholly unilateral. The Palestinian Authority, increasingly eclipsed by the power of radical Islam, does not have the power or desire to impose an adherence to the Oslo Accords. While there is still time, the Unites States must cease its blind coercion of Israel in its efforts to resuscitate the defunct and discarded negotiations of Oslo, and turn its attention to the growing threat posed by Islamic extremism.
Ilan Berman is a graduate student of Law and International Affairs at American University in Washington, DC.