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Happy Returns

As Theodor Herzl actually prophesied, it would take half a century for the Jewish state to be created. Toward the end of that period, the people for whose very lives it was being formed lost one-third of its number to Nazism, an organic expression from the history of Western civilization. But to the Zionists belonged the credit for grasping that Europe--liberal, enlightened, increasingly bourgeois--was doomed territory for the Jews.

It cannot be denied that the return of half the Jews dispersed in the world to what is now Israel is unprecedented, and the revival of an antique prayerlanguage into a Hebrew both resonant and innovative is no less revolutionary. Add to these the realization of the essential conditions of serious democracies: civilian primacy over military power; the rule of independent legal institutions; an utterly free (and obstreperous) press; a plural society of religious, irreligious, and the utterly indifferent; an indigenous culture open to foreign cultures; the viability of moral values at odds with positivist fact; a scientific ethos at once triumphant yet skeptical of its own achievements; a technological foundation to its modern economy which still leaves space for the ethical critique of its market.

In contrast to these achievements--but not only in contrast--the surrounding world of the Arabs is a functional and philosophical calamity. There are deep riches in this orbit, but its wealth has only magnified the differences between the entitled and the crowd, perhaps more accurately put, the mob.

Though the Palestinians are not the poorest of the Arabs, their political development has shriveled. From the start, they passively exported their struggle against the Jews to covetous Arab states, themselves at odds over Palestine. They did not take up the U.N. partition plan, which allotted them a state that would now also be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. Other Arabs signed for them the cease-fire agreements ending Israel's independence war. The wars of 1967 and 1973 were fought not on behalf of the Palestinians but to secure additional territory for Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. It's hard to tell whether the Palestinians still believe in the phantom of one Arab people, in pursuit of which various Arab states teamed up and broke up as if playing a game of tag.

The powers have assigned themselves the overvalued chore of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and they believe if only they could happen upon some truly ingenuous formula an accord would be had. This is a delusion. The Palestinians are as much and as little a nation as the warring tribes and clans of Africa and Pakistan. They have to make peace among themselves before they can even conceive of peace with Israel. Israel is not responsible for its neighbors. It is responsible for itself, and of itself it can be proud.