March 7, 2011

Post-Soviet aliyah a game-changer in Israel-Palestinian peace

Israel gained considerably from the past 20 years of post-Soviet Russian immigration, economically and demographically. It has weathered the bursting of the hi-tech bubble, and its population has increased by one million non-Palestinians, which becomes especially important if a viable peace is to be pushed further off the horizon.

Most of these Russians came in long after the Zionist dichotomy of 1967 and 1973; after Begin and Sadat signed the Camp David Treaty; after the sobering 1982-84 Lebanon War; after the Intifadah and the Oslo Accords. They did bring with them tremendous hatred for Arabs and Muslims, along with a Soviet-enforced Russian definition of Islam as a separatist ideology rather than a multi-faceted religion.

Two generations of balanced and counter-balanced Israeli politics, including the shift in Sephardic voting that brought Menachem Begin's Likud to power in the late-1970s, were rapidly overturned when so many hard-wired right-wingers flooded Israel within a few short years. The subsequent downturn in progress toward peace has helped to push other Israelis closer to the Russian attitude, along with some justified pessimism. All this gives the average Israeli less opportunity and less appetite for active peacemaking with the Palestinians, who have also exhausted their own reserve of peace.

In the 1970s, the USSR made clear to the Arab states that Soviet Jews were a lever. If the Arabs complied with Moscow's directives, the Jews would remain behind the Iron Curtain; if the Arabs strayed, the flood gates would open and they would face ever greater numbers of new Israelis. Ironically, the post-Soviet aliyah may indeed turn out to be the Palestinians' worst nightmare and a godsend to rejectionists within Israeli politics and across the Arab world.

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