The Israeli-Palestinian Mess: Some Historical Context

I just finished up an anthropology course on the Middle East as a culture area, and for reasons beyond my explanatory power, I got to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a bit more in depth. A brief narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows.

The historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can best be understood by breaking it up into three separate but interrelated segments: the collapse of cosmopolitan empires, the emergence of nation-states, and seismic shifts in demography that accompanied collapse and rebirth.

The post-World War I era can be defined largely in terms of the collapse of the cosmopolitan Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The spectacular collapse of these centuries-old empires has been attributed to the policies of democrats in western Europe and the President of the United States at the time, Woodrow Wilson, by a number of historians. The underlying idea being promoted by Western elites for central and eastern Europe was that of national self-determination, a belief that each ethnic and linguistic group should have the right to govern itself within a free and democratic state. The movement was intended to break the back of “despotism” in eastern and central Europe (as well as the Near East), but the policies unleashed instead a hotheaded nationalism amidst pockets of power vacuums prevalent throughout the now-dead empires. Continue reading