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Mideast Peace: Is Partition the Answer?

A radical proposal for shaking up the Arab world.

by
Stephanie L. Freid

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May 18, 2009 - 12:27 am
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I recently posted something on my Facebook wall about hoping the new Washington administration succeeds in its effort to kick-start Mideast peace initiatives.

I don’t know if I truly believe in any lasting regional peace — but there’s always hope.

John, a Facebook “friend,” posted back:

There will never be peace as long as Arabs and Israelis live side by side and as long as you continue to think along Western diplomatic and democratic lines.  Split everyone up and build borders. That’s what will do it.

I was put off. I messaged back: “Clearly, we sit on opposite sides of the political fence.”

John begged to differ. His claim was that he wasn’t more to the right than I was on the political spectrum, but that he believed common dialects are key to getting along. You speak Hebrew and I speak Arabic? The marriage will never last, in John’s book, if we attempt to share common quarters.

This made no sense to me.  So I rang John up to chat about his theory. Dr. Myhill is a Haifa University linguist with a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. He has has written books on language, religion, and national identity and how they tie together.

We talked.  And here’s what I understood:

John advocates solidifying pre-existing zoning — taking indigenous populations and drawing borders along language lines in order for people to get along. Take Europe as an example: post-WWII, populations were more or less stabilized when cordoned along dialect and religious lines and things have gone pretty smoothly since. This doesn’t account, however, for burgeoning Arab-world emigration to Europe in recent years.  That’s on Myhill’s theoretical “to do” list.

To me, this sounded forced ghetto-esque.

Not true, Myhill argues. Rather, dialect boundaries enclose naturally drawn lines of self-determination and religious freedom for all national groups. What’s a national group? “It’s about spoken language and … religion. ‘Arab’ isn’t a national group — it’s a super-conglomerate of many national groups.”

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