The foreign minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, provoked a storm in a meeting with his counterparts from France and Italy yesterday, rejecting the European approach to the problems of the Middle East. In a reference to the Munich conference of 1938, he declared that “We will not be the Czechoslovakia of 2010”.
When one thinks of the fate of Czechoslovakia, one can see why not, but if Avigdor Lieberman insists on the 1938 analogy, which country does he intend to emulate, if not Czechoslovakia?
Could it be a country that had been scarred by wars and felt threatened by its neighbours, that wanted to united under its government all the territory on which people who claimed to be its citizens lived, even if that meant taking that territory from neighbouring countries, and that introduced into its laws ethnic criteria that served to discriminate against citizens from minority groups?
I am sure that is not what Mr Lieberman intends, in which case something else is going wrong.
The lesson from Europe is that pursuing the whole 1938 analogy is a mistake. That is the idea that the problem can be solved by a more careful drawing of the international borders, rather than redefining what those borders mean. The pursuit of ethnic purity within a state is doomed to failure, for the same reasons that states are not ethnically pure right now. Strict divisions between different ethnic groups do not exist, and people move around in ways that governing ideologies do not approve of and cannot control. Politics needs to adapt to the real world, rather than hoping that the facts of life can somehow be changed by majority vote.
As to Avigdor Lieberman’s expectation that the EU ought to at least solve the problems on the European continent such as Kosovo and Cyprus, that at least is shared by this blog. But the approach to take there, too, is that what matters is not sovereignty but good government. Who benefits from economic isolation and political stagnation? Better to build bridges than to dynamite them.