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Monday, March 03, 2003
Is Israel a Third World Country?

A popular subject of debate is whether democracy is possible in the Middle East. Israel is often cited in support of the thesis that it is possible. However, many would suggest that Israel is not ‘representative’ of the Third World experience; it would be enlightening to explore the competing theories of one, whether Israel is first world or third world country, and two, whether the Israeli model is applicable to other Middle Eastern nations. I would definitely be interested to hear the opinions of other blogs.

The evidence for granting Israel first-world status refer to in general to three unusual features of the Israeli experience: the Arab-Israeli conflict, its democratic institutions and vibrant private sector. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, both radical and moderate Arab historians suggest that Israel is at best an alien society and at worst, a Western /American imperial imposition. Moreover, Israeli historians always have maintained that Israel’s true peers exist in the West: civilized, stable and economically successful nations. Lastly, Israel has a vibrant private sector despite the large centralization of its governing bodies. Of the other Middle Eastern nations, Iran and Turkey are developing private sector services and groups; the notions of civic life are still somewhat foreign there due to the institutional power of the anti-progressive forces: in Iran, the political religious powers and in Turkey, the military.

However, an equally compelling case can be made the Israel should be classified in the ‘Third World’ category despite these advancements over their peers. Israel is a post-colonial state: its territory was in the last century ruled over by the decaying fragments of the Ottoman and British empires. Israel is also a highly militarized due to border conflicts, extra-territorial aggression and counter-insurgency movements. Its civic society, though vibrant and present, is still highly fragmented along ethnic, tribal and religious lines. Its economic system, an improvement over the original Zionist socialism, is still not completely liberalized: great and expansive governmental controls still exist over the economy and depress many of Israel’s profits. The role of judiciary is unclear and the governments post-Menachem Begin have been highly unstable. Elections are not truly democratic; a small party elite determines the lists and policies regardless of public opinion. (Though granted, the extensive primaries are starting to change this.)

My question is this: where does Israel fit and is the Israeli model applicable to other Middle Eastern nations as a path to democratization?