The Middle East Peace Industry
Published on: May 11, 2010
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  • nadine

    “And there are the crazies: the psychotic extremists found in both communities, addicted to a poisonous stew of rage, chauvinism and fear. Both Palestinians and Israelis (like Yitzak Rabin) have been assassinated by their own crazies; the crazies on both sides also specialize in spectacular acts of aggression and murder calculated to stop the peace process dead in its tracks.”

    Beware the easy seduction of the false equivalence. This makes it sound like both sides are the same, as if both sides kill their moderates.

    But if you look at the whole political histories of the Jews and Arabs in Palestine since the days of the yishuv: you find that Rabin was the only Jewish leader killed by a Jewish extremist, and the whole country was shocked. Can you name other examples, even of lesser men, ministers, mayors, killed by fellow Jews? I can’t think of any, even though half the country bitterly opposed Oslo.

    But on the Palestinian side it’s completely different. Look at the career of the Mufti, and of Arafat – how many times did these men consolidate their power through assassination? How many moderate Palestinians were charged with “collaberation” or “selling land to Jews” (both capital crimes in the PA) and killed? And now, do you think moderates dare to speak up in Gaza?

    The crazies rule in Gaza. And Fatah, with their central committee full of hardliners like Abu Ghaneim, is not far behind them. The crazies do not rule in Jerusalem.

    No, the two sides are not at all the same. You do a great injustice to Israel to imply they are.

    ” They have come tantalizingly close but they have never quite inked the deal; I suspect that is where things will remain.”

    No, they didn’t come close. Israel has offered three deals which the Palestinians have refused but never countered.

    That’s what is basically abnormal about Mideast negotiations: in most negotiations, the sides start far apart and move closer together. But in the Mideast “peace process” the Palestinians response to offers is to move further away, make new demands.

    That’s because they don’t want to actually make an agreement; they just want to deal, and deal, and deal some more, thinking they will get offered more and more each time. Obama has only confirmed them in the idea that they only need to wait to get everything for nothing.

    Abu Mazen has already demanded that Obama step in and “impose” a deal — what does that say about his confidence that no conditions whatsoever will be imposed on the Palestinian side? Abu Mazen’s only concern at these “talks” is to get Israel blamed for their inevitable failure so that he can demand again that Obama impose a solution on the Israelis.

  • Luke Lea

    “Jordan was carved out of Palestine earlier in the century; technically, what people now call the ‘two state solution’ should be called the ‘three state solution’: there would be one Jewish and two Arab states in the territory Britain took from the Ottomans in World War One.”

    Keep in mind that when Britain took Palestine from the Ottomans it wasn’t just something that happened but part of a coordinated attempt by the allies to win WWI, which included the Balfour Declaration itself. For the motives and diplomatic consultations that preceeded these events see “The Question of Palestine: 1914-1918” by Friedman.

    On the question of water, there is a saying out West that water runs down hill except where there is money; water runs uphill towards money. The same might be said of the problems of supplying water to Jericho and other parts of the region. Indeed, with enough money there is really no limit to the number of people who could be settled in all three parts of the original Palestine. Maybe the Jordanians could be bribed to join in to the peace talks?

  • Very nice summary of an intractable problem. Sometimes conflicts can’t be solved; they can only be managed.

  • As for the post, I’ll only say it’s despicable that you call two Intifadas, Hamas’ rockets, Gilad Shalit, the Occupied Territories, the blockade of Gaza, the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, the dozens of Palestinian political assassinations, and the numerous outright wars, a “distracting and annoying headache” for the US. And btw, our entire military leadership, civilian and military, have called the issue a huge problem that endangers our soldiers.


    I don’t know how many intra-Palestinian assassinations there have been or how many “moderate Palestinians were charged with “collaberation” [sic] or “selling land to Jews” (both capital crimes in the PA) and killed?” Can you provide some more information?

    But there have been dozens of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian politicians. How many politicians have the Palestinians assassinated?

  • Roy

    The water issue is vexing, but I thought countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia had in fact invested a lot in technologically advanced desalination plants.

    On a strangely positive note, I just finished Paul Berman’s new book, Flight of the Intellectuals, and though he is summarizing the work of other historians, he presents a fascinating summary of the history of the Nazi legacy in Palestine. It is astonishing. The Mufti of Jerusalem worked closely with Hitler and Himmler to craft a program of public diplomacy that tweaked the Nazi ideology about the treacherousness of Jews to be consonant with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, better known in Gaza as Hamas. (They had to soft-pedal the parts about semitic inferiority.) They proceeded to saturate the region, via newspaper and radio broadcast, which had a multiplier effect in coffee houses, with classic European antisemitism, which ended up taking root.

    Islamic scholars are correct; the racism is not found within Islam; it was an import brought wholesale into the region by the Mufti working hand in hand with Nazi ideologues and propagandists. Local OSS agents and American diplomats transcribed the broadcasts, which have only now been rediscovered. The upshot, in Berman’s view, is that the ideology of National Socialism was never really discredited in the Middle East, the way that it was in Europe. As a result it continues to flourish, perpetuated in the Hamas charter and their message.

    Identifying and recognizing the enormous fallout from this could plausibly light the way to a better understanding between Israelis and their Arab neighbors.

  • PetraMB

    When it comes to the water issues, there is no shortage of ideas on how to deal with it — I’ve described the most ambitious, and indeed attractive one, here:

    Similarly, re. Gaza, there are intriguing ideas about focusing the land swaps Israel would have to offer in order to keep the settlement blocs on Gaza — which could increase the territory by about one third. In terms of the often invoked “viability” of a Palestinian state, this would make sense, since Gaza has considerable economic potential and would be a Palestinian state’s outlet to the sea.

    However, I largely agree with nadine’s comments upthread: from the conduct of the Palestinians and their reactions to the various proposals, it is very doubtful that they are serious about ever agreeing to a state. The Israeli Peace Now movement collapsed for good reason after Camp David/Taba, and during the orgy of violence that the Palestinians proudly call the “Al Aqsa intifada”.

    One of the main problems is, of course, that the Palestinians have insisted for more than 6 decades on their supposed “right of return” — and since Palestinians have the unique status of an “inheritable” refugee designation, that is meant to mean that millions of Palestinians could claim a “right” to “return” to Israel — and thereby turn it into another Arab state.

    That brings me to Prof. Mead’s remarks re. the appeal of Erekat: he is of course the consumate peace processor, but I’d recommend listening to some of his appearance on Arabic TV (possible e.g. through Memri translations). It’s always fascinating to compare what people like Erekat say in English, and what they say in Arabic.

    One other point that is noteworthy is that Israeli and Palestinian public opinion is among the most surveyed, and it is pretty clear that there has never been a popular majority on the Palestinian side that would have supported any realistic 2 state solution.

    But in any case, I firmly believe that Israel has to find a way to extricate itself from the huge burden of ruling over the West Bank.

  • Luke Lea

    To my comment above let me append this sentence: Think big.

  • Luke Lea

    And how big is big?

    Well, if I were a Palestinian I would not settle for anything less than a Western standard of living in my future Palestinian state, including guaranteed civil rights for all citizens, free public education, old age assistance, universal health care, and artificial wage subsidies until such time as such subsidies are no longer necessary (to establish parity with Israel).

    Of course such a thing could not be achieved over night. It would take an ongoing commitment of aid and investment stretching over a couple of generations at least.

    And if I were a Jew I would demand that the continuation of such a commitment be made conditional upon the Palestinians honoring the terms of any final agreement with Israel.

  • Peter Burman

    You cannot honestly claim that the Israelis who oppose peace are anywhere near as violent or murderous or numerous as the Palestinians. There is no comparison. Claiming there is some moral equivalence is harmful to the Palestinians, because it excuses them of responsibility for their actions and unfair to the Jews. Please be more precise in your writing.

  • steve

    Norwegian scooter, the operative phrase in your statement is “I don’t know.”
    Much of the conflict is a result of a massive campaign of assassinations and intimidation conducted by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, in the 1920s through the 1940s. He murdered any Palestinian leader who was willing to find an accomodation with the Jews. His campaign did not stop the Jewish state from coming into being, but it did stop the Palestinians from agreeing to have their own state alongside Israel.

  • “…outsiders want peace more than participants…” says it all.

    But I must digress. There is a truly distrubing “piece” of rubbish by something called a Robert Wright in today’s NYT that finds simple answers from psychology 101 for terrorist behaviors (after having damned “simple answers” by more knowledgeable others such as Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Goldberg). In dreaming up what must be for him less troubling motivations for the recent NYC attempted bombing, Wright paints a trace-the-dots picture of an alienated immigrant lost in a strange land (but also a tolerant and inclusive land–should one want inclusiveness, doubtful in the case of many if not most Muslim immigrants–all of which he conveniently fails to mention) and critiques the “jihadi intent” ascribed to others like Pipes.

    As if any of us who migrated somewhere and felt alienated would naturally think of mass murdering as many innocents as possible in the most brutal fashion possible all for a clearly defined cause, Jihad, as a solution to the personal problem of cultural isolation. Uh-huh! Sorry Fellow Traveler Wright, speaking personally, I’m pretty sure that’s not in my DNA nor that of anyone I’ve ever known. Speak for yourself.

    This is the most dangerous level of moral- equivalency imaginable, nearly approaching a hallucinatory state of disordered thinking, and yet sadly not unusual from the unhinged left as sponsored by the NYT. In that regard, I can’t say how refreshing it is to read an informed and moderate liberal like Mr. Mead who not only writes well and clearly but looks at these thorny issues with eyes wide open.

    I would question the last comment about how Israelis and Palestinians “can’t afford to blow off” these concerns from others who don’t live there. Reading that I could only wonder if these “concerns’ of complete outsiders aren’t themselves largely responsible to the continuing ratcheting up of the problem. Maybe we should back off.

    BTW, all good and thoughtful letters above as they usually are here.

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  • Paul Freedman

    On the other hand peace really is in the best interests of the Palestinians and the Israelis. Shadowing each other’s movements with all this tactical intensity (and weaponry) is one big colossal time sink. As is the now multi-layered zero sum stand off war of attrition that keeps everybody in a Mexican standoff. And if Hamas joins Hezbollah with Iran in making it a multi-layered zero sum nuclear Mexican standoff so much the worse. A little less “they started it” and God in the Head imperatives might be helpful in clearing out some of the mental baggage we all bring to this now monotonously never ending breast-beating exercise in mutual self-righteousness and victimhood.

  • Marc Salzberger

    This reasonable and accurate overview by a fair and thoughtful author suffers from one critical omission. It does not touch the biggest of all the obstacles to peace.

    The most powerful and central factor in the Middle East is Islam and for the Muslim world the Koran is the truth and whatever confutes or denies the Koran is sinful and an abomination.

    A sovereign Jewish state, the equal of its Muslim neighbors, at the center of the Arab world, is a direct contradiction of the Koran, and its truth. It is a living insult and refutation of Islam. Already in Mohammed’s lifetime the Jews of Arabia were defeated and reduced, by the Prophet, for eternity, to a subordinate condition. The dhimmis were a protected people, spared the fate of other non-believers, but confined to a special niche in Islam where they were subjected to humiliation and second class citizenship. For these despised Jews to now throw off the verdict of the Koran and repudiate their station and seize a land which Islam has since 640 considered its own, and aspire to equality with Muslim is a blatant contradiction of Mohammed’s words and a direct challenge to the truth of the faith.

    This is at the root of the conflict, not any injustice to the Palestinian Arabs, not land theft, or cultural nonconformity, or military defeat. None of that is unforgivable or unacceptable to the Arab world. It has inflicted and suffered worse. What is unforgivable however, and unacceptable on any terms, is having the Koran and the most fundamental of Muslim teachings confuted and defied in Islam’s very heartland. This is the source of the infection, of the enmity, of the hate and unacceptability of theJewish state.

  • Arthur Melmed

    Concerning water to the Jericho area, it is possible to imagine a conduit running from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, which is of course much lower. Water running downhill can be used to produce some amount of power, which could be applied to a desalinization facility at the Dead Sea. Some computation is required.

  • K2K

    “The Americans want peace so this whole distracting and annoying headache will just stop.”

    I disagree. A solid majority of Americans have zero issue with a frozen conflict between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and the Palestinians of the West Bank. Ok, that solid majority includes those Americans who do not even think about this.

    The noisy minority of the left who only see Israel as “occupier” and worse, unfortunately includes President Obama, and a few key advisors, who also seem to want an American military presence inside Pakistan’s FATA, a schizophrenic idea for the same group who want no combat troops in Iraq. Why not just occupy Yemen, and push the conflict there, and leave Israel and the Palestinians to do what they were doing before President Obama decided apartments in North Jerusalem were an international crisis?

    I have now read Chuck Hagel’s October 2009 speech to J Street, and Jim Jones and Hillary Clinton’s speeches in April. This belief that only peace between Israel and Lebanon, and between Israel and Syria, and between Israel and the Palestinians will somehow undermine Iran, and placate the Pakistan Taliban who will then placate the Afghan Taliban, is inside-out foreign policy.

    Islamists who still believe in Salafist jihad and/or Shi’a millenialism would have to invent a new enemy if there were no Jews or Israel.
    Actually, the new enemy IS the United States, the Crusaders occupying Muslim land, playing whack-a-mole with missile strikes.

  • Salomon Benzimra

    A suggestion for seeing a clearer picture in this endless “peace industry”: look into the fundamental legal rights of Israel to the land, as they have been recognized under international law at the San Remo Conference in April 24-25, 1920, an event that was properly commemorated last month in Sanremo, Italy.

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  • Steve, I have no embarrassment of asking questions, thank you for your response. However, “Much of the conflict is a result of a massive campaign of assassinations and intimidation conducted by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, in the 1920s through the 1940s” and “it did stop the Palestinians from agreeing to have their own state alongside Israel” are unsupportable.

    I’ve often seen reference to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, in forums such as these from Israel defenders. I don’t think he deserves much standing in the diagnosis of either the current or even the historical reasons of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And while a campaign of purging political-tribal enemies certainly existed, it was a small digression in the larger story of the conflict.

    The second phrase I quoted is ridiculous, where did that come from?

    The truth behind the collaboration issue is covered in great detail in Hillel Cohen’s book, Army of Shadows.

    I found two Israeli historians who both highly praised this book in 2008. Neve Gordon’s excellent essay on several books including Army of Shadows and Benny Morris’ review. Reading these two articles will vastly improve anyone’s knowledge of the complex relationships between Israelis and Arabs before 1967. (btw, the second section of Morris’ piece, which is strangely formatted in bold and centered, doesn’t match the historian’s viewpoint of the first section. It is really a polemic tying Islamism to the early period of Palestinian anti-Zionism.)

  • Max Blumenthal has a current example of how Israel recruits collaborators:

    “Palestinian medical students were recently refused entry to Jerusalem after they rejected a Shin Bet officer’s demand that they spy on fellow students at Al-Quds University. They were thus prevented from continuing their medical training. As usual, the Shin Bet offered “security reasons” as its explanation for denying the students their education.”

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