Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mordechai Kedar: Americans (Still) Don’t Understand the Middle East.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Americans (still) don’t understand the Middle East. This man wants to help. Mordechai Kedar interviewed by Michael Frank. Chicago Policy Review, July 28, 2015.

There is a partner. By Mordechai Kedar. Arutz Sheva 7, December 5, 2015.

Frank and Kedar:

CPR sits down with Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic and veteran of IDF intelligence, to discuss the causes of conflict in the Middle East and what might resolve them.

Mordechai Kedar is an Israeli scholar of Arabic culture and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University. He holds a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University. Kedar is an academic expert on the Israeli Arab population. He served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence, where he specialized in Islamic groups, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic press and mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena. The Los Angeles Times’ Edmund Sanders described him as “one of the few Arabic-speaking, Israeli pundits seen on Arabic satellite channels defending Israel.”

What is the biggest misperception that Western policymakers have about the Middle East?

There are two basic problems. The first is that they think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will make all the other problems easier to solve. The Sunni will cooperate with the Shia, the Arabs will cooperate with the Persians, and the tribes of Libya will sit around the fire and sing “Kumbaya” together. This theory is totally baseless. If there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, not a single struggle in the Middle East will become easier to solve because all those struggles have absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The second is that solutions that were tailored for the culture of the West cannot work in the Middle East because the culture of this region is totally different.

What are the fundamental causes of conflict in the Middle East?

When Americans think about the Middle East, they think from an American mindset: that every person in the world can find a way to live with any other person. This is what America is. America is a state, or a society, that was made by immigrants who came from all over the world. All of them share the American Dream together, they get together, they send their children to public school, and the second generation or third generation of children marry each other.

This scenario could not be farther from the reality of the Middle East. In the Middle East, people are fighting each other to death because of differences in ethnic groups, tribalism, religious issues, and sectarian issues. They are not trying to live in peace with each other. The “Other” is always the enemy and has to be exterminated because I don’t like him, he is not one of me, and we, as a group, are not going to accept anyone who is different from us. This is the mindset of the Middle East. And what you see today in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in Yemen, in Sudan, is actually the result of this mindset: The Other is my enemy, and there is no way for me to live in peace with the Other.

This is why, in the Middle East, instead of living with each other, the solution is to divide those dysfunctional states into emirates which will be homogenous. And every group should live by itself and leave the others alone.

How do you see that process playing out? Are some of these present struggles a move toward a peaceful Middle East, or are the conflicts we see now not a sign of progress in the region?

You can already see the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel. You have, first of all, two Kurdish districts, which emerged from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The Kurdish district in northern Iraq, with its capital in Irbil, is very stable and successful. It is the fastest growing economy in the Middle East. Irbil has already, for 25 years, been marching on its way to independence. The other Kurdish district, which emerged from the ruins of Syria, in the Northwest part of Syria, is a calm, stable regime, which will never return to any Syrian framework.

The Druze in the South are also talking about their independence, which they enjoyed under the Ottoman Empire. They may manage a stable, successful, and independent state once more. This is the hope: that small, homogenous states will rise up from under the ruins of these conglomerates, which never succeeded as legitimate functioning states-neither in Iraq, nor in Syria, nor in any other countries in the Middle East.

Is there a role for federalism within these states?

You have to convince the ruling elites to loosen the grip that they have on the neck of other parts of the society. This is not easy. It's like asking the administration in Washington, D.C., to give more independence to the states; not everybody will agree to this. This is the problem, but people forget that the best model for a good life in the Middle East is the emirates model. I’m talking about Kuwait, Qatar, and the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These states are stable because each one is actually a state of one single tribe that leads the country. All the other people are foreign expatriates and have no political aspirations or expectations. The society is homogenous-the ruling elite belongs to the society of the tribe. The tribal system doesn’t have elections. They don’t need elections, as they have real leadership—not politicians; they have real leaders from the tribe itself. This is the only system that works in the Middle East, and this is why I promote the establishment of eight Palestinian emirates.

How do these factors play into a potential resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What would a practical solution look like?

The idea of a Palestinian state is based on another idea that there is a Palestinian nation for the Palestinian people. A Palestinian people exist just like the Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese, or Libyan peoples, which everybody today understands do not actually exist. People in these countries are not loyal to the state; they are loyal to the traditional frameworks of the tribe, ethnic group, religion, and sect. The West invented these identities because this is how the West works. They are imagined peoples who exist only in the discourse of a very small and shallow elite that never retained the loyalties of the people in the streets.

There is no Palestinian people. There are clans, who are in the cities, who do not get married to each other, people who do not move to live in other cities because they are different in their mindset, dialect, culture. We see what can happen in such a state that will follow, no doubt, in the footsteps of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. This is why the two-state solution is a good wish but not a realistic outcome on the ground. And don’t forget that, because of the failures of [Syria and Iraq] to become nations, we have the Islamic State today. People are more loyal to their religion than they are to the state. Nobody in the world can prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank just as they did in Gaza, even by elections, which they won in January 2006, or by a violent takeover as they already did in Gaza in June 2007. Hamas could take over the Palestinian state only to be a preamble to another Islamic State, just like ISIS. We would be doomed to live with such a state. This is why the only solution that would give the Palestinians freedom and security from Israel is a Palestinian Emirates solution.

With that in mind, what role should the US play in the region in the near future, and what does an ideal long-term engagement strategy look like?

The United States, first of all, has to learn about the Middle East, about the culture of the Middle East, about tribalism—the loyalties of people to their religion and sect, before it intervenes in this region. Consider how a doctor has to learn medicine first before treating a patient. For this, you have to spend seven years in medical school, and who knows how many more years to be specialized in whatever you want to do. First of all, people have to learn and study. It takes time and effort. Nobody should come to this region to dictate solutions without first knowing what are the problems that shake the region and what are realistic solutions that are tailored to the culture of this region, which is totally different from the culture of America and Europe.

I read an article you wrote, in which you said, “Israel and the world must understand that, in the Middle East, one only achieves peace through victory.” What does victory look like for Israel?

Victory is achieved when one party successfully convinces the other party to leave me alone, because the price of messing with me is too high. This is when peace is achieved. I’m not talking about kissing and hugging and sitting around the fire and singing “Kumbaya” together. In the Middle East, peace is achieved only when one party succeeds to convince the other to leave it alone. Peace is something which only the invincible can expect.


There is an alternative to establishing another failed state in the Middle East.

Last weeks Israeli government cabinet meeting included a discussion of possible scenarios for when the Palestinian Authority collapses. This would bring the Jewish and Arab population of Judea and Samaria to where they were before the Oslo Accords were signed, and leave Israel responsible for finding a way to deal with the Arab population of the region. This is, of course, taking into account that Gaza now has a stable and legitimate government, a Hamas government, a fact Israel is willing to live with indefinitely.

The important question is what Israel will do with Judea and Samaria, when the world demands a two state solution. Does Israel have a partner to deal with?

The first time Israel agreed to establish an official Palestinian Arab body was at the Camp David Accords, the agreement reached between Israel and Egypt in 1978. In these agreements, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to establish an autonomous authority for the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza with “a strong police force.” This agreement was rejected by the PLO which saw it as “granting Arab legitimacy to the Zionist entity and Egyptian abrogation of the right to independent decision making by the Palestinian people.”

The PLO did not agree to autonomy and demanded a Palestinian state on the ruins of the state of Israel. It saw no way to recognize Israel as a legitimate state, even if it took up just one square millimeter of “Palestine.” The Camp David Accords led to peace between Egypt and Israel, but to no breakthrough on the Palestinian issue. Since the 1980s, Israel has been searching for a recognized, accepted Palestinian body that will take the responsibility for enforcing law and order in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In the early 1980s, Ariel Sharon gathered a few people on the margins of Arab society, gave them Uzis and authority, named them “The Association of Villages” and hoped they would enforce law and order in their surroundings. The experiment failed, in large part because Sharon did not depend on the heads of local clans, the large extended families called hamoulot who form the traditional leadership in Judea and Samaria’s cities, but whom he felt wielded too much power. People who knew the situation well warned him not to give weapons to these marginal people, but Sharon, who did not make a habit of taking advice, did not listen to them.

Another attempt to seek out Palestinian Arab leadership was towards the end of the first Intifada, the uprising started in late 1987 and brought Hamas onto center stage, to be followed soon after by Islamic Jihad. In 1992, then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin tried to deal with the terror sown by these organizations by exiling their leaders to southern Lebanon. However, Israel's Supreme Court forced him to allow them to return, and this failure pushed the government to search for another organization that would accept the responsibility for dealing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad “without the [interference of Israeli] courts and the Betselem [human rights]’ organization,” to quote the late prime minister.

Several months earlier, as a result of the October 1991 Madrid Conference, secret contacts were initiated between several Israelis and PLO representatives in Oslo, Norway. Those contacts led to the signing of the Oslo Agreements on the White House lawn in September 1993. The agreements were based on the illusion that the PLO had put down its arms, turned into a peace movement, given up its plans to eliminate Israel, would change the PLO Covenant, recognize Israel and accept the responsibility of creating something that is less than a state on the territory Israel would hand over to PLO control. Everyone knows how that story ended, but the signs were there from the beginning. It is simply a case of there are “none so blind as those who will not see.”

The Oslo Agreements created the Palestinian Authority, an entity which quickly abrogated its first mission, that of fighting terror. Instead, it continued its anti-Israel incitement in the media, the public sphere and the educational system (whose budget was made up of overseas donations). Since then, the PLO continues the battle against Israel on the international stage and pushes for BDS.

The establishment of the Palestinian Authority allowed terrorists wielding kalashnikov rifles to take over its Legislative Council  in the January 2006 elections and go on to take over  Gaza in June 2007. All the polls taken so far point to a clear victory for Hamas in the next Palestinian Authority elections – if there ever are any – and that includes capturing the position of chairman, so that the act of exercising democracy will turn Judea and Samaria into a terrorist state.

This leads to the generally accepted remark that “there is no Palestinian partner,” since it has become clear to all that the PLO has no desire for a peaceful state alongside Israel. In fact, it hopes to establish a terror state on Israel’s ruins and the last twenty years have sufficed to convince most Israelis of the futility of trying to change that. Much of the left has realized that the Oslo Accords were a fatal mistake, but has not come up with an alternative to the two-state solution, continuing to see the Palestinian Arabs as a “nation” with the right to self-rule.

The real truth about the Arab world has become obvious over the last few years. The modern Arab state is a dismal failure that did not succeed in convincing its own citizens that it is a better choice than clinging to traditional tribal loyalties and ethnic groups (Arabs, Kurds, etc.), religious groups (Muslim, Christian, Alawite, Druze, etc.) and warring groups within the same religion (Shiite, Sunni, etc.). The nationalism offered by the modern state has failed to create a Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, or Sudanese basis for a national consciousness and the proof of that is playing out in front of our eyes as we witness the terrible civil wars that show where the real loyalties of each population sector lie.

There is no “Palestinian nation” either. The Arab residents of the land of Israel west of the Jordan are really made up of tribes and clans with accepted tribal leadership and binding social traditions. They live in demarcated areas and enjoy active lives in their communities. The PA, a creation of the PLO, just like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Sudan, has failed to find its way into Palestinian Arab hearts. The only thing united them all is hatred of Israel, so that if a state does get established in PA territory, it will, in all probability, turn into another Gaza at best or into another Libya and Syria in the worst case scenario.

Israel and the rest of the world must not support the establishment of another failed Arab state based on the illusory concept of a non-existent people which will soon bring untold suffering on its citizens and their neighbors.

What is that elusive alternative people keep on looking for? The alternative solution exists. In the Middle East the right thing to do is to establish states on the basis of tribal loyalties. That is the basis of the Gulf States: Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharqa, and Umm al-Quwain. These are tranquil, stable emirates, each with a majority of citizens who are members of a single tribe.

A homogenous society creates stability, a legitimate legal framework and a legitimate government. The citizens of an emirate do not fight each other because they belong to the same tribe, and can turn their oil into prosperity. Saudi Arabia and Oman are also countries that have tribal cultures that keep them stable. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Sudan are oil producing, but life in those countries is short and bitter because of the endless fighting between rival groups. These are fragile and illegitimate countries created by British, French and Italian colonialist powers, all based on the Western model of a nation.

This is also the way we must address the Palestinian Arab problem, and instead of creating another failed Western-model state that has no chance of succeeding in the Middle East, create seven emirates in the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria, based on the powerful extended families in each of those cities. Hevron can be the emirate of the Jabri, Abu Sneineh, Qawasmi, Natsheh and Tamimi tribes, Jericho of the Erekat tribe, Ramallah of the Barghouti tribe, Nablus of the al Masri, Tukan and Shakah tribes and so on in Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Jenin.

Anyone who has not yet noticed, is asked to look at Gaza where since June 2007 (eight years!) there is a functioning state.

In addition, Israel has to remain in control in the villages and surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria in order to prevent the formation of a terrorist contiguity uniting the discrete city-emirates, but.Israel can then offer citizenship to the residents of these villages who make up only about 10% of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. The other 90% can stay in their independently run city-states.

These are the broad parameters of a program based on the “partner” to be found in each city-emirate, the natural, traditional leadership of the large clans in each city. Israel must negotiate with each emirate and reach an agreement with each one on the issues of electricity, water, waste, roads, industry, agriculture, traffic, security, the use of ports and airspace, and the boundary lines of each. If the emirates wish to form a federation, so be it. That doesn’t pose a problem as long as their territories are not allowed to be contiguous.

The PLO, the organization that runs the Palestinian Authority, never agreed to the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, and is therefore not a partner for peace. Israel, however, has a partner in each Judea and Samaria city. Israel must bring about  the collapse of the PLO and PA, the two entities preventing a lasting peace agreement with the residents of Judea and Samaria, who will then be able to establish thriving emirates on the lines of Dubai, if not even better.

The PLO, Hamas and Islamic Jihad want only wars, death and destruction, while peace between Israel and the Emirates will lead to growth and prosperity.