Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I Am a Member of Peace When. By Richard Landes.

Why I am a member of Peace When. By Richard Landes. The Augean Stables, February 2, 2016.


Two State Solution, yes, just not now; or, Why I am a member of Peace When.

Almost everyone in the positive-sum world of “getting to win-win” agrees that the most equitable resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, is a two-state solution. Land for peace, reciprocal compromise, give a little, get a lot. This positive-sum thinking lies at the heart of what makes modern democracy possible, and has enabled the Europeans to replace millennia of wars between tribes and nations (in medieval times, an annual activity) with a cooperative and productive Union. To progressives, it’s so obvious that, as one BBC analyst put it: you could work it out with an email.

And yet, the conflict has proven amazingly enduring, and resistant to the best intentioned efforts of Western outsiders for the last twenty years. Indeed, not only did it ruin the final year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, but it made fools of both of Obama’s Secretaries of State, who confidently predicted that they would resolve this in less than a year(!). Like a Sisyphus with Alzheimers, doomed to repeat the same motions without registering the repetition, Western “conflict resolution” experts repeatedly attempt to implement the same “positive-sum” solutions, with predictably the same results: not just no success, but actual failure. The situation is worse after than before.

What escapes many who, like me, accept the idea of a two state solution, is the unmentioned now that accompanies all current efforts. This notion that this solution can and should be implemented right away, has good reasons behind it. In addition to its concern for a putting an end to the suffering caused by the conflict as soon as possible, the haste acknowledges the demographic problems in the next generation: can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?

Both are good reasons to want to move quickly, but not good reasons to ignore the obstacles in the way. The reality on the ground, the combination of “strong horse” political culture, and tribal, apocalyptic Jihadi religious culture, makes it impossible to close one’s eyes and hope that both sides are ready for it, and it’s just a matter of finding the right formula of compromise to hit the jackpot.

The majority of voices in the public sphere blame the lack of progress on the Israelis. This is a main theme of European diplomacy and post-colonial scholarship since the mid-1970s, Western mainstream news media (BBC and NYT leading the charge) especially since 2000, and has now moved into policy circles even in the US. This tendency makes sense only in that the Israelis, being at once more flexible and more self-critical, are easier to blame, even when it’s not their fault. How much the easier to take this path when, on the one hand, the Palestinians greet criticism with great hostility, and on the other hand, one finds strong support from self-critical Israelis and Jews.

These “Jews against themselves” provide the arguments for politicians and pundits, not particularly eager to criticize the Palestinians or actually make demands on them, to redouble the load on the Israelis. After all, there are few Palestinians clamoring for criticism and harsh denunciations of their people the way there are Jews and Israelis whod so. On the contrary, there are no Palestinian mainstream journalists, no policy-makers, no politicians ready to take any responsibility for any error, fault, or misstep on their side. It is an object of faith among them, which, increasingly, many in the West share: Israel is to blame; the Palestinians are innocent victims.

And yet, if we look at what Palestinian leaders say in Arabic to their people, we find an entire culture of intransigence, irredentism, and incitement. Here is a zero-sum culture, not only in its attitude towards its neighbor Israel – From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free – but towards its own people. Like the elite in every other Arab country, the Palestinian leadership, whether religious (Hamas) or “secular” (PLO), lives in luxury while its people live in misery.

If one takes Dennis Ross’ mordant reflections on why Oslo failed as a guide, the PA continues to replicate Arafat’s “one greatest failing”: not preparing their people for peace. On the contrary, it continuously and systematically brainwashes them with war propaganda. Indeed, the very insistence that Israel is entirely to blame is part of that war propaganda. It identifies the problem: they are not looking for compromise, which involves recognizing at least some of the other side’s complaints, they are looking for the zero-sum solution. Israel is to blame and must pay, so that Palestinians win big and Israel loses big.

The most moderate position one finds in the Arabic discourse of the Palestinians, is the notion not of a two-state solution (which only appears in Western op-ed pages), but the two stage solution, namely take what the Israelis offer and use it as a staging area for further attacks, until Israel is destroyed. And even that appears to be too great a compromise with Arab honor, because even when offered large tracts of land, including Jerusalem, the “moderates” consistently say no.

Despite the reluctance of the media to cover it at the time, we now know that in 2007, Abbas turned down Olmert’s offer, the most generous so far. Today, even Gershon Baskin, one of the most determined and dedicated advocates of peace now, someone who has in the past always insisted that the Palestinian leadership has and is willing to make the necessary compromises for peace, has given up on the current (“moderate”) Palestinian leadership .

Europeans have systematically avoided paying attention to this “internal” Palestinian discourse. Either desperate to believe that peace is possible now, or eager to blame Israel for Palestinian intransigence, they prefer the version of events in which Israel is the obstacle to peace, and continue to believe that pushing Israel to make further concessions is the fastest way to get there. Today, France makes the ludicrously self-fulfilling threat that if peace negotiations fail, they will recognize a Palestinian State: who could ask for better motivation for the Palestinians to have the talks fail?

Were they correct in their assessment – Palestinians are ready for compromise, Israelis not – then pressuring Israel might work. Of course it hasn’t, doesn’t, and won’t, because the assessment is based on an inversion of the actual situation here. Instead of moving towards the positive-sum goal that benefits “both sides”, it just pushes Israel towards greater vulnerability, and the Palestinians towards greater intransigence.

The latest threat by French Foreign Minister Fabius that if the next round of talks fail, France will unilaterally recognize Palestine illustrates the folly perfectly: It tells the Palestinians that if they remain intransigent they’ll win, and threatens the Israelis with sanctions for refusing to commit suicide. And the French side boosts Palestinian Jihadis even as they know not what to do with their own. The more Palestinians resist making compromises, the more support they get, the more outsiders adopt their belligerent narrative: Eliminate Israel for World Peace.

Trafalgar Square, London, August 21, 2011.

Nor is this a simple matter of Palestinian political will (what the West thought Arafat had during Oslo), but rather a cultural problem about which most of us do not want to think. Some political scientists speculate that Palestinians are one of the more likely Arab nations to become a democracy (often explained by their proximity to Israeli democracy). But from both the behavior of the elites (Strong Horse politics) and the patriarchal males (shame-murders), suggests the Palestinians are far from the kind of institutional and social commitments necessary for launching and sustaining that experiment in freedom.

The existence of these cultural blocks to peace on the Palestinian side, places liberal Jews and Israelis, committed to the compromises they feel are worth making to achieve a two-state solution (including dividing Jerusalem), in great difficulty. On the one hand, bringing up these issues explicitly will predictably elicit offense among Palestinians and their supporters (like Saïd). On the other hand, by pressing Israel to push forward with a two-state solution now, they actually, if unintentionally, weaken Israel and strengthen the enemies of peace, especially among the Palestinians. Every failure of peace now, based on positive-sum resolutions, weakens the positive-sum players and strengthens the zero-sum players on both sides. In this dynamic, that means reinforcing political players among Palestinians whose attitudes towards Israel share a great deal with those of apocalyptic Jihadis.

This dilemma becomes more toxic when a sense of urgency leads well-meaning Jews to grow impatient with Israeli reluctance to make moves that its electorate, up close with incitement-fueled, Palestinian violence, considers suicidal. It’s so much easier for liberals to denounce Netanuyahu as a right-winger, intransigent and unyielding, and praise Abbas as a moderate, ready to make peace. But if it turns out it’s the opposite (which it is), then every move the peace camp pushes for leads to war; and the harder they push, the worse the war they unwittingly prepare.

On the other hand, if the problem is Palestinian resistance, and the radical unreadiness of Palestinian political culture for peace with Israel, then a rather different set of policies are likely to improve the prospects for the eventual, but not imminent, two-state solution. Here, instead of the (easy but unproductive) pressure on Israelis for more concessions, we find the (difficult but much more productive) pressure on Palestinians to do what Dennis Ross faulted Arafat for not doing, “prepare their people for peace.”

The attitude of Palestinian power holders towards Israel currently reveals the gamut of Palestinian intolerance: no Jews living in a Palestinian state, no Jews among any foreign force stationed in Palestine. Not even Palestinian refugees from camps around the Arab world in the Palestinian state (they have to go to Israel). This of course is what one calls ethnic cleansing, and is the kind of thing that belligerent, authoritarian regimes do as a matter of course.

It’s what the Ottomans did in the 1910s and 20s, to both the Armenians and the Greeks, whom they massacred and expelled. There is no perceptible difference between Ottoman political and religious culture, and the kind operating among Palestinian elites (“secular” and religious). Indeed, today’s Palestinians are a definite regression from Ataturk’s magnanimity towards the Greeks.

And yet the very same people who rejoice in accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing (despite her 20% Arab population who enjoy freedoms and privileges they have nowhere else in the Middle East), seem to have no objection (or knowledge of) this Palestinian, openly intended, ethnic cleansing, often accompanied by the kind of genocidal incitement that, under the right circumstances, can produce the terrible deed. A sober observer (i.e., one not besotted by Saïd, or worried about offending Muslim honor), would note plainly: Palestinians have yet to undergo the kind of moral revolution in their “honor group” that permits greater tolerance of the “other,” and thus lays the grounds for both democracy and peaceful relations with “others.” And until they have, any concessions made to them constitute a recipe for war.

Peace When.

The two-state solution is indeed the most equitable resolution to this tragic fight between two peoples who could well be productive friends. But in order to reach that kind of justice, it will take some time before Palestinian culture has developed the ability to move from the zero-sum world of dispute settlement through violence (upon which, despite always losing so far, Palestinian leaders insist) to dispute settlement through a discourse of fairness that includes reciprocity. Until then, pushing Israel to make concessions to players who reject reciprocity and view concessions as signs of weakness, merely plays to the hand of war.

All of the following suggestions are demands that are perfectly reasonable if the Palestinians are planning to make peace with Israel; they’re unacceptable if the Palestinians are planning to destroy Israel. Seems like the least that well-intentioned outsiders, who say they believe in a two-state solution now, could ask from the Palestinian leadership:
·         Show of good faith about compromising on the refugees by beginning to move refugees out of camps and into decent, permanent housing.
·         Show of respect for women, by seriously tackling the problem of honor-killings, including cases where father or brother raped the victim.
·         Stop persecuting Palestinians who get along with Israelis for being spies and traitors.

These items are chosen because they attack the cultural issues making peace so hard. Obviously any effort for peace would also include asking that the Palestinian officials stop broadcasting the ugliest kind of war propaganda: incitement to genocide, irredentist claims and promises, glorification of people who kill innocent civilians. But that’s almost too obvious to mention… or is it?