Recent Obama Administration policy served to push a hypothetical Middle East peace process even further down the line. The underlying intent of pressuring Israelis and excusing the other side of the equation has removed the U.S. from any hope of honest broker status as they have essentially positioned themselves as part time Palestinian surrogates with the Israelis clearly reading the handwriting on the wall.
The Middle East is a confusing place to the western mind. Our sense of logic and proportion leaves us, typically, scratching our collective heads. Experts don’t agree; diametrically opposed positions are a constant, five decades of a “peace process” to no avail. The peace process has been engaged from the left, right, liberal and conservative; all doomed to failure. Can there be a viable peace process in the Middle East anytime in the foreseeable future?
Peace is not just an Arab/Israeli issue. Peace has rarely been the case in the region for any extended period of time. Internecine violence between tribes and religious sects, consistent Islamic motivation toward empire, invasions and a history of spreading Islam by the sword marks a significant part of the history of the region.
The Arab/Iranian side of this equation does not want peace with Israel. The “Palestinian Question” is a valued stalking horse for Middle Eastern governments, Europeans and much of the political left worldwide empowering and reinforcing the perception of a victimized Palestinian people. Despite failings, bad judgment and violence on both sides, this is perhaps the most one sided argument in global political history.
The Arab position, in essence, is simple “we will engage no other issues until the Palestinian Question is resolved!” A position that deflects the potential for western pressure on issues of human rights, minority rights, the role of women, reasonable governance, corruption, slavery, the export and support of terror and a menu of other potential issues that Arab governments do not want to confront within their cultural context, nor do they want to be pressured to confront them. Resolutions to “other issues” are stonewalled by the desired failure to resolve the “Palestinian Question.” The position also implies that the responsibility for resolution is exclusively western. You cannot resolve an issue that refuses to be resolved and the Arab world refuses.
The fundamental validity of the Israeli state is not accepted. The fact of an Israeli state on the has not altered this political, intellectual and religious position. Since 1948 the dominant opinion in the Arab world has been that Israel is an invader of Arab/Muslim lands. The Quran demands that Muslims engage in Defensive Jihad to expel the invader. The recent renewal of venom directed toward Egypt over their long standing peace treaty with Israel is one of many clear representations of this attitude. The Egyptian/Israeli peace treaty remains an act of treason against the collective Arab nation and Islam in the minds of many. Other conditions such as the Syrian position that a state of war still technically exists with Israel complicate the issues.
Arab and Iranian governments have created convenient, effective surrogates by way of Hamas, Hiz’bAllah, Islamic Jihad and others, all by way of the “Palestinian Question”. In reality the motivation is the very existence of Israel. Governments act through surrogates to eliminate the potential of being forced to confront Israel militarily. Governments take the position that they have nothing to do with surrogate mayhem. Hiz’bAllah is an example of an evolution into a military and political force in and of itself. Middle Eastern governments orchestrate overt relations with surrogate’s dependant on the political and economic jeopardy inherent in the moment. These dynamics are well know within the Arab world, but not effectively communicated in the West, where victim based PR dominates the conversation.
Critically important are the two, nearly three generations of Arabs and Iranians indoctrinated to a brand of virulent anti-Semitic, ante-Israeli rhetoric that is beyond imagining short of immersing yourself in the rhetoric of the Arab world. Hamas TV airs a show aimed at toddlers that has them reciting anti Israeli slogans. Hamas TV maintains a long standing show for slightly older children that changes main characters periodically. Once Hamas calculates the Disney style main character has attracted an affectionate following, the Israelis kill it! Sesame Street for Jihadists! Animated cartoons show courageous Palestinian children killing the “pigs and monkeys” a standard reference to Jews. Other more sophisticated methods are in use for adults, all aimed at the same end game, programming to a mindless hatred for Jews and Israel; a matter of unconsidered, uncontested faith amongst the viewers and the population as a whole. Totalitarian régimes have long applied the concept of “the other. If a fundamentalist, anti Semitic message is all you have ever heard, it is all you will ever know! This dynamic is critical in understanding the low likelihood of peace with Israel.
Religion cannot be separated from the equation, nor can its applicable interpretations. The prevailing fundamentalist interpretation of Islam is rooted in the 7th century. Ideas rooted in the 7th century and frozen in the 10th century are a significant stumbling block to a peace process in the 21st century
Hamas, Iran, Hiz’bAllah, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, West Africa, Indonesia and many others all subscribe to an interpretation of Islam that forbids the forfeit of Muslim land. The definition of Muslim land is important. Muslim land is any land that is or has ever been dominated by Muslims, including a fair portion of Europe. In this interpretation Israel must be destroyed, relocated or reduced to servile slavery. These ideas dominate the Middle Eastern Muslim conversation about Israel.
There will be no enforceable, permanent peace deal that results in the ongoing existence of Israel. There may be a deal perceived in the Arab world as setting the stage for the eventual destruction of Israel but Islam demands that there cannot be a deal to maintain its permanent existence
The inherent ability to derail a peace deal or even negotiations is well demonstrated. The refusal of Palestinian political factions to accept a permanent deal is only one aspect of the problem. A deal can be derailed by an onset of new terrorism, renewed intifada or political pressure from Arab governments to insure that Palestinians remain in their victimized status and allows for ongoing deflection of any other issues related to Arab governance. It is a fine line to walk but has been waked effectively for over four decades.
The dynamics of executing treaties are clearly defined by Islam. Treaties with infidels are allowed only if they favor Muslims at a moment of Muslim weakness and for only so long as it takes for Muslims to strengthen themselves. Muslims are directed to break treaties and overwhelm their former partners when they are able. In this context one must question each and every diplomatic deal suggested or agreed to. In Islam, deals with infidels are made to be broken, it’s the law of the Koran
The western idea of separation of church and state does not exist in the prevalent interpretation of Islam as applied. Church, state, politics and law are all a cohesive singularity and all directed by Islamic beliefs. Political solutions must be appropriately Islamic, if solutions involve the continued presence of Israel; they are, by definition, not in compliance with Islamic doctrine! In this context where do you find a deal?
Any military reaction by Israel, such as the last incursion in Gaza, is quickly defined as a basis for “Defensive Jihad” by the clerical class. The declaration of Defensive Jihad requires all Muslims to defend the invaded land, in this case, Gaza. While not all Muslims or Islamic Governments rush to honor the call for “Defensive Jihad”, the Arab street pays attention. Islam however, gets a little confused on occasion; as Islamic jurisprudence also calls for obedience to the “ruler”. In Iran a reported 70,000 signed up for suicide operations as a requirement of defensive Jihad in Gaza based on a call from the government, they were then, ordered to stand down. The message was, however, clear and we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the effort. Other Islamic factions may, in principal, see the requirement for defensive Jihad in Gaza but remain unsure that groups such as Hamas are sufficiently “Muslim enough” to warrant their support.
To Jihad or not to Jihad, that is the question?
Winners and losers are currently absent in a military or political sense. Currently we have only losers. The international community has essentially guaranteed that that there can be no winners in the Arab/Israeli situation. Winners and losers are generally defined on the battlefield and represent the basic dynamics or foundations for a peace deal. It’s a question of motivation and relative supremacy. The foregoing statement may be cold but history bears the truth of it. Israel can’t win because they are generally stopped politically from military domination of their enemies. Hamas can’t win because, well, they lace the military resources to do so. The Arab world will insure this state of affairs continues.
Ask yourself; if the Arab world were to focus their resources on the idea of ending the conflict peacefully could they prevail? If the Arab world were to say to Hamas, Fatah and the PLO “we live with Israel for now, get the deal done or we and our money are out of here”, how long would take to get a deal done? If Arab resources were, in the converse, were aimed at the physical destruction of Israel, might they succeed? It’s not going to happen but begs the question as to why this state of violent status quo is acceptable to the players.
Grapple with the question in a personal context. You are at the negotiating table. You are negotiating from a position of fundamental weakness and yet you ask for a lot. What you are asking for is tangible; land and money. What you are offering is less so; political status. The guy on the other side of the table offers to give you 90% of what you want, or at the very least a path to 90% of what you want. He wants you out of the room and the issue resolved. However, in the absence of a 100% solution you say no! That, essentially, is what happened to the Clinton peace initiative with Messrs Barak and Arafat and set the standard currently applied today. If you can’t make peace over a 90% solution, from a position of weakness; can you make a deal at all?