The King's Old Clothes- Peace in the Middle East / DR. Israel Bar-nir
Einstein defined insanity as:
“Repeating the Same Experiment Time and Again, Expecting a Different Result”
The Middle East, a world set apart from the rest of the universe, has rules and standards of its own.
In the Middle East insanity is defined as:
“Repeating the Same Experiment Time and Again With the Certain Knowledge That the Result Will NOT Be Different”
Dennis Ross, chief US negotiator for Presidents Bush father and Bill Clinton, published in 2005 a book summarizing his experience in the region. The book, titled “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace”, is an 880 pages tome in which the author talks about “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Ross warns that the Peace Process has degenerated into a process that is “essentially an end in itself”. It appears that Ross, now a member of team Obama, fails to heed his own advice. Another team Obama member from the old guard, George Mitchell, follows suit.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s children fable “The King’s New Clothes” people pretend to see what is not there. People rationalize that pretense by telling themselves “The Whole World Cannot Be Wrong, and If I Don’t See it, Something Is Wrong With Me”. A small child, who lacks the maturity needed to understand this wisdom, makes the people realize that not only CAN the whole world be wrong, it IS wrong.
The tale of Peace is a legend set in the Middle East, a world set apart from the rest of the universe, a world with rules and standards of its own. In the Middle East too, people pretend to see what is not there. But that’s where the analogy with Andersen’s fable ends. In the Middle East the king’s clothes are not new. Rather, they are very old. In fact, in the Middle East the clothes are so worn out from overuse that not only they are no longer fir for a king, they are not fit even for the homeless. In the Middle East no one heeds the small child, who in fact is not so small. On the contrary, in the Middle East they pillory and vilify the small child, who in fact is not so small. In the Middle East being associated with the small child, who in fact is not so small, renders one a fascist, a racist, an extremist - you name it. In the Middle East it is a mark of Cain.
Andersen’s fable is an innocuous children story. In Andersen’s fable no one gets hurt. The story of Peace in the Middle East on the contrary is a gory tale, an unending saga of blood and grief with dire consequences. It is a story where people, both the innocent and the not so innocent, end up getting killed.
To infuse a bit of suspense into this allegory it is left it to the readers to guess who is the child, who in fact is not so small, in the modern tale.
II The Land of Make Believe
The land of make believe is an amusement park in the State of New Jersey in the US. It caters mostly to children under 12 years of age.
The people of the Middle East also live in a land of make believe. They try not to let it show. In the Middle East the land of make believe caters to adults. In the Middle East, rather than being an amusement park, it is an Orwellian monstrosity mired in a tangled web of euphemisms and outright deceit.
Since its inception in Oslo in the summer of 1993, a ghost of an illusory “Peace Process” is casting its ominous shadow in the Middle East arena. It haunts the audiences yet so far nobody has seen it. It remains a phantom.
With the passage of time the “Peace Process” in the Middle East gained momentum and evolved into a self sufficient political entity. And so it came to pass that the “Peace Process” in the Middle East turned into a permanent fixture on the global agenda.
However, it was all smoke and mirrors. Time and again the “Peace Process” ended in an impasse. Windows of opportunity opened but had to be shut back when only wind blew in. A roadmap was drawn but it failed to show where to. Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) fell short of inspiring confidence, and gestures were made to no avail.
The human mind’s ability to maintain a façade of make believe has no bounds. Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, the charade goes on. People insist that a “Peace Process” is underway in the Middle East, people insist that bloviation and rhetoric can do the trick. Peace meisters on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in the region, deliver their spins with straight faces, fully aware that there is not a single grain of truth in their oratories.
With the “Peace Process” itself being stalled, an alternative approach, “Plan B”, was put in motion. An offer was made to Israel’s Prime Minister to accept a package of “goodies” from the US government in exchange for relaxing his “intransigence”, deemed by one and all to be the “sole obstacle” to the establishment of “Peace” in the region. The US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spent 7 hours (!) in seclusion working out the details of that package. No one knows what exactly went on there, so no one can tell whether what was discussed was an “offer” or whether it was a Godfather like “offer that could not be refused”. The US offer was withdrawn before it became official. Thus, it will remain forever a mystery whether it was for real or, like other events in the land of make believe, just a pipe dream. In the future, history books will refer to it as “The Offer That was Never Made”. As we live in the present and not in the future, for now, true to character of the land of make believe, in the milieu of Peace Mavens it is regarded as if it reality happened.
Not having been privy to the details of the Netanyahu - Clinton tête-à- tête, one can only surmise what was actually said there. The exchange between the two might well have been a close replica of a dialogue in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”:
“When I use a word,” said Hilary, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what the President chose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Netanyahu, “whether the President can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Hilary, “which is to be master --- that’s all.”
Thomas Friedman, the pundit-in-chief of the New York Times, wrote a scathing criticism of Netanyahu. In an editorial published on December 11, 2010 (“Reality Check”, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/opinion/12friedman.html?_r=4&ref=colum...) Friedman attacks Netanyahu for having refused to make what [in Friedman eyes] appears to be a “small and inconsequential” gesture, requested by the President of the US, in return for such a generous package by the US - Friedman refers to it as a “bribe”. (Friedman’s style is far more rude, but Friedman is not the subject here). Friedman owes his readers two explanations. First, since the US offer was never made officially, how does he know what was in it, let alone if it was really so “generous”? Second, if the gesture expected from Netanyahu was an insignificant one, would it not make more sense to ask the ARAB side to be less intransigent and not bring the “Peace Process” to a stand still because of it?
It is below the dignity of a pundit of Friedman’s stature to offer his readers an explanation or an apology for the nonsense they have to put up with in his column. Friedman represents the typical know-all pundit - an “opinion monger” to use the late William Saffire definition of the term. Thirty years ago (in 1982 to be precise) Friedman, like St Paul in old times, saw the light - on the road to Beirut rather than on the road to Damascus. Ever since his epiphany, in his editorials, Friedman vents his ire and frustrations on Israel. His specialty is guided tours of the land of make believe to the uninitiated.
The beginning of Obama’s term in the White House Obama marked a fundamental change in the policy of the US towards the rest of the world, and in particular towards the Arab and Muslim world. The new approach, designed to show the world that the days “unilateralism” are over, was dubbed a policy of “outreach”. The focus was on improving the relations with countries that in the past were not so friendly, sometimes outright hostile, to the US. More often than not, that outreach came at the expense of the relations with allies of the US. There were cases where it entailed reneging on agreements made by previous administrations. In the Middle East Obama, in an attempt to improve the US stand in the Arab world, took to bullying Israel. The hoped for change in the Arabs attitude towards the US never materialized and, as the recent documents from Vikileaks revealed, the support of the Arab countries for actions against Iran was there regardless of what was going on between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead Obama’s initiative turned out to be counter productive, rather than gain Obama brownie points in the Arab world, the bullying of Israel merely increased the intransigence of the Arabs who now reject even a semblance of negotiations with Israel,
III People Want to be Deceived
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
------Sir Walter Scott
In ancient Rome there was a saying “The Masses Want to Be Lied to” (vulgus vult decipi). It is still the case. However, rather than the low classes made of uneducated individuals, mostly people lacking basic reading skills however, the “masses” in the civilized modern world are the enlightened elites - intellectuals, scholars and academics to name a few.
Intellectuals and scholars of the modern era are constantly in a state of conscious self deception. They are a living testimony to the validity of Mark Twain’s maxim “The Truth Is Not Hard to Kill, While a Lie Well Told Is Immortal”. “Telling” or rather “Telling Well”, is their forte. Whether by word of mouth or in writing, their “telling” skills cannot be outdone. They keep repeating the same lies over and over with the aim of creating a bogus alternative reality. A reality where facts do not matter, a reality where perception is the name of the game. For them "truth" is what an individual claims to know intuitively, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. It is something that looks like a truth – a truth they want to exist. An American TV comedian, Stephen Colbert, coined the term “truthiness” to describe this “truth”. The new term was selected as “the word of the year” in 2005 by the American Dialect Society. The phenomenon has global dimensions, and should be discussed in a separate article. Here we shall limit the discussion to the Israeli Arab conflict. Also, for the sake of brevity, we shall stay in the Middle East arena and skip the global aspects.
“If you repeat a lie enough times, people will start to believe it”. The propaganda machinery of Germany put this statement to a very effective use during World War II and the years that preceded it. Its effectiveness is evidenced once again in our time in the attempts to handle the Israeli Arab conflict under the misnomer “Peace Process”. If one were to collect into a “Peace Dictionary” all the lies, half truths and euphemisms fabricated in the context of the “Peace” in the Middle East, the result would be a tome close in size to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language. With the exception of a very few skeptics, all these lies are accepted by one and all as the word of God.
A few days ago a group of Israelis was invited to a state dinner hosted by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA), also referred to in the media as the “Palestinian President”. His term in office expired in 2009, so whatever title one chooses to address him, to paraphrase a well known adage, is in the eyes of the beholder. The venue of the event was at the PA HQ in Ramallah. At the event the host presented his take on ending the Israeli Arab conflict. It would happen, he announced, when a Palestinian state will be established alongside Israel. The announcement acted like a bombshell, leaving the audience stunned. At first the Israeli delegates were at a loss of words, Then they went ballistic - What a man! What an idea! What a vision! The Israeli delegates came out of the meeting all agog, and with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets announced to the crowd of media representatives present “Yes we have! We have a partner! There is a partner for Peace!”
The event took place in the Middle East, the land of make believe where, to borrow from Mary McCarthy, “every word is a lie, including ‘the’ and ‘and’ ". It is a second nature of the gullible for whom Important is what APPEARS to be real and not what IS real, to overlook this “small” detail. It is thus a bit premature to get carried away by the dramatics of the event.
The wide media coverage (at least in Israel) given to the event played down and/or totally omitted a number of details. It is a well known truism that “the devil is in the details”, a good enough reason for omission of details in the land of make believe.
The landmark proclamation by the Palestinian leader was made in English, a language rich in ambiguities and double talk. It is a common practice among Arab leaders when conducting business in the land of make believe. For serious business Arabic is the preferred language and the contents of the Arabic version does not resemble even remotely that of the English one.
Bilingual double-dealing is most appropriate for the land of make believe. Few westerners know enough Arabic to be able to tell the difference. Those who have some degree of mastery in Arabic, in particular the enlightened progressive scholars, are almost to a one adherents of the rabid anti West/anti Israel theology developed by the late Prof. Edward Said, and his tome, “Orientalism”, is their Holy Writ. These are not the most reliable sources for credible clarification of the bilingual obfuscation and duplicities of the Arab leaders.
It starts with the very term “a Palestinian state alongside Israel”. Looking at the map of the region, the first question that comes to mind is “along which side?”. Almost every time this question is raised the Peace mavins dismiss it as a joke. But that’s a mistake, because there is no precedent in the history of a stable state composed of two separate parts. Between the two World Wars Germany was separated from Eastern Prussia by the “Polish Corridor” until World War II put an end to the anomaly. When the British left the Indian sub-continent in 1947, they created two states - India and Pakistan. Pakistan started as a two part state - there was an “Eastern Pakistan” for those with a short memory. It took a little over twenty years - almost the same span that the anomaly existed in Europe - to end it in Pakistan. The “which side” question is therefore not only a legitimate one but a very important one. If a day ever comes when the Arabs genuinely agree to establish a state “alongside” Israel, it is more likely to be two and not one.
Another issue is the infamous “two state” solution. Here we are dealing with a live issue. Everyone is talking about it, and everyone knows it to be an outright lie. The Arabs insist on having an Arab state populated by Arabs only, and another state which is to be binational. This appears to be a “just” and “logical” solution, and it is endorsed by the enlightened elites in Israel. It is also endorsed by some not so enlightened Israelis. But this not a “two states” (or rather “three states” according to the previous paragraph) solution - this is a “one and a half state and half a state” solution (or “two and a half states and half a state”). And it does not end here. The Arabs demand from the Israel binational state to absorb millions of additional Arabs within its borders. That last one is again endorsed by the enlightened elites of Israel - in deeds, if not in words. The Arab position on the issue of the “two state” solution can be summarized thus:
West of the Jordan river
Two people in two states shall dwell
One state for us, the other as well
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that instead of providing objective coverage and analysis, the media engages in weaving a web of deceit of its own.
An illustrative example is a news item reported by the Associated Press on December 26. The item dealt with Lieberman’s views on the prospects of the “Peace Process”. The text included the following line: “Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in September after an Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired.” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101226/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_palestinians) Nothing wrong here, apart from the fact that under the guise of “factual” reporting it reiterates the fiction that “Peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were taking place, and leaves little doubt as to who should be blamed for the “break down”.
Another illustrative case of a media fib concerns the curious case of what has been dubbed the “Arab Peace Initiative”. It started its life as a PR stunt in the spring of 2002 under the moniker “Saudi Peace Initiative”. The Saudis were desperately looking for a way to improve their public image in the US which, at the time, was at an all time low in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity. This appeared to them a viable way to shift the attention. The suggestion came from Henry Siegman, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (according to the WEB site of the council Siegman is a "foremost expert on the Middle East peace process”). The Saudis, known to reject anything that even remotely hints at dealing with Israel, were assured by Siegman that there was no risk involved in making their offer, since it would be rejected by Israel. To add a semblance of credibility to the Saudi initiative, which was merely a rehash of previous Arab positions, Tom Friedman was selected to float the balloon. Thus, it made its first public appearance in Friedman’s column in the NY Times (Feb. 17, 2002). It is not clear whether Friedman was privy to all the details or whether he was just as a gullible dupe. Later Friedman admitted that he never saw a “peace plan” nor any of its details. He had merely been told about its existence by a Saudi crown prince (there’s no shortage of that commodity in Saudi Arabia). For a detailed discussion of the “Peace Initiative” and its inadequacy see “The Principles of Peacemaking“, Richard Holbrook, June 4, 2007 (http://www.jcpa.org/text/resolution242-holbrooke.pdf).
The “foremost expert on the Middle East peace process” failed to deliver on his promise. The Israeli government under Sharon did not jump on the Saudi “peace plan” with open arms, but it did not reject it either. Rather, Sharon requested a meeting to discuss the details, a meeting which, to save the Saudis from embarrassment, he was ready to conduct in secret, away from the eyes of the media. The Saudis were not happy (to put it mildly). To save face Siegman claimed that the request for a meeting to discuss it was in fact a rejection of the Saudi offer since “Israel knew that the Saudis would never agree to meeting.” It may appear to be a weird logic - making a peace offer and at the same time refusing to meet face to face with the other side, but in the land of make believe it makes perfect sense.
In 2007 the Saudi canard was renamed the “Arab Peace Initiative” - API for short, and so it came to pass that the “Peace Process in the Middle East” had now two mythical legs to stand on.
Many years ago a friend of mine, fresh out of medical school, told me how his ambitions to devote his life to discover a cure for cancer were quashed by his teacher, one of the most prestigious doctors of the time. “Listen young man”, the old doctor told him, “Before committing yourself remember that more people live from cancer than die from it. Don’t rush”.
The same applies to the conflict in the Middle East. So many people make a living from it, far more than the number of people dying from it. If peace arrives at the region it may be a disservice to all these good souls who will all of a sudden find themselves without a purpose in life.