hope or illusion?

  1. 413 Posts.
    Hope or Illusion?
    by Len Estrin
    Nov 11, '04

    The era of Yasser Arafat has ended. The fate of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab people now rests in the hands of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Salim Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council, and others. The question is, can they take the steps toward peace that Arafat could not?

    To answer that question, it may be instructive to look back at the 2000 Camp David Accords. Dennis Ross, the United States envoy to the Middle East, once summarized Yasser Arafat's response to Camp David by saying, "Arafat has never honestly admitted what was offered to the Palestinians - a deal that would have resulted in a Palestinian state, with territory in over 97 percent of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem; with Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of that state (including the holy place of the Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary); with an international presence in place of the Israeli Defense Force in the Jordan Valley; and with the unlimited right of return for Palestinian refugees to their state but not to Israel."

    In other words, Arafat was getting virtually everything he wanted. He had won an unprecedented political victory. Yet, something was preventing him from capitalizing on it; and it obviously had nothing to do with politics. It did, however, have everything to do with culture.

    As anyone who has ever studied or visited the region knows, much of the Middle East is an arid region that can barely support life. (In fact, the Negev desert made up 65 percent of the State of Israel in 1948.) Survival in a desert land requires its own set of rules; and these rules define the game and Arafat's behavior, not political, social, religious or military theory. What's more, these rules are not truly understood by Western society, including a Westernized Israel.

    Rule No. 1: "If it is valuable to you, it is valuable to me. If it is not valuable to you, it is not valuable to me."

    Walk into the Arab market, or shuk, in Jerusalem, Haifa or even Cairo, and an earnest merchant will no doubt offer you a great price on a variety of wares. If you walk away, the merchant likely will follow you down the alley, dropping the price with every step you take. The reason: the item isn't valuable to you. And if it isn't valuable to you, it has little useful value to the seller.

    What has that got to do with the Middle East conflict? Everything. The land of Israel had no value to the Arab people until the Jews claimed it. There was never any attempt to establish a state by the indigenous Hashemite Arab population. The closest thing occurred in 1921, when the British created "Transjordan" and gave it to the Hashemite Arab King Abdullah. Interestingly, Jordan ruled more than 80% of the land originally set aside for the Jews under the Palestinian Mandate. Yet that did not satisfy the Arab population of the region. As soon as the State of Israel was born, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia declared war with the avowed intent of capturing the 10 percent of the land left to the Jews. After all, if it was valuable to the Jews, it had just as much value to the Arabs.

    Similarly, Yasser Arafat was offered a Palestinian state, with territory in more than 97% of the West Bank. Yet, once Ehud Barak declared his willingness to give up this territory, he, in essence, implied that it was no longer valuable. As a result, it no longer had value for Arafat. Instead, he focused on the remaining three percent and the deal fell through.

    We see the same thing today. Logically, one would expect that the Arabs would rejoice at Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Yet, the Arab reaction is negative; and for the same reason. Once it has lost its value to Israel, it has lost its value to the Arab negotiators who are now busy denouncing it as a ploy. They no longer are interested their own "homeland"; they want Israel's.

    Rule No. 2: "One's word is only valid for the moment."

    In the West, there is a moral obligation to honor one's commitments based on Judeo-Christian values. Yet a hostile environment is no place for such idealism. Instead, one must do whatever it takes to survive. Concepts such as honor and honesty take on an entirely different character. They are the temporary means to achieving a desired end. As such, their meaning and usage can change to fit the situation.

    For example, Joseph's Tomb is located in the heart of the ancient town of Shechem, also known as Nablus. Joseph was the son of the Jewish patriarch Jacob and second in command to Pharoah in Egypt. Before Joseph died, he made his brethren promise to take his remains out of the country upon the Jews' redemption. Accordingly, Jewish tradition states that Moses carried the bones of Joseph and buried them in Shechem.

    For centuries, one particular site was known as Joseph's burial place. As long as Israel was in undisputed control, the Arab population was silent. In 2000, the site became the subject of a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, and a new claim was launched. The Arabs said the site was really the burial place of a Muslim holy man, Sheikh Yousef, and not Jacob's son. In a moment of generosity, Nablus Mayor Ghassan Shakaa stated, "If it's Sheikh Yousef, we will turn it into a Muslim shrine. If it's the Prophet Joseph, who we also believe in, then we have to talk about how we can resolve this, how we can organize visits by Jews under Palestinian control."

    Soon, he had a chance to make good on his words. In October 2000, a military battle ensued and the Israeli army withdrew from the site rather than risk offending the Arabs of Shechem. The Arabs controlled the tomb; yet, instead of organizing visits under Palestinian control, crazed mobs tore the building apart as police from the PA stood by.

    What happened to the mayor's commitment? Like the persona of Sheikh Yousef, it was only required for the moment; and once it passed, so did the intent of Mayor Shakaa's words.

    Rule No. 3: "History is subjective, not objective."

    Most cultures have a sense of history based on tradition and artifacts. To the Arab culture, what happened is of little importance; what they think happened is what counts.

    In response to repeated suicide attacks coming from the Jenin refugee camp, including the Passover-eve murder of 30 Israeli men, women and children, the Israeli army invaded Jenin. When the action was over, Palestinian officials reported that as many as 800 innocent victims had been killed. When the UN Commission reviewed the evidence, they set the casualty figure at 52. The Human Rights Watch organization documented 22 civilian deaths -fewer than the attack that led to the army's response. Yet, the extent of the tragedy is not the point; it is the extent that the Arabs believe it. If you mention Jenin to an Arab today, you will find that the figure of Arab casualties will be closer to 800 than 22. The reason? History is subjective, not objective.

    Here is another example. To most Arabs (and many infidels), the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock is revered by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam. Yet, the fact is that Koran never mentions Al-Haram Ash-Shareef (the Noble Sanctuary), Jerusalem or anything of the sort. Furthermore, Mohammed lived around 700 CE and never physically set foot in the land of Israel. The Jews certainly did, however. In fact, the Jews have lived in Israel for more than 3,000 years, over two millennia before both Mohammed and Islam.

    The Jews' claim on Jerusalem is just as valid as on the rest of the land. The city is mentioned more than 700 times in the Bible; the same Bible that the Arabs use to trace their lineage back to Abraham.

    Furthermore, the location of the Holy Temples has been documented by Scripture and verified by archeologists. One of the most recent pieces of evidence was reported in June 2004 when archeologist Eli Shukrun discovered the Second Temple-era Pool of Siloam. This particular pool is mentioned twice in the Bible, (Nehemia 3:15 and Isaiah 8:6). It is also mentioned in the New Testament, in John 9:7 ("Pool of Siloam").

    Yet, a statement by the Higher Islamic Authority of Palestine Al-Quds (PA) in 2001 read, "The claims being made by the rulers of Israel and its rabbis about the alleged Temple are pure fabrications without any base or foundation." Obviously, any Jewish proof flies in the face of the Arabs' subjective view of history and, therefore, must be wrong.

    Rule No. 4: "Might determines right."

    1993 marked the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process. For the next six years, representatives of Israel, the United States and the Arab nations tried to hammer out an agreement among all the parties. During the same time, Arab attackers murdered more than 1,000 Jews. More Jewish men, women and children were killed during those six years than in the previous 25 together. In essence, the process of peace directly caused acts of war. Once again, a cultural analysis can shed light on this tragic trend.

    Politics is the art of compromise, in which both parties lose something for the greater gain. In a desert land, compromise is a sign of weakness and weakness is the first step to defeat. Therefore, any attempt at negotiation or conciliation is sign that the opponent has no hope, desire or ability to achieve or maintain victory.

    On the other hand, strength is something that is clearly understood, because strength threatens survival, so a strong adversary is best avoided. The bottom line: If you fight and win, it's yours. If you lose, it's ours. If you act like the loser, then you really didn't win. And compromise, no matter how sincere, is the act of the loser.

    The point is, just as two people cannot wear one pair of shoes, two nations cannot govern one country. In the Arab view, the entire region is Arab country. Needless to say, the Jews also have a claim; one that is rooted in the Bible. G-d said that Israel belongs to the Jews and no one, not Arafat, Ahmed Qurei, Mahmoud Abbas, Salim Zaanoun or even Ariel Sharon can give or take it away.

    So the question is, even with new leadership in the Palestinian Authority, can there ever be peace in the region? Two scenarios can be envisioned. The first is divine intervention. In 1991, CNN interviewed the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, who proclaimed: "The [Jewish] Messiah is ready to come. All that is required is an increase in deeds of goodness and kindness."

    Rabbi Schneerson's prediction could be easily dismissed except for thing: his track record. Rabbi Schneerson correctly foretold the demise of Communism and the mass exodus of Russian Jews to Israel. He predicted the end of the Gulf War to the day. He indicated to his followers that the putsch that threatened the Soviet Union in October 1991 would quickly subside. It did. He also indicated that Hurricane Andrew would not directly strike Miami. It did not. For 44 years, Rabbi Schneerson's insight and advice proved accurate in an amazing number of situations and events, large and small. Will he be right again? Only time (and an increase in acts of kindness) will tell.

    The second scenario is much less rosy. Like genetic material, the cultural forces that drive Arab behavior are ingrained. Therefore, peace can only be achieved when Israel and America stop expecting the Arabs to play according Western rules, and start to play according to theirs.

    Despite all the desires of moderate Arabs and Israelis alike, peace has never, ever come to the region through negotiation, conciliation or compromise. It has only come through victory or defeat. In a desert land, those are the choices. Through five wars and innumerable terrorist attacks, the Arabs have made their position abundantly clear. Now it is time for the Israeli government and the nations of the West to do the same.
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