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Originally published in Blogspot 03.16.2013 by author.

 Two columnists in the NY Times bring the contrast between the different world-views of Palestinians and Israelis into sharp focus. (“Is Any Hope Left for Middle East Peace”? The New York Times Wednesday, March 13, 2013.) Rashid Khalidi, presenting his view of the Palestinian position on the peace process, exuded anger and frustration while denouncing the Israelis as oppressors and Americans as their enablers.  In a telling, and highly significant, statement, he says of the Palestinians, “(d)espite the complicity of some of their leaders in a process that has left them stateless while the unending colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues, they deserve to be more than prisoners in their own land.”

     Ari Shavit, writing of his view of the Israeli side of the peace process, begins with a brief history of the process from the Israeli perspective. His tone is more subdued, less passionate, almost despondent. He speaks of “bad news” and “good news.” The bad news is his overview of the history of hopefulness and failure, bringing that history to the uncertainty of peace emerging from the on-going turmoil of the “Arab Spring.” In this moment of history, however, he manages to find an inkling of good news. “a New Peace(sic) is now a promising option. Having brought down tyrants …the peoples of the Arab world are focusing on the internal problems of their societies: poverty, corruption, lack of freedom and opportunity and an overall failure to establish a decent, functioning Arab modernity.” He couples this with the emergence of a social justice movement in Israel which, he believes, is capable of “quietly changing the political system.”

     Rashid Khalidi’s argument begs the question, when have the Palestinians NOT been “prisoners in their own land”? The “two-state solution” was originally proposed by the UN in 1948, and was vociferously rejected by the Palestinian Arabs and their, then, recently-post colonial supporters in the surrounding Arab countries.  The result was a war won by the Palestinian Jews, now Israelis, and the land not assigned by the partition plan or captured in the war by Israel now occupied by Egypt and the newly minted Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

What the Palestinians call “their land” had been ruled by Ottoman Turks, the British, the Egyptians and the Jordanians. It had never been “their land” in the sense of recognized sovereignty, until Israel seized it from Egypt and Jordan in 1967. It would seem that the issue is not one of occupation, as much as who occupies. Clearly, the less-than benign and undemocratic rule by Moslem Arabs is preferable to the less-than benign and undemocratic rule by Jews. The unspoken truth is that the original goals and purposes of the Palestinians and other Moslem Arab countries in the region, i.e. the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of the Jews, remains a core element of Palestinian motivation. Any thought to the contrary should be seen as an accommodation to reality, rather than an ultimate goal.

     By the same token, Ari Shavit’s hope for a real peace process, proceeding by small steps of accommodation and trust to a final goal of a utopian peace between good neighbors is equally flawed. As Khalidi fails to take into account the realities of history, Shavit fails to take into account the realities of the societies involved. Shavit, sitting in westernized, modern, democratic Israel, looks around and sees the potential of a westernized, modern, democratic Palestine as part of a westernized, modern, democratic Middle East. If Khalidi’s dreams are angry nightmares. Shavit’s are psychedelic hallucinations.  Shavit fails to take into account the nature of Arab society, now forcefully pressed into the world’s face by the lines of conflict emerging in the turmoil of the Arab Spring. All Arab societies, in various forms and to varying degrees, revolve around loyalty to and conflict between clans, tribes, ethnicity and sectarianism. Compounding these divisions are distinctions based on class, wealth and political power which sometimes crosscut the boundaries of traditional groupings, especially in the realm of political power. Without political institutions capable of subsuming these fault lines, refocusing them as political interests played out in structured forums, the likelihood of any accommodation between perceived divisions as all- encompassing as that between Arab and Jew is slight indeed.

     I suspect that Khalidi, deep in his heart, understands that for Jews to rule over Arabs, especially Moslem Arabs, is an affront to the order of the universe. As bad as being ruled by non-Arab Moslems might be, the insult to the dignity of even the lowliest Palestinian to be ruled by “dhimmi,” protected second class members of society (as the Moslem defined Jews and Christians during their domination of the Middle East) is unbearable. In a society in which concepts such as “dignity,” and “honor” are more common that concepts like “liberty and” “freedom,” where the concept of “justice” still means “revenge” and where feuding is not a metaphor, finding a road to peace with a “westernized, modern, democratic” society can be a herculean task.

    Similarly, I believe Shavit fails to understand that the Enlightenment never quite got to this part of the world – until very recently. The ideas that emerged from that fecund period of Western history have yet to penetrate the cultures, and influence the thinking, of the peoples of the Middle East. Much as influence flowed the other way in history, but took centuries to change the cultures of Europe, so, now, the positive ideas of Western cultures cannot be expected to produce profound changes in the thinking of Middle Eastern peoples overnight.

     Before anything can be produced by a “peace process,” as discussed by these authors, Khalidi needs to look at Israelis and not see dhimmi ruling Arabs, and Shavit needs to look at Palestinians and not see “people just like us, but a little different.” In one case a little introspection would be helpful, in the other; a little more reality-testing would be beneficial.    

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Comment Preferences

  •  "People just like us, but a little different." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jersey Jon, Rashaverak

    I think we could all use some of that right here, not just in the Middle East.

    But if we think of people we hate as just like us, we might not be able to hate them anymore.  Or we might start hating ourselves for being the monsters we imagined our enemies to be.

    There is no existence without doubt.

    by Mark Lippman on Thu May 23, 2013 at 03:07:05 AM PDT

  •  New Peace (0+ / 0-)

    Sames as the Old Peace?

  •  Can they? (0+ / 0-)

    Sure they can...the impression I've always gotten, considering what one hears in western US is that niether side has the LEAST bit of interest in "seeing the world as the other side sees it"
    Both sides presently cling to mutually exclusive goals and decades of back and forth talk hasnt shifted it and it sure doesnt seem that any change to those positions are forthcoming.

  •  So, is there anything that we in the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht

    enlightened West can or should do to make "the nature of Arab society" more amenable to modernity, to produce those "profound changes" in their thinking?

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Thu May 23, 2013 at 07:29:43 AM PDT

    •  It is not up to us to "make" them do anything (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angry marmot, Celtic Merlin

      That has been the problem in the Middle East all through the colonial/Imperial period since the breakup of the Turkish Empire. Indeed, it has been the problem in much of the world ever since the Crusades.

      However, we can offer our assistance to those who already get it and are already working on change in their countries.

      The most effective thing we can do is to learn about those who already practice the more enlightened Islam taught in the Qur'an about peace, human rights (most notably women's rights and rights of the poor), and freedom of conscience, and pass the word on, in the manner of Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Burke (quoted above).

      There are other effective actions that one can join in, such as ending poverty, particularly through education, especially for girls. I work at Sugar Labs on creating Open Educational Resources (OERs) under Creative Commons licenses. You could help us write our civics textbooks, which propose to explain how governments have worked (or failed to do so) in the past, how they are working (or not) now, and what you can do about that, including questions of human rights and relations between governments and religions.

      You could, as another example, support Hope Flowers School and the few others that enroll Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children equally, and teach them in Hebrew, Arabic, and English equally. Or the UNRWA efforts in Palestinian refugee camp schools that I wrote about for Tikkun Daily Blog.

      Sharing in Gaza

      Or American University in Cairo, which has a strong program of educating young Egyptians not only about the traditions of Democracy and Constitutional government, but about the travails of the multitude of recent Democracies around the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the overthrow of both Communist and anti-Communist dictatorships. Several AU students took leading roles in the Tahrir Square demonstrations.

      We can also combat political pseudo-Christianity here at home. Indeed, this is one of the major themes of dKos. Nearly all of the vicious errors of the Southern Strategy Republican party go back to the Religious Right's spiritual ancestors who taught that slavery was the will of God. The Republican War on Everybody is founded on pseudo-Christian bigotry, misogyny, Mammonism, and the rest. Our best hope is the fact that the Religious Right is losing a large fraction of its children.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Thu May 23, 2013 at 08:19:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I know... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Celtic Merlin, Brecht

        it was a completely sarcastic question, posed in the terms of the patronizing framing of this diary. Check my diary- and comment-history, Mokurai: we're on the same side here...

        Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

        by angry marmot on Thu May 23, 2013 at 08:24:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You got THAT right! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angry marmot

          ". . . the patronizing framing of this diary."

          The user made his account in Dec. of 2011, but never used it until . . . 10 days ago.

          The dead - they walk among us.

          Celtic Merlin
          Carlinist

          Struggle with dignity against injustice. IS there anything more honorable that a person can do?

          by Celtic Merlin on Thu May 23, 2013 at 07:10:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Religion in History (0+ / 0-)

        Show me ANY religion that has not, as part of its current situation or past history, been involved in, or been the basis of, persecution, war,, death and destruction.

        I thought Buddhism was exempt until learning that Buddhist in Myanmar were rioting against Muslims.

        There are no exceptions.

    •  Enlightened West (0+ / 0-)

      I suggest that every period of history and every part of the world has made some contribution to the intellectual and aesthetic development of humanity. At the same time, every period of history and every part of the world has, at some point, contributed to "backsliding" on those lines of development.

      Just happens that these advances and retreats do not occur in "sync", so "ups" and "downs" occur in haphazard fashion. Of course we may tease out patterns and trends, but it seems that forward movement in one place or time is often concurrent with backward movement in another.

      Remember, "Enlightenment" in Europe came about after centuries of post-Roman decline, feudalism, plague, endless conflict, etc., and was, to a large extent, based on the influence of the Muslim world, which had become the respository of knowlege and a center of intellectual advancement during that period.

      The issue I raised has nothing to do with anyone doing anything, other than taking reality and facts into consideration. All parties in any conflict need to at least recognize that "the other" is "other" and take that as the starting point of any communication and exchange.

      As for anyone from outside trying to control or direct the direction of change in ANY society, good luck. The only law which applies is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    •  angry M: Yes, IMO... (0+ / 0-)

      ... when the world economy improves to a point wherein it can be done...achieve a peace by buying both sides off.

  •  These opinions about other people's opinions (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, Celtic Merlin

    are not helpful. What the Diarist "suspects" is as much fantasy as what he complains about. For example, it was not necessary for either Egypt or Jordan to modernize or Westernize or embrace Democracy in order to sign peace treaties with Israel.

    In order to discuss IP peace, we have to have some facts. A basic fact about peace is that it has to be the result of work by the parties concerned without outside meddling, especially outside funding of violence for domestic political reasons. Peace in South Africa and Northern Ireland was not possible until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its funding for the ANC and IRA, and the withdrawal of Israeli support for the South African Apartheid government, among other such factors.

    At present, the main sources of outside funding to the factions involved are

    • Sunni Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian National Authority and to aid agencies such as UNRWA for refugees
    • Shi'a Muslim countries such as Iran and Syria to Hezbullah in Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza
    • The US to Israel, driven to a scandalous degree by pseudo-Christian Armageddonists promoting war and genocide against all Muslims

    All three are more about their own internal politics than about helping Palestinians or Lebanese Shi'ites achieve any goals, or about peace. It is in the interests of many of those driving policy in these countries to keep the pot boiling, not to resolve anything in any direction.

    Many pseudo-Christians in the US have reverted to 17th-century attitudes about theocracy, as seen in the English Civil War and the Cromwell government, and in the Massachusetts Bay colony. Islam is equally divided between modernity and the 17th century, or even earlier.

    The best resource I know of for understanding peace is The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod. It explains that cooperation can only flourish in an environment of sustained, mutually-beneficial interaction. This is impossible when the parties refuse to have anything to do with each other, when relatively small violent factions can interrupt anything meaningful at will, and when massive outside funding for violence is provided.

    It is remarkable under the circumstances that there are even mildly effective groups of Palestinians, Israelis, and outsiders working, sometimes even together, for peace. Axelrod's work explains to a considerable degree how such groups can form and maintain their cohesion through internal cooperation in the face of implacable hostility from other parts of society. That is, the rewards of internal cooperation can be greater than the penalties from outside.

    In my view, our best hope for Israel and Palestine comes from the ongoing decline of pseudo-Christianity in the US and the relative rise of moderate Christianity and also moderate Islam. Muhammad taught in the Qur'an about peace and human rights, as opposed to what others turned it into down the ages. But the same can be said about the perversions of Christianity down the ages.

    Here is an officially Conservative take on Islam, from Edmund Burke:

    …we have referred you to the Mahomedan law, which is binding upon all, from the crowned head to the meanest subject; a law interwoven with a system of the wisest, the most learned, and most enlightened jurisprudence that perhaps ever existed in the world.
    The pseudo-Christian Crusaderist Armageddonists who pretend to be Conservatives merely reveal themselves to be racists, bigots, and haters of nearly everybody. It is fortunate that their children and grandchildren are falling away by the millions.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Thu May 23, 2013 at 07:45:35 AM PDT

    •  Outside meddling (0+ / 0-)

      Calm down.

      The leaders of political entities ("countries, nations) are ALWAYS motivated by their "internal politics." Those "internal politics" reflect the political and economic power structures within which the leaders operate.

      My concern was with the "cultural" dimension of the conflict, in which the issues revolve around perceptions, values and social structures of people within those political entities.

      People have friends. Nations have interests.

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