The Peace Prize that got away: Primer on Mideast reality for Washington eggheads

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Not only are they ignorant of themselves, they cannot avoid falling into a ditch or stumbling over a rock in the path (perhaps they are bleary-eyed from studying or just absent-minded); yet they claim to know about abstract ideas, universals, separate forms, primary matter, quiddities, and different modes of being — objects so phantasmal I doubt Lynceus himself could make them out.”
— Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (Folly, 56)

By Alexander Maistrovoy

A miracle didn’t happen. The talks ended the way they were doomed to end — in a complete fiasco. It was an obvious outcome to anyone who was even slightly familiar with Middle East realities. Neither side was interested in the negotiations in the first place; everyone was waiting for the “partner” to slip up and destroy the “process”.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

There are several reasons for Palestinian reluctance to reach an agreement, and each reason is self-sufficient.

  • Mahmoud Abbas can’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state because it contradicts the basic doctrine of Islam that there shouldn’t be any alien state on the Muslim land. Previously conquered territory by Islam (not only Palestine, but also Andalusia, Sicily and Malta) which was once included in “Dar al-Islam” (“Land of Islam”) must be returned to the eternal possession of Arabs;
  • Modern Islamic theology claims that Jews do not exist as a nation. Muslim theologians refuse to recognize existence of Jewish Kingdoms on the Land of Israel; according to them the First and Second Temple and all Jewish history are fiction and myth. Furthermore, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), David (Daud) and Solomon (Suleiman) are actually the forefathers of Islam, “stolen” by Judaism. Jews do not constitute a nation, they are disparate groups of tribes and ethnos (from the Khazars to the Berbers) practicing Judaism. And as such, Jews don’t have a right to own land and statehood.
  • “Honor” and “Land” are sacred principles of Arab culture. “Honor” does not allow “dhimmi people” to dictate their wish to the “People of Allah”. It’s forbidden to give away Land to a stranger. Israel, according to this logic, even in the borders of 1967, from Ashkelon (Askelon) to Akre, is an Arabic land. Jordanian king Abdullah I and Anwar Sadat were murdered by Islamic zealots, because they dared to challenge these principles. Let me remind: Abdullah I was assassinated by a zealot because of his desire to make peace with Israel in 1951 when there were neither “occupied territories”, nor settlements or even “Palestinian people” as a nation. There were neither “occupied territories”, nor settlements when five Arab states invaded the territory of Israel in May 1948;
  • From a Palestinian perspective, Israel is a colonial, alien entity, a tumor on the body of the Arab world. Generations of Palestinians were brought up on such view. This ideology was actively promoted by Abbas in schools, in mosques and in the media. PLO’s Charter with its initial goal to destroy “the Zionist entity” has not been canceled yet. An instructional book called the Palestinian Terminology Guide, released by the PA Ministry of Information, suggests alternative meanings to the following terms: “Israel” is replaced by “The Israeli Colonialist Occupation”, “Israel’s Defense Minister” by “Israeli Minister of War”, “Martyrdom-Seeking Operation” replaces “Suicide Bombing”, “Temple Mount” by “Hiram al-Sharif”, “Wailing Wall” by “Al-Buraq Wall” and, finally, “Star of David” is replaced by “Six-pointed Star”.
  • Abbas, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, has never been a statesman. He represents a generation of revolutionary “national liberation movement”, nurtured in The Peoples’ Friendship University in USSR. Their task was not to create, it was to destroy. Abundance of “useful idiots” in the West allows Palestinians to realize their tasks gradually, through unilateral actions, without any agreements with Israel. Their position is ideal: doing absolutely nothing (except constantly complaining about the occupation), they receive, practically, everything, without jeopardizing themselves. The subsidies that PA has received since 1993 could have turned the West Bank and Gaza into second Singapore; however, all the amounts have mysteriously vanished in Ramallah. (A total of 2.5 billion EUR in aid, that according to a draft report from the European Court, the EU has transferred to Gaza and PA, have disappeared without a trace). In an interview with the New York Times, former Prime Minister PA Salam Fayyad said bitterly: “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from early on … It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions … we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”
  • Abbas is a mere party functionary, an apparatchik, and a conformist. He is lacking the vision of Anwar Sadat, and the dignity of King Hussein. His main aim is to preserve his own wealth, which is estimated at $100 million, and the prosperity of his sons, who own the largest businesses in PA; he is not interested in playing “Russian roulette”. He knows that he is not legitimate anymore (recent elections in PA that were supposed to be held back in 2010, were postponed under different pretexts). Any careless step would mean a death sentence to him – he has no deficit of enemies in PA: from “young wolfs” in FATH to HAMAS.

Resentment of Israelis is a result of sad empirical experience. In the early 90s most of the Israeli public supported the peace agreements and concessions, but their optimism has faded away. Twice (Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in Annapolis in 2008) Israel has offered the Palestinians (Arafat and Abu Mazen respectively) maximum concessions: 95-98 percent of the West Bank (with the option of exchange for other territories) and East Jerusalem (within frame works of Clinton’s plan). Olmert was ready to consider returning approximately 100,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel and allowing “safe passage” between Gaza and the Judea. He even offered to transfer the control over Temple Mount to the consortium: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the U.S., Israel and the PLO. Abbas has refused.

Waves of deadly terror in the mid 90s and especially at the beginning of the last decade (“second intifada”) took the lives of thousands of Israelis and had become the toughest collective trauma. In addition, because of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, people of southern Israel for the last 10 years had been living in a state of constant fear from rocket attacks.

In a situation where every attempt to achieve peace turned into another bloody experiment, the majority of Israelis came to the conclusion that it would be better off without “peace”. The attention of the society has shifted to domestic issues: economy and social inequality.

Had Kerry bothered to learn even a little about the situation with Israel and the Palestinians, he wouldn’t have had to bang his head against the wall. A prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize could have been much more realistic for him had he dealt with problems of hunger and diseases in Africa, the fight against drug cartels, or the achievement of peace in Colombia — America’s backyard. He should bear in mind Albert Einstein’s words:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Alas, human folly is boundless.

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