Monday, October 24, 2011

The Insanity of the Middle East: A Handy Guide

This is my version of my Jerusalem Post column as edited by me and with several additions. I own the rights. Please read and link to this version. I have also embedded the appropriate links.

By Barry Rubin
Every day in the Middle East, terrible things take place. The worst are the material acts of violence and oppression. The second-worst are the lies and distortions of truth that help ensure things don’t get better. Every day in the West, the lies are echoed, amplified, and invented. This also helps ensure things don’t get better in the Middle East and that they do get worse in the West.
Now I’ve found, from the most unexpected place, a single sentence, an ancient proverb, that explains it all. It comes from the Navahos and it goes like this:
You cannot awaken someone who pretends to be sleeping.
In other words, you cannot convince someone who is not merely mistaken but is deliberately lying. They have abandoned professional ethics, democratic and intellectual norms. They have embraced being propagandists and supporters of authoritarian and bloody regimes. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, and in those others are the hope for something better. It is those people, who honestly don’t realize that their leaders follow foolish policy, their newspapers all too often lie, and their universities (or at least significant sections of them) have abandoned the pursuit of truth in favor of the manufacture of lies.
If that seems extreme, perhaps that means you fall into that last category of the decent but deceived. Let’s look at some specific cases. 

1.      The newspaper.
If there would ever be a last straw for me regarding what was once the English-speaking world’s greatest newspaper, it is this one, the New York Times editorial of October 19, 2011:

“One has to ask: If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas—which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and, on Tuesday, vowed to take even more hostages— why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank?”
What has one thing have to do with the other? Israel isn’t negotiating with Hamas on a political level but to save the life of a young Israeli who has been in horrible captivity for five years. And this deal was done without any illusion that Hamas will moderate. 
But what’s really disturbing here is the idea that it is Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who have been refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority rather than the other way around. It is frequently repeated in the mass media and it is so obviously absurd that it must now be considered a deliberate lie by propagandists rather than an honest or ignorant or ideologically driven error.
Funnily enough, within hours of this editorial claim we have…

2.      The “Moderates”
The ultimate Palestinian “moderate,” Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, explained:
"We want to see an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. We want the Palestinian people to live with dignity." Fayyad said the Palestinians are committed to resolving the conflict, but that "the conditions are not right to resume talks."
In other words, even when the Palestinian prime minister openly rejects talks and even after dozens of previous rejections by him and Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas, and dozens of documented acceptances of negotiations by Netanyahu and Israel, the lie that Israel doesn’t want to negotiate and the PA does is repeated.
Obviously, this is not a misunderstanding but a lie. One reason for this lie is that if the truth were to be told it would have to be explained why the “poor,” “desperate,” “victimized” Palestinians don’t want to negotiate. And the answer would have to be an uncomfortable truth:
Their leaders don’t’ want peace, compromise, or a two-state solution but total victory.
And that truth would require a change in the Western policy and understanding of the issue.

Finally, note the reaction of the leaders of the two Palestinian regimes:

Abbas told the released prisoners: "You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland."

And Hamas deputy leader Abu Marzouk insisted: "The rest of the prisoners must be released because if they are not released in a normal way they will be released in other ways."

By murdering Israeli civilians, both the “moderate” and the “radical” explain, these people have done nothing wrong and are free—even encouraged—to do so again in future. You cannot build a democratic state on the basis of calling terrorists “freedom fighters” (and note the “secular” Abbas’s reference to jihad). And you cannot compromise with another side when you continue to urge and justify the deliberate murder of its civilians.   

3.      Do Concessions Bring Moderation or Compromise on the Other Side?
Israel did not do the prisoner swap because it expected that would change Palestinian thinking or behavior. But many in the West don’t understand that concessions simply bring more demands and greater intransigence. (Israel knows the intransigence already exists so from its standpoint the prisoner swap does no harm in that department.)   
How did Abbas react to the prisoner swap? By demanding that Israel release even more Palestinian terrorists!
Here’s the Time Magazine coverage: 

“As Palestinians exult in the release of 477 prisoners from Israeli jails, and anticipate the arrival of the 550 more due to be freed in December under the terms of the bargain Hamas brokered for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is pushing Israel to release even more, citing what he terms a secret promise from a previous prime minister.”

Of course, no such promise exists. On the contrary, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s peace proposal.

But, wait, there’s more! Here’s the Washington Post coverage on that point:

“Newly released Palestinian prisoners held rambunctious homecoming receptions…as leaders of the Hamas militant group that secured their freedom expressed hope that Israel would ease the blockade it imposes on the Gaza Strip.”

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar claimed that Israel should now, "Make an end to the blockade,” no doubt so that Hamas could import more weapons, money, equipment, and gunmen to attack Israel.

So now that Israel has made a big concession they can only demand more concessions. Note that as the pattern of the entire “peace process” and another factor making peace impossible and so much of Western policy in the region entirely futile.

4.      The moral bankruptcy of the “International Community”

UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon said:
"I am very encouraged by the prisoner exchange today after many many years of negotiation. The United Nations has been calling for (an end to) the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time."

It would be bad enough if the leader of the global community made a moral equivalence between Shalit and terrorists who had murdered Israeli civilians but in fact he treats the latter as superior. He doesn’t mention their murderous deeds (which almost all of them admit, indeed brag about) or their conviction in courts. But he claims, on no basis whatsoever, that their human rights have been abused! A listener would think these are Palestinian civilians pulled at random off the streets! In short, he has declared that the terrorists are the true victims.

And this is the agency supposedly fit to judge the future of the conflict and which constitutes one-fourth of the Quartet that’s mediating, with Hizballah-friendly Russia the second one-fourth?    

But here's some insane comic relief (in Dutch). A Dutch poet with a Palestinian father) is a darling of the leftist elite--he was elected to a four-year term as "Poet of the Fatherland" in 2009 by several organizations including the most prestigious newspaper there.

He has written an open letter to Holland's foreign minister saying that Israel's government has proven it seeks to commit ethnic cleansing and that the prisoner swap shows it values the life of a Palestinian to be only a tenth of a percent of that of an Israeli. It has been published in NRC Handelsblad, the Dutch equivalent of the New York Times or Guardian.

In other words, by trading 1000 Palestinian terrorists for 1 Israeli prisoner it is racist because it didn't exchange 1 Palestinian prisoner for 1,000 Israelis. And this is what passes for brilliance today in European intellectual circles.

   In the words of the Greek playwright Euripides, though many have said something similar, "Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of their senses." Thus the Middle East and those who misinterpret it in the West are setting up their own destruction. Perhaps the real reason they cannot forgive Israel is that it does not choose to join them in this endeavor.



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