Alas, Even Palestinian “Moderates” Play Zero-Sum

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In a revealing article, Jonathan Tobin talks about the problem with Palestinian zero-sum attitudes. Some comments interspersed:

The Conflict in a Nutshell

By Jonathan Tobin

Utopians need to learn that for all of the talk of co-existence, the conflict is, even in the eyes of Arab moderates, still a zero-sum game, in which the Arabs lose as long as the Jewish state lives

A real-life illustration

Visitors to Israel are often hard-pressed to assimilate much of what they see. But occasionally, all of the disparate elements of Israeli society with its heavy baggage of history, culture and politics can be placed into a comprehensible perspective.

Such a moment came for me last week while attending the International Conference of Jewish Newspaper Editors. Among the many interesting sessions brought together by its organizers for the assembled Jewish press was an afternoon in Nazareth, the Arab city in the Galilee where we visited a business project many see as a hopeful sign of the possibility of Arab-Jewish cooperation.

Nazareth-based NGT — Next Generation Technology — is a joint project of entrepreneurs, scientists and technicians with a double purpose. On the one hand, it is a business “incubator” that seeks to finance various business ideas with the hope that they will take off and become successful enterprises.

IT’S JUST GOOD BUSINESS

Operating with both private capital and guaranteed government loans, NGT’s founder and CEO, Sharon Devir, describes himself as nothing more than a “venture capitalist” whose aim is to make money.

But Devir has a slightly different angle than the score of other incubator projects currently operating in the country. NGT’s uniqueness lies in its express desire to bridge the vast gap between Jews and Arabs inside of Israel. As such, it has prospered, and gained valuable publicity in the Israeli media because of its status as a joint Israeli-Arab project.

While seeking to get life-science technology-based startups such as Fluorinex (which hopes to produce dental products) and Nutrinia (which produces baby-formula supplements) off the ground, it is also building trust between two diverse sectors of Israeli society.

Nasri Said — NGT’s vice president and the man who chooses which start-ups to push — is an Arab, as are five of its principal local backers. Other financing comes from Israeli Davidi Gilo and a quartet of well-heeled Americans, including Alan Slifka, who has poured a fortune into projects devoted to helping foster understanding between Jews and Arabs.

Devir insists that the co-existence angle of his project is just good business, and his colleague Nasri dismisses the notion that his involvement with Jews would endanger him within his own community.

“This isn’t viewed as a negative,” he says. “Everywhere, Arabs work with Jews.”

But this breath of fresh air was quickly dispelled when the same group that met with the NGT team sat down with a pair of Israeli-Arab journalists in what was ostensibly billed as a session devoted to understanding the issues and concerns that they deal with. Rather than a fuzzy schmoozing session with fellow newsies, what followed was a hard slap in the face for anyone who thought “good business” would be enough to bridge the gap between Jew and Arab.

For anyone who doubted that the conflict – and not life-science technology — was still at the top of the agenda, Haneen Zoubi, the general director of I’lam, a “media center for Arab Palestinians in Israel,” had a wake-up call.

“This land is our [the Arab] homeland,” she spat out when asked to discuss her status. “We are the indigenous people; we’re not immigrants.”

Reciting a laundry list of complaints about the plight of the 18-20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are Arabs, Zoubi made it clear that her main complaint was with the nature of the state of which she is a citizen: “Israel can’t be a democratic state and a Jewish state.”

“We don’t want ‘to destroy Israel’ — we want to change it,” said Zoubi. At the same time, she asserted that she defined herself as “Palestinian,” not an Israeli. That’s because it is the whole Zionist enterprise — and not just some of its policies — that really bug her.

While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believes his planned unilateral withdrawals from more of the territories will maintain a Jewish majority inside Israel’s borders, it is that very concept that Zoubi rejects. Other plans for putting more Jewish resources into the Galilee and the Negev are nothing more than “Judaizing,” she says. The notion of keeping Israel Jewish is “an obsession.”

“I’m not a foreigner. I have the same rights, maybe more than immigrants from Russia,” said Zoubi.

This is a classic demopath‘s argument. There is no Arab nation in which someone like Zoubi has anything near the rights she has even as a “second-class,” laundry-list-complaint Arab in Israel. Rights are not, pace the US Declaration of Independence, natural and self-evident. They are hard-fought for, created by a society dedicated to them, difficult to sustain. Zoubi treats them as if they are hers by birthright. But that is true only because she was born in that obsession, a “Jewish state”; there is no Arab state in which such rights are a birthright.

The invidious comparison with Russian Jews (who came late by her standards) is particularly instructive. Taking for granted these rights and resenting the very polity that guarantees them, she embodies the distorted sense of entitlement that pervades the discourse of the Arab world today. It would, apparently, never occur to her to compare how the Muslim world has handled its “refugees” with how Israel handles hers. Nor, it’s my guess, would it occur to her to renounce the idea that Muslim states have a right to exist. Fairness and rights, in other words, are for me, not the other guy. These are not good attitudes upon which to build a democratic state.

Her anger was echoed by the other Arab participant in the colloquy, Adeed Alwan, a 63-year-old who has variously worked for Saudi-owned Arabic papers in London, the BBC and the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Rather than focus on ending the conflict, Alwan was more concerned with rehashing Israel’s War of Independence, in which Arabs living in villages such as the one he was born in were dispossessed by the tide of war.

As such, the discussion quickly spiraled into a composite of every other Israeli-Arab debate about the rights and wrongs of the conflict — and led absolutely nowhere.

Complaints about the difficult position of Israeli Arabs — or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as they prefer to style themselves these days — are not without justice. Living in a country whose purpose is to be the sole Jewish state while the rest of the Arab world rejects and makes war on it is a hard task.

But to listen to Zoubi and Alwan, who justly describe themselves as “moderates” within an Arab context, is to hear people who have not made peace with the idea of a Jewish state. They are unmoved by living in a country where Arabs can vote for parliament since it does not automatically translate into the power to squelch the Jewish majority.

This puts the dilemma in the nut shell: Demopaths want to use democracy to destroy democracy. We demand the rights to eliminate the system that provides the rights.

A ZERO-SUM GAME

Far from accepting the idea that Arab sovereignty in the land must content itself with the putative Palestinian state currently ruled by the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority, their implicit demand is that Israel — and not just the West Bank and Gaza — must be purged of its specific Jewish identity if they are to be satisfied.

For all of the talk of co-existence, the conflict is, even in the eyes of these Arab moderates, still a zero-sum game, in which the Arabs lose as long as the Jewish state lives.

If Israel wins, even the slightest amount, we lose. The seeming irrationality of this position — especially given the untold suffering it’s brought down on the Palestinian people, especially the refugees — may strike most Westerners as difficult to understand. (That’s normally when, to preserve their cognitive egocentrism, they prefer to believe the Palestinian victim narrative in order to “explain” rationally why the Palestinians are so intransigent.) But the heart of it lies in the very system they seek to destroy. Civil society, with its human rights, and women’s liberation, and the empowerment of commoners produces the very world of knowledge, wealth and power that so humiliates the Arab political cultures around it, so numerous, spacious, endowed with vast reserves of oil, and yet so steeped in poverty, servility and impotence.

That also means that even if Olmert’s scheme for separation is completed, that will still leave a potentially hostile Arab minority within Israel’s borders. Can they be satisfied with business development projects when it is still the fundamental issues of identity that are at stake?

Those thinking that a restful peace lies just beyond the next round of “disengagement” will have to have an answer to that question, lest they doom Israel and its friends to further disillusionment. Unfortunately, on even the sunniest days in Israel, it can take only an hour or two for even a bright glimmer of hope to be overshadowed by rancor.

This article, more than most, cuts to the heart of the problem between the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism (we liberals project our good will on them; they project their malevolence on us) which produces the Politically correct paradigm (it’s our fault, if only we’re nice, they will reciprocate) on the one hand, and the sharp eye to detail revealing the irredentist attitudes that undergird a supposedly “moderate” position on the other. We Western liberals are so eager to believe, that, like Charlie Brown and the football, no matter how many times we are betrayed, and no matter what the cost of our misplaced trust, we can be convinced to “try again.”

charlie brown

8 Responses to Alas, Even Palestinian “Moderates” Play Zero-Sum

  1. Antidhimmi says:

    The notion that everyone wants to raise their families in peace and security and that “they want what we want” is so deeply embedded in western culture that even people who read deeply in middle east history and culture find it difficult to make the leap. The Arab intelligentsia, the Arab media, the mosques and the educational system have a monolithic message. We have the truth; we have been humiliated by the west despite our superior religion and culture; we should be dominant but we are not and our backwardness is part of a plot by the west in a conspiracy with our leadership to keep us subservient. Furthermore, we cannot be dominant unless the other submits to us. With this narrative in the forefront, the goal is not social improvement and family security. Many in the arab world, led by Islamofascists, seek not only dominance but the opportunity to humiliate and destroy their alleged enemies. – Anybody got a plan to deal with this let me know.

  2. Lawrence Barnes says:

    Do I understand you correctly when you assert that human rights are not the same for all people, inherent, permanent and ineradicable?

    It is customary to argue that unless rights are resident in each human by virtue of his genotype, one cannot justify rebellion against tyranny. This seems to be the argument put forth in the Declaration of Independence. If rights can be created, defined, amended, eliminated and so on, then what do we have except a brutal existence in which each person is free to exploit his strength to the disadvantage of others?

    That sounds like a powerful argument. The entire concept of human rights is absurd, however. It amounts to a preposterous claim to supernatural knowledge, and should be set aside.

    There is no need to resort to any article of faith in order to behave morally, even in the thorny area of politics. We can do much better.

    Consider our present circumstance: Western Civilization is under implacable attack, is undergoing a crisis of confidence, and may suffer catastrophic casualties among its civilian populations. How can a belief in human rights help us?

    As long as mankind is cursed by belief systems that practice murder and tyranny on the claim that they are mandated by some deity, it will be impossible to use tolerant good will to establish universal ethical governance. One cannot with calm debate change the minds of millions who honestly believe that unless their faith triumphs, the all-powerful creator of the world and man will impose eternal damnation on his disobedient servants.

    The single greatest barrier to human progress is human gullibility, that tenacious belief in things for which there is no evidence except the repeated claims of rascals, raving lunatics, and the hopelessly deluded. No book can be proved true simply by virtue of its assertion that it is true.

    The concept of human rights as it is currently understood does not address the problem of irrational belief; in fact it hinders the discovery of solutions to it. Consider the political correctness — based upon the fanciful notion of human rights — that forbids an intolerant, proactive approach to Islam.

    There are some belief systems that simply cannot be tolerated. They are eternally hostile and inhumane, even to their adherents. Islam, the faith that Huntington points out “has bloody borders,” is the largest and most dangerous of them.

    Your views, please, RL.

  3. RL says:

    Do I understand you correctly when you assert that human rights are not the same for all people, inherent, permanent and ineradicable?

    On a practical level, yes. Unequivocably. As Rousseau says, Man is/was born free but is everywhere in chains.” The norm of human experience is the lack of human rights. Only civil societies grant their citizens rights and protect them. Such a condition is not “normal”, but highly artificial. It takes enormous effort and discipline and represents a great anomaly in human history.

    It is customary to argue that unless rights are resident in each human by virtue of his genotype, one cannot justify rebellion against tyranny. This seems to be the argument put forth in the Declaration of Independence. If rights can be created, defined, amended, eliminated and so on, then what do we have except a brutal existence in which each person is free to exploit his strength to the disadvantage of others?

    I think we need to distinguish between deserving the opportunity to enjoy human rights and deserving human rights. Obviously, people we put in prison we deem not worthy of enjoying human rights. And we, in civil societies, like to think that everyone should have them. But most cultures do not; and they socialize people who are not capable of exercising the discipline necessary to respect the rights of others. On the contrary, they encourage precisely the “brutal existence” you invoke. “Rule or be ruled.”

    That sounds like a powerful argument. The entire concept of human rights is absurd, however. It amounts to a preposterous claim to supernatural knowledge, and should be set aside.

    I’m not sure you have to go that far. Granted, it’s a kind combination of hubris (we know what God wants) and a bluff (it’s so self-evident that we need not prove it). But it’s worth exploring the world of thought that produced it.

    There is no need to resort to any article of faith in order to behave morally, even in the thorny area of politics. We can do much better.

    There’s a new and interesting book out that I just got and read parts of called The End of Faith by Sam Harris. He makes a similar argument. I think it’s a profoundly superficial reading of religion. I actually think one can make the case that the moral insanity of the current “post-Christian”, secular left indicates just how hard it is to be moral and not have faith. More anon.

    Consider our present circumstance: Western Civilization is under implacable attack, is undergoing a crisis of confidence, and may suffer catastrophic casualties among its civilian populations. How can a belief in human rights help us?

    As long as mankind is cursed by belief systems that practice murder and tyranny on the claim that they are mandated by some deity, it will be impossible to use tolerant good will to establish universal ethical governance. One cannot with calm debate change the minds of millions who honestly believe that unless their faith triumphs, the all-powerful creator of the world and man will impose eternal damnation on his disobedient servants.

    Granted. But, I’d argue, that’s based on a mistaken notion of the nature and dynamics of human rights. If you see human rights as something everyone gets, like a belly button, or an item off the shelf in some huge, world-wide chainstore, then you can fall into the trap of insisting that everyone get the same respect, dignity, and freedoms as everyone else, and you make yourself a dupe to demopaths. If you understand how difficult it is to sustain a civil society, you become meritocratic, not communist in your granting of rights. Rights are for those committed to the rights of others. Respect and dignity are earned, not claimed.

    The single greatest barrier to human progress is human gullibility, that tenacious belief in things for which there is no evidence except the repeated claims of rascals, raving lunatics, and the hopelessly deluded. No book can be proved true simply by virtue of its assertion that it is true.

    I think I know what you’re referring to, but I’ll admit that while on a case-to-case basis I’d agree with you (you’re attacking what I call the claims of demopaths and the credulity of their dupes), to make it a sweeping generalization brings in epistemological questions I’m not ready to tackle.

    The concept of human rights as it is currently understood does not address the problem of irrational belief; in fact it hinders the discovery of solutions to it. Consider the political correctness — based upon the fanciful notion of human rights — that forbids an intolerant, proactive approach to Islam.

    I think I agree, although I’d formulate matters slightly differently. The problem with the PC approach to Islam is not that it does not address the problem of irrational belief, but that it doesn’t recognize the existence of “rational” attitudes that despise the “human rights” of others. To forbid an intolerant, proactive approach to the theocratic tendencies of Islam comes not from a lack of ability to criticize theocratic tendencies — all human rights discourse is built on the rejection of denominational theocracy (not of religion), and the failure of the human rights community to confront Islam comes from a combination of condescension (the soft bigotry of low expectations) and cowardice (fear of provoking violence).

    There are some belief systems that simply cannot be tolerated. They are eternally hostile and inhumane, even to their adherents. Islam, the faith that Huntington points out “has bloody borders,” is the largest and most dangerous of them.

    Well you sure register on a liberal screen as an Islamophobe. My thoughts on this are here. Islam, like all monotheistic religions, arises from communities of faithful interpreting sacred texts and commentaries. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is capable of entering the covenant of a civil society. (Indeed, the very notion of submission to God, understood the way Ahmed Mansour explains it, not as submission to Sharia, but to God) is completely consonant with civil society.)

    Your views, please, RL.

    There they are for what they’re worth.

  4. Lawrence Barnes says:

    Did you learn of the Harris book from a comment I posted earlier on this site? A little memory lapse there, I suspect.

    What a strange notion: a faithful Muslim can submit to God without submitting to sharia. Impossible, according to the Koran. Either the Koran is the word of the creator-deity revealed to the prophet by an angel, or it is not. No just government is possible unless it abides by and enforces the divine will, as expressed in the creator’s laws. So much for the reconciliation of Islam with civil society.

    From time to time, some Muslims do not obey the commandments of their deity. But the fact remains: the observant faithful know that all non-Muslims are to be converted, subjugated or killed. That is the holy law. End of report.

    All that makes Christianity a relatively decent neighbor today is the fact that most Christians simply ignore large sections of their divinely-inspired texts.

    That bespeaks an evolution of ethics that does not appear to me to be possible for Islam.

    I suggest that we ask every “moderate” Muslim we meet: “Which parts, exactly, of the Koran and the hadith do you consider not binding on you, or incorrect, irrelevant, fraudulent, untrue, null and void, antiquated or obsolete? Be precise.” The answers would be instructive for many — and unsurprising for me.

    Of course I am an Islamophobe. I fear the faith of Mohammed, and for excellent reasons (phobia = fear, originally, and I cleave to that meaning). No less do I deplore the Christianity of the fourteenth century, or the faiths that are responsible for many, if not most, of the horrors of history. Among those faiths I include Marxism, myths of racial superiority, the divine right of kings, and all else that is not based in a rational consideration of empirical evidence.

    The problems we face should be dealt with at their root. The ways we decide what is credible what cannot be believed are the wellsprings of our culture.

    Either we believe things because good evidence convinces us, or we believe in spite of the absence of good evidence. The inevitable result of gullible acceptance of authority — faith — is tyranny.

    Never in human history has there been a religion to compare with Islam; stubborn, imperialistic, expansioninst, uncompromising, bloodthirsty, impervious to ethical evolution, totalitarian, implacable, utterly irrational — and, above all, durable. For centuries, it has survived in exactly the form it took on when it was founded, bloody borders and all. It is, in other words, the perfect faith.

    That’s the root of the problem: faith itself. Do read all of the Harris book….

  5. Lawrence Barnes says:

    One addendum, if I may: I believe you have confused rights and privileges, R.L. Rights are said to be permanent, while privileges are conditional. The Declaration of Independence and US constittuion seem to assume that distinction. It is the moral basis for many justifications of revolution, the overthrow of tyrants, and so on. All wrong, IMHO, but that’s what a lot of people believe.

  6. RL says:

    What a strange notion: a faithful Muslim can submit to God without submitting to sharia. Impossible, according to the Koran. Either the Koran is the word of the creator-deity revealed to the prophet by an angel, or it is not. No just government is possible unless it abides by and enforces the divine will, as expressed in the creator’s laws. So much for the reconciliation of Islam with civil society.

    no, the point is not that a muslim can be a faithful muslim without sharia, but that non-muslims can find favor in god’s eyes without sharia. and that is the key issue — how do muslims view non-muslims.

  7. Lawrence Barnes says:

    If I were a non-Muslim living under a Muslim government that obeyed the Koran’s requirements, I would be a lot more concerned about how Muslims treated me than about how some imaginary deity regarded me.

    Whatever twists the debate may take, if we want to know the overall divine plan, all we have to do is read the Koran. So — look it up. By that I mean, see The End of Faith by Harris, the fourth chapter, pages 117 through 123, inclusive (in my edition, which is the British paperback, ISBN 0-7432-6809-1). There you will find a list of instructions for the faithful.

    Those few pages should convice any non-Muslim that Islamophobia is both rational and warranted.

    BTW, was it my mention of Harris that provoked you to get the book? Well, whatever; I hope you read the entire text, for his conclusion is very interesting, and may suggest to you that his view of the role of
    spirituality in our lives is both informed and respectful.

  8. RL says:

    Reply to LB.
    yes, non-muslims in a muslim country are in trouble. my focus (for this specific discussion) was on how (theoretically) muslims might interact with non-muslims where they’re not in the majority (i.e. most of the globe in a globalizing world).

    as for the instructions to the faithful, there are other passages in the quran as well. the issue is less what’s written than how it’s interpreted. my favorable remarks are not about what’s happening today, but what could happen (and may be happening). the tragedy of islam today is that, whatever may be happening that reflects both generosity and psycho-spiritual maturity is silent (helpless?) before this psychotic temper tantrum of global jihad.

    for centuries, christians didn’t take “turn the other cheek” very seriously and xns behaved much as did the muslims (and in some cases worse). (now they take it too seriously, especially when liberal christians give advice to israel about how to deal with the palestinians).

    and yes, it must be your recommendation that go me to buy it (i gave you a hat tip at the beginning of my post on baudrillard). thank you.

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