Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning’s paper.
This doesn’t need a great deal of commentary. It basically reflects the radically different understanding of what a cease-fire means. Hudna — the Arabic term we translate as ceasefire — comes from the root word meaning “calm.” In Muslim circles it refers to the ten-year ceasefire that Muhammad agreed to with the Quraysh tribe who controlled Mecca. As soon as Muhammad had armed and felt confident enough, he turned a minor infraction into an excuse to break the ceasefire and conquer Mecca. Arafat referred to this Quranic incident in his “Oslo Trojan Horse” speech of 1994.
The history of hudnas in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict shows a basic pattern: Hamas offers them, declares them, unofficially violates them, and then, when Israel retaliates for their persistant violations, the media reports that Israel broke the violation.
It reminds me of when I was a kid, and my sister hit me under the table, and when I finally hit back, my parents yelled at me. “Never hit your sister.” And right my father was. But that’s family; my sisters were playing low stakes games. This is war, and the media, instead of being a responsible parent/observer, are making things much worse.
Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.
This one is sadder than we can imagine, and deserves a lot of long hard thinking. Generally the pattern is: anyone who deals with Israel, if he is not a dead man, loses all “credibility” in the Arab world. It’s like a reverse Midas touch: anyone whom the Israelis or the West touch, turns to sh*t.
But rather than go after making friends with the likes of Hamas, we need to figure out how to make these folks the power brokers. In other words, if we were to stick to our guns, and work only with people who were genuinely committed to the values of civil society (and stay away from the demopaths), we could make these people power brokers. But that takes having self-respect.