Mel Brooks has a memorable line in his 2000-year-old man shtick. Carl Reiner asks, “what’s the difference between comedy and tragedy? “Tragedy is if I cut my finger, I’ll cry alot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care.”
David Brooks recently attended a conference on the latest hot field in psychology: social cognitive neuro-science. There, among the many items he listed, one caught my eye:
Reem Yahya and a team from the University of Haifa studied Arabs and Jews while showing them images of hands and feet in painful situations. The two cultures perceived pain differently. The Arabs perceived higher levels of pain over all while the Jews were more sensitive to pain suffered by members of a group other than their own.
This is an experimental illustration of the current knot in which we find ourselves and in which we are currently losing the cognitive war for progressive values, the marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism. On the one hand we have people who exaggerate their own pain. As Charles “Oh-they-do-that-all-the time-it’s-a-cultural-thing” Enderlin said to me to illustrate why he dismissed the faking in Talal’s tapes: “Oh they do that all the time. It’s a cultural thing. They exaggerate. When I was in Egypt during an earth quake people with minimal injuries were shrieking and moaning.”
On the other hand, you have a culture in which concern for the pain of the other has been raised to a matter of principle: “Do not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt and you know the heart of the stranger.” And how does the world read the emanations of these two cultures: the Palestinians scream: “They are committing genocide against us; they are like Nazis.” Some Israelis respond: “I hate to say it, but they’re right. We are racist, Israel is apartheid, we are like Nazis.” Others defend the integrity of Israel’s behavior, having the nerve to say Israel – and especially its army – can match any nation’s moral record.
And the world concludes: “The poor Palestinians, why are you Israelis so mean to them.” What is wrong with those boorish, sinister pro-Israel extremists? And is so doing, they foster and fertilize the culture of victimization that pervades Palestinian self-destructivenes. For insights into this last phenomenon, there’s a must read at Ynet by Dan Schueftan – also of the University of Haifa – on the what the latest Palestinian maneuvers reveal about their dysfunctional political culture.
The Palestinians did it again
Palestinian society remains politically immature, addicted to excuses
Published: 10.12.09, 18:21 / Israel Opinion
Part 1 of analysis
The recent Temple Mount riots and Mahmoud Abbas’ renewed request for a UN discussion of the Goldstone Report again point to the deep structural failure inherent in the Palestinian political culture.
The Palestinians are proving yet again that even the responsible elements among them cannot act in a constructive manner in order to build society and promote stability, welfare, and an agreement with Israel. They cannot do it because, as it turned out again, at the moment of truth we see the irresponsible, violent, and demagogical radicals who incite and fan the flames gain the upper hand.
The radicals win because the Palestinian public is unwilling to back an ongoing and responsible effort that would ensure a better future for its sons, while the radicals present a vision of violence and self-righteousness that offers fleeting achievements and twisted satisfaction in the immediate and short term.
The decisions are indeed taken by the leaders, but the factors that shape their room for maneuver and forces even the most level-headed among them to adopt irresponsible conduct is a politically immature society. This society becomes addicted time and again to “victimization excuses” regarding its failures, instead of enlisting to the cause of successfully promoting its national enterprise.
Of course it doesn’t help that intellectuals in the West encourage the worst of their tendencies. Like Saïd’s appalling rant at the end of his life, they’re the most ardent defenders of Arab honor, even if they do present themselves as militating for Palestinian “human rights.” What hatred must move people to encourage these deeply destructive, dysfunctional phenomena?
For the first time in generations, the Palestinians have seen the rise of leaders who understand, even if partially, the needs of their countrymen and are willing to enlist to the cause of extracting them from the deep distress created by the Palestinians with their own hands.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is attempting, for the first time, to utilize the generous foreign aid for constructive aims and build a functioning society. President Abbas and his people realized (belatedly) the gravity of the terror curse and Hamas’ existential threat. Under their political patronage, the United States trained Palestinian security forces (the so-called “Dayton forces”) who are doing well in the fight against terrorism and its infrastructure.
This opened the door for cooperation and security coordination with Israel, allowing for a dramatic improvement in the freedom of movement, economic prosperity, and the creation of a platform for social and political stability in the West Bank. This was followed by the initial buds of a chance to extract Israel and the Palestinians from the “Zero-sum game” characteristics of their relationships, where Palestinian achievements were defined by the level of harm done to Israel.
In other words, the shift from a prime-divider society to a civil polity… the dawn of precisely the kind of person liberal cognitive egocentrists in the West believe characterizes the vast majority of the Palestinian population. So their success should be a major concern to those who want peace.
Should such chance be allowed to develop, it would remove an important obstacle for a more comprehensive agreement that both sides can accept. Expanding and deepening stability and welfare in the West Bank, while suppressing terrorism in Gaza and isolating the terrorists there – and while disregarding the reckless demands of Arab Israeli leaders – are necessary conditions for the success of such deal.
However, this is where the self-destruction mechanism that has been thwarting the Palestinian people since it was formed almost 90 years ago came into action: An irresponsible and belligerent minority turns to violence radical elements promise a zealous public immediate satisfaction via “victimization demagoguery,” and this immediately prompts the responsible elements to assume a defensive posture and be neutralized in the political arena. The essence here is not the violence and demagoguery of the radicals, but rather, the defeatism of the responsible elements.
Note the role of the international news media in strengthening precisely these forces.
The problem has to do with Palestinian society’s political culture. Had Fayyad and Abbas been able to rely on the support of a responsible public for their constructive policy, they could have isolated the radicals and clung to their path. However, they give in to the radicals, because the public becomes addicted to the false message of those who brought generations of destruction, distress, and impasse upon them.
The radicals take full advantage of the structural flaw within Palestinian society. They know that it is enough to make up a delusional charge as if the Jews are undermining the pillars of the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to topple it and build the Temple on its ruins, in order to grant popular support to the hooligans scheming to stone Jewish worshippers on Sukkot.
Even if they are unable to prompt the masses to riot in the streets, they force the leadership into public solidarity and diplomatic paralysis. And if the Palestinians in the West Bank are fed up with these provocations, we can always count on the Islamic Movement in Israel to enlist the entire Arab Israeli leadership to the cause, ranging from Tibi to the more “moderate” figures, with all of them joining a festival of hatred aimed at “defending themselves” against Jewish schemes. In such atmosphere, Fayyad and Abbas have no chance to engage in fruitful dialogue with Israel, both because their room for maneuver just shrunk, and also because Israel realizes they cannot lead their society to agree to a viable compromise.
And if all this isn’t enough, the Palestinian handling of the Goldstone Report exposed another grave structural weakness. The whole of Palestinian society – in the Strip, in the West Bank, and in Israel – has become addicted to the pose of the ultimate victim, which involves de-legitimization of the Jewish State’s existence.
When the Palestinian anti-Semitic propaganda regarding Israeli “crimes” was granted a tailwind courtesy of a negligent and unfair Jewish judge, who works in the service of a body hostile to Israel, the Palestinians were unable to forego the party. Abbas realized that it would be proper to focus on dialogue with Israel and enlist the help of an American president who convinced himself that resolving the Palestinian issue is crucial for world peace and the interests of the US. American representatives explained to him resolutely that the Goldstone festival will hinder the US effort to bring Israel to accept a desirable Palestinian deal, and he agreed to postpone the UN debate on the matter.Yet the reaction of Palestinian society to the rejection relegated Abbas’ diplomatic considerations to his countrymen’s obsessive need to take the victim’s role on the international stage. The problem is not about Hamas’ attempt to present Abbas as a traitor, or about the inherent irresponsibility of the elected Arab leadership in Israel. Hamas, Tibi, and others indeed have an interest in showing that they reject Israel more than Abbas does, yet they would not have been able to force him to reverse his policy unless they enjoyed wide popular support for their charges.
Abbas realized that his attempt to enlist US support for the Palestinian issue outraged his own people: A person who does not identify with violent hooliganism in Jerusalem and gives up an opportunity to de-legitimize Israel and its war on terror cannot be a Palestinian leader. Abbas indeed realizes that without suppressing Hamas’ terror he has no chance to guarantee a better life for the next generation, yet he cannot but lead the campaign that aims to grant this terrorism immunity vis-à-vis Israel’s countermeasures.
Israel’s problem is not that there’s no Palestinian we can discuss a constructive deal with. The problem is that when a Palestinian who shows indications of political responsibility appears, he cannot speak on behalf of his people.Dr. Dan Schueftan is the director of the National Security Studies Center at the University.