Tom Friedman’s latest effort to offer advice on the “peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority offers some in-depth insight into how superficial much of current Western thinking is on the matter. In it, he expresses some exasperation with Israel’s behavior – like a spoiled child – in refusing Obama’s request for an extension of the settlement freeze. In the process of laying out his case, Friedman reveals a curious tunnel vision which, I think, is symptomatic of many Westerners.
It’s not that Friedman’s approach, what I call the PCP1 (Politically Correct Paradigm) is necessarily wrong (which I think it is, at least right now). It’s that Friedman clearly doesn’t even consider that the other approach, the JHSP (Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm) might be more accurate for analyzing the situation and devising successful strategies to deal with it (which I think it is, at least right now). And it’s not that these paradigms are “scientific” in the sense that one’s right and the other’s wrong. They’re about people and cultures, and therefore much less pre-determined.
But since, if the JHSP is the appropriate one for this case at this time, and you apply strategies based on the PCP, the consequences are far more than simple failure. When post-modern masochism (it’s our fault) comes together with pre-modern sadism (it’s your fault), the marriage is not a very pretty sight.
As a prelude to fisking Friedman, let’s just for a moment, review how differently PCP and JHSP analyze the key issue he treats in this op-ed piece – Israeli settlements on the West Bank. For the Politically-Correct Paradigm (PCP) – which Friedman and the overwhelming majority of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) channel, as illustrated by Jim Clancy of CNN – they are the obstacle to peace. Settlements beyond the “Green Line” (’67 border) compromise the “land for peace” formula; they eat away at the land that Palestinians want to create their state side by side with Israel.
They are, from the PCP, illegal (or should be if they’re not); they create enormous friction with the local population; they’re troubling evidence of Israel’s expansive tendencies; they ruined the Oslo Peace Process; and it’s entirely understandable that Palestinians are deeply angered by them and demand their cessation. In order for the Peace negotiations to advance, it’s a minimal demand. Settlements have the power to drive “peace” advocates to call for murdering “every last man, woman and child“, to drive Wikipedia to its least impartial entry. Obama reflected this thinking when he announced his intention to “solve this problem in a year or two” at the beginning of his presidency by pressuring Israel to call a freeze.
Of course, the evidence systematically contradicts the PCP belief that the solution is through settlement dismantling and “land for peace.” Since Israel has already twice agreed to dismantle settlements in the territory it cedes to the Palestinians (Barak 2000, Olmert 2007), construction in 95-97% of the West Bank (i.e., beyond the Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel blocks adjacent to the Green line), far from being an obstacle to peace, just means that the Palestinians will get to enjoy the fruit of Israeli labor. As for work in areas that even the PA has (in principle) agreed will stay in Israel, they’re not an issue. So why do the Palestinians make such a fuss over them?
For the Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm (JHSP), most (if not all) Palestinians view all of Israel as a settlement; they do not want (the West Bank) land for peace; their definition of peace is “from the river to the sea.” Some – like Abbas – say what we want to hear about compromise in English, but all, in Arabic agree, and teach their children, to expect and demand it all, an effort which has born fruit in the current generation of irredentist Palestinians, 78% of whom feel that Palestine from the river to the sea is an essential goal.
From this perspective, Palestinian objections to building in the West Bank settlements (including East Jerusalem) is ploy to sandbag negotiations, and insistence on no building on any section beyond the Green line is a sign of how little they hold by their agreement to make border adjustments. In short, it’s a sign of bad faith.
Thus, settlements illustrate just how wrong-headed Obama’s approach has been in this regard. Taking Palestinian complaints that the settlements were intolerable to them, and the major obstacle to peace, Obama pressured Israel to put a freeze on building in them as a sign to the Palestinians that they were willing to make concessions for peace. Rather than bring on reciprocal moves from the PA, it made them more intransigent. It literally created the current problem: for the first time in the history of the “peace process” since 1991, the PA refused to negotiate without a settlement freeze.
In other words, Obama’s strategy backfired. For those of us familiar with the dynamics of the JHSP, this was more than predictable. For those committed to the PCP – the vast majority of the policy makers and MSNM, this didn’t quite sink in. On the contrary, they continued to focus on the settlements as the problem, and demand a further extension of the freeze as a way to get the Palestinians to be more “reasonable.” No lesson learned.
But the problem goes much deeper, and its depth may explain the reluctance of the PCPers to register the failure of (civil) expectations. The very idea that the settlements need to be uprooted, every last one of them, clearly implies that the Palestinians plan a Judenrein state. This is hardly a good omen for Palestinian ability to establish a state that can recognize the human and civil rights of minorities, and presumably a violation of all those principles that progressive use to criticize Israel‘s lack of tolerance today. And yet the PCPers have no problem with this demand; indeed, it’s taken as axiomatic that Israel must accede. Apparently there’s not much appetite for facing the formidable obstacles to peace from the Palestinian side.
But this extremist demand that assumes no possibility of shared space under Palestinian sovereignty, and that excludes Jews from some of their most ancient holy places (among the oldest in human history), points towards a more serious problem: for many Palestinians, especially in their zero-sum political culture, it’s an occupation “from the river to the sea.” Indeed, Tel Aviv is occupied; all of it is to be “returned” or, better yet, seized violently. As the Arab proverb especially popular in the early Second Intifada holds: What was taken by force must be taken back by force!
So the settlement issue is indeed a central issue, but not the way PCP sees it. It’s not the cause of the hostility, but a symptom, and its importance to Palestinians reflects not their concern for getting a decent state, but rather their way to avoid negotiations that might lead to a decent state only on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is a perfect illustration of our cognitive egocentrism that the foundation of all our strategic thinking holds that the Palestinians will make peace if they get their own nation on the land Israel conquered in the ’67 war. And if, as so much evidence indicates, that’s the last thing they want?
As is so often the case with the Palestinians, moreover, what they don’t do is more important than what they do do. The real problem for the last two decades (since Oslo), has not been the plethora of Israeli settlements, but the dearth of Palestinian ones. Had Arafat and his fellows in the PA cared about their people, they would have been building settlements in Area A for Palestinian refugees who preferred living in dignity under Palestinian sovereignty rather than wait in a refugee camp till they can go back and be a minority in Israel.
Not every refugee would have chosen that path, but surely there were many who, given the option, would gladly have chosen to get out of the camps. I’m sure that Habitat for Humanity would have been delighted to help build those Palestinian settlements. Instead, the leadership assumed that the refugees should stay in the camps as a weapon against Israel, and the West looked the other way. Few things illustrate the Palestinian and Arab leadership’s irredentist mindset, and their contribution to the suffering of the Palestinian people, than how they treat their own refugees – what Gazan-born Nonie Darwish calls “an Arab-made misery.” If the Palestinian leadership really wanted peace, they’d be resettling refugees right and left in the land they control.
By reading the Israeli settlements the way they do, PCP not only overlooks all the evidence of Palestinian “bad faith” in negotiating a “secure peace,” it demands that Israel make both real and symbolic concessions to these bad faith demands. Consider such “peace gestures” from the point of view of the hard zero-sum players in the Palestinian camp (and others in the region), which views what Westerner’s consider acts of generosity – admissions of fault, concessions on the ground – as signs of weakness and opportunities for renewed aggression, and one begins to understand why there’s a good deal of hostility in Israel to the one-sided demands the US is putting on them. It’s a recipe not for peace, but for more violence. This strategy doesn’t just threaten Israel, it’s most likely outcome will be bad for anyone, like Friedman, who wants a “secure peace.”
Friedman’s PCP simple-mindedness fisked below.
NB: I’m not defending Netanyahu’s refusal to extend the settlement freeze; I’m criticizing the logic upon which the request – with its centrality and urgency – is based.
Just Knock It Off
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMANPublished: October 19, 2010
* COMMENTS (256)
Some of Israel’s worst critics are fond of saying that Israel behaves like America’s spoiled child. I’ve always found that analogy excessive. Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return. Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.
Of course, one might argue that Hizbullah and Hamas are spoiled by the West, by UNIFIL troops and by the EU, which seems determined to pour money into Gaza and the West Bank no matter what’s being done with it. As Romirowsky puts it, “Being Palestinian means never having to say you’re sorry.” As for Iran and Syria, Obama has spoiled them both by not punishing them for their direct participation in the war against NATO troops in Iraq. (A policy that Mearsheimer was only too happy to support with his assurances that “Iran [was] not at war with us… thankfully.”)
But the key statement in this paragraph is that Israel gave up land – as it did in the Oslo Process and the Lebanon withdrawal, and in every case, found that their concessions brought on not reciprocal concessions, but still more violence. This dynamic, understood, changes the way we should interpret the meaning of paths to peace, none of which will appear in the rest of this article.
And here’s another stubborn fact: Israel today really is behaving like a spoiled child.
Fact? This isn’t even a pre-post-modern use of the term. This is a judgment, and a harsh one at that. Does Friedman really think this is a “fact.” Does he consider his judgments so “objective” (another pre-post-modern term) that they have the status of “fact”? We’ll discuss where the spoiled childishness lies below. For the moment, just note the rhetoric.