Monthly Archives: March 2017

What If…?

What If…?

What if “right-wing” Israel is right about why the peace process has failed?

What if negotiations repeatedly failed because the Palestinians used every occasion to demand concessions from Israel and broke them off rather than reciprocate?

What if, when Palestinians say “the Occupation,” they mean all Israel?

Does it make sense to use language like, “the whole world thinks the occupation is the problem”? and wring one’s hands over the (imagined) loss of viability of the (imagined) two-state solution?

And then attack us?

What if the reason that the peace process has failed for so long is because Westerners (including Israel) think positive-sum, and Palestinian Arabs play hard zero-sum?

They want it all, and so do their jihadi brethren the world over – infidels must be dhimmi, starting with Israel.

What if Israel is fighting a common enemy with you liberals and progressives, Caliphaters who want to subject or convert infidels the world over?

Why would you side with your enemy against us?

What if your jihadis are watching and studying the deeds of our jihadis, to turn them against you?

Does it make sense for you to cheer them on when they’re hitting us, and then wonder why they’ve hit you?

Does it make any sense to desire a two-state solution, passionately, and, when one side acts in bad faith, you take his side against the side that did try, did sacrifice, and lost big in the failed deal(s)?

Zionist propaganda, you say? Perhaps. And you’ll find no lack of Jews and Israelis eager to confirm your disdain. But given that most of your information replicates Palestinian propaganda, that should hardly disqualify it as a source.

What if it’s not just a “right-wing” point of view as you’re told, but a realistic one, unhappily accepted by liberals and progressives who refuse to be seduced by unrealistic hopes, and who actually cherish and want to protect progressive values, endangered by misplaced trust in enemies of those values?

Do you help yourself by dismissing our war narrative as useless and adopting the Palestinian one? Or should you at least run through a “what if ‘right wing’ Jews are right” scenario.

Imagine all the people… getting it badly wrong….

Nah, emperor’s new clothes scenarios are just kid’s stories, not real.

And if you decline the invitation to even do that “what if…”, are you not becoming a proleptic dhimmi who rejects speech – even thought – that might upset Triumphalist Muslims?

Own-Goal Cognition, anyone?

Liberals without memory: Fisking Roger Cohen on Geert Wilders

Roger Cohen has another of his patented editorials, this time about Geert Wilders. Rapid fisking below.

 Somebody Else’s Babies

Roger Cohen MARCH 14, 2017

And so it begins. With the Dutch election on Wednesday, Europe embarks on a yearlong test of how far it’s ready to realign itself as an anti-immigrant, pro-Russian continent marked by ascendant nationalism, alt-Right intolerance and the fragmentation of the European Union.

The worst could happen. Nobody who has watched the British decision to quit the European Union in a strange little-England huff,

Anyone who thinks that English voters ignored all the dire predictions of econapocalypse if Britain left because of a “strange huff,” hasn’t a clue to what’s going on in the minds of people.

or the election of Donald Trump with his “America First” anti-Muslim jingoism, can think otherwise. The liberal order has lost its center of gravity.

It happened in 2000 when the progressive left sided with the Jihadis against a progressive ally (Israel), and dragged a cowardly narcissistic liberal center off kilter. (As Ian Buruma said in 2003, at the height of the suicide terror campaign against Jewish infidels: “it’s a liberal litmus test to be pro-Palestinian.”)

The only difference is that the “liberal order”, which managed to shunt aside any criticism by people who thought something was awry by exiling them to the Islamophobic, xenophobic, war-mongering, right-wing, is now discovering just how much they have alienated just how many people.

“And all the blame goes to…”: Sisyphus, Kerry and the Failure of “Peace” Negotiations

Two articles and two blogposts have just appeared that tackle the failed peace negotiations conducted by John Kerry during the second Obama Administration. One, by a participant (with a long history of participation in these efforts going back to 1993), “Inside the Black Box of Israeli-Palestinian Talks” by Michael Herzog, in American Interest, and the other, a strong critique of the first piece, by Raphael Ahren, the diplomatic correspondent of the Times of Israel, and two extensive blogposts, by Yaacov Lozowick, and David Gerstman at Legal Insurrection that criticize the widespread lack of interest of the mainstream media on this revealing text, in part, they suspect, because it doesn’t indict Bibi.

Like most diplomatic issues written by negotiators, one has to read between the lines at what is not said. The issues here are crucial, since much of the logic that this information undermines, lies at the heart of Kerry’s final maneuvers to condemn the settlements as the roadblock to peace, and the vast international consensus – diplomatic and journalistic – that stand behind him.

For Herzog, there’s enough blame to go around:

All parties made mistakes, each exacerbating the others’ and contributing to a negative dynamic.

For Ahrens, Herzog’s piece is a “politely devastating critique” that “skewers Kerry for dooming the peace talks.”

What strikes me in reading Herzog is how much – despite his explicit conclusions – he provides an abundance of clear evidence for the fact that (as Lozowick also notes) the real reason the negotiations failed is because the Palestinians  never had any intention of negotiating. So blaming Kerry (or Bibi) for “dooming the peace talks,” is something like blaming a hospital emergency team for blowing the resuscitation of a mannequin.

If there’s blame to apportion here it’s a) the Palestinians for never negotiating in good faith, and b) the Americans, especially Kerry, for blaming Israel for killing the mannequin,  and c) the Israelis like Herzog for never catching on including (apparently) still now.

In reviewing this material, let me lay out what I think were the negotiating strategies of the sides for the last 25 years, a perspective repeatedly borne out by events, including the information in Herzog’s article:

(NB: I’m a medievalist, trained to piece together fragments of evidence into a larger picture. When the CIA launched after the WWII they tapped medievalists (including one of my professor, Joseph Strayer, specifically because of this training. So maybe I see more because I know less. Certainly, in these matters, I am far from familiar with the details.)

The Americans believed (to a man/woman?) that if only they could get the Palestinians and Israelis to agree on a deal that gave the Palestinians a state on the other side of the “’67 borders,” that would bring peace and solve a whole bunch of problems in the Middle East – linkage – including saving Israel from deciding between democratic or apartheid. They formally adopted a cognitively egocentric notion that the Palestinians really wanted a state, but needed to get the best possible deal to “sell it” to their own people. The way to get it was to pressure the Israelis to make concessions that would bring the Israelis into (what they imagined was) “the zone of possible agreement [between Israelis and Palestinians]” (Indyk), and then go to the Palestinians with a great deal (from the US point of view), and thereby achieve the holy grail of Nobel Peace Prizes, the deal that really is so obvious, you should be able to solve it with an email.

The American position represents a dogmatic extension of Oslo Logic after it blew up in Israel’s face in 2000 (Y2K Mind). It takes as a given that the Palestinians will accept a deal +/- on the “1967 borders,” but they can’t concede too much or they’ll lose face with their people. Applying that “reading” to the negotiations since 2000 (Bush/Condoleezza, Obama/Clinton/Kerry) has a) guaranteed US and Israeli failure, b) guaranteed Palestinian and Jihadi success. Once committed to the paradigm and its expectations, the US was incapable of realizing they were being played.

The Israelis wanted to appease the Americans, and I suspect most of the actual negotiators (Herzog/Livni) agree with the American position that a) peace is urgently needed, and b) believe peace is within their grasp, like in 20o0… “so close.” (Certainly Herzog shows no awareness of what’s available at PalWatch or MEMRI on Palestinian attitudes off the negotiating record.) Because they do want a deal soon for fear of the demographic timebomb, the Israelis are ready to make many of concessions, both short-term (slowdown of settlement activity, release of prisoners) and long-term (division of Jerusalem).

But at the same time they know that they have limits to their concessions, not only on some key issues like refugee return and how Jerusalem is divide (already a pocketed concession), but also the damage to their position from making unreciprocated concessions, increasing the odds that this “peace deal” too will blow up in the face of the conceding side. Thus the Israelis fight over every detail to protect themselves from likely attacks from an eventual Palestinian state, while still making concessions to move the process along, to get, as even Indyk admitted they had, into the zone of possible agreement. Herzog expresses his confidence in the Palestinian’s commitment to finding a solution, despite all the counter-evidence, with a credulous humanitarian credo:

But whoever knows the issues in-depth realizes how crucial they are to both sides’ future. And those of us who have spent years at the negotiating table know how arduous and excruciating a journey is required of both sides if they are to find a sustainable balance encompassing all core issues (italics mine).

That “whoever” who “knows” does not include the current crop of Palestinian “leaders” and their negotiators. On the contrary they’re not at all interested in finding a sustainable balance. No arduous journeys for them.

Bibi’s Strategy:

  • Take it seriously.
  • Fight every detail to get the best acceptable deal,
  • Show good faith, accede wherever possible to American demands
  • Ask for reciprocity.
  • Put really good people to work on it, and follow the details closely.
  • Hope that, if/when things fail, they won’t get blamed.

The Palestinians are nowhere near the American’s “zone of possibility.” As long as they can pretend to the cognitive egocentrics on the other side that they are near, ready, desirous of a deal, however, negotiators will play along pretending to accept the notion of a positive-sum, give and take, deal. Indeed they will indignantly rebuke any challenge to their sincerity.

Erekat argued that this was natural given in his view Abbas’ moderate positions: “He doesn’t need to convince Abbas. Abbas accepts the two-state solution [sic], recognizes Israel [sic] and does not build settlements [alas! He should be building settlements for Palestinian Refugees stuck in camps].”

But they know that their job is to make the process as difficult as possible, to give the impression they’ll make concessions without making any real concessions (eg their phony recognition of Israel). They want above all not to reach an agreement, without being blamed for the failure of negotiations. If, in the process, they can use the Americans to get unreciprocated concessions, great. The US wants them so badly to participate that the Palestinians can make just “sitting down to negotiate” a major concession on their part to match say, Israelis releasing prisoners. If they get blamed, go nuts:

The thing that really drove [Abbas] nuts,” Ashrawi relates, “is that they blamed him for the talks’ collapse. In his view, it’s all the Israelis’ — and the Americans’ — fault.”

The Palestinians are in no hurry because the suffering of their people, as long as Israel can be blamed, is a bargaining chip (like a non-funny remake of Blazing Saddles, “don’t no one come near or I’ll shoot this nigger”). They feel no need to make any actual concessions to Israel (that they wouldn’t carry through on anyway) because they feel time is on their side and they can wait. They know that Israel won’t kick the Palestinians out and can’t digest them; that the situation is a timebomb of ethnic warfare which will destroy everyone. (That’s why some Palestinians call for nuking the whole area.) And, anyway, the negotiator’s job is not to create a Palestinian state (pace “international opinion”), but to destroy an Israeli state. If they deviate from that task, if they make a deal with the Israelis, they’d lose face, be accused of betraying the sacred Arab-Muslim cause, and have tea with Sadat.

So they’re willing to “play along” with negotiations as long as the US pressures Israel. Abbas claims his side had “already exhausted its ability to be flexible in past years and therefore that the main onus was not on him.” If the US can force deeply wounding concessions (Green Line including East Jerusalem) on Israel, then maybe they can appease the Jihadis whom they honor in Arabic, by assuring them this is a major step in the “Two Phase Plan” for the destruction of Israel. If they can’t, they can’t risk the humiliation of agreeing to accept a state of free infidels in Dar al Islam, so they’ll walk away from the table and brag to their Jihadis about how they said “No,” to the mighty Americans.

Abbas’ strategy:

  • insist on settlements as main problem and let Western cognitive egocentrists think you mean the Green Line not the shore line;
  • avoid being involved in negotiations as long as possible;
  • refuse any deal, avoid even responding to any deal;
  • negotiate on other tracks (Hamas, International Community), for the time the talks “fail” (i.e., the moment pressure is put on them);
  • blame Israeli settlements for the failure and get outraged when criticized.

Sand Storm helped me work on a 50-year old puzzle: Predestination

I went last night to the Jerusalem Cinematheque for a screening of Sand Storm by Elite Zexer, sponsored by the Times of Israel. The film is superb, a testament to the enormous talent and empathy of the director, right up there with Footnote and To Fill the Void for movies that penetrate into seemingly alien cultures and yet touch on deep human dilemmas, leaving the viewer with a brilliant “end” that is not an end.

In her excellent conversation with Jessica Steinberg that followed, Zexer made the interesting point that she did not want it to be an “anthropological” film that depicted this foreign culture in all its strangeness, and she certainly succeeded. There was no heavy-handed allusions to (my favorite topic) honor-shame cultures, and the kinds of pressures it puts on the members of the tribe, even though the entire drama revolves around a classic honor-issue: whom does a daughter marry – the youth she met at university in Be’er Sheva, or the tribal member her father chooses for her?

No dark allusions to shame-murders (aka honor-killings), no explicit dialogue about how various figures have shamed or might shame others, no lectures on honor and its preservation, no allusions to the shameful fact that the father is an “abu-banat” – father of only (4) daughters, no invocation of kalam al nass, the deeply judgmental “talk of the people” that, at least according to some observers, paralyzes Arab society. All sous-entendu.

And yet one theme – one might say the main theme – of the movie was the conflict between the father and his women over how to behave. Repeatedly the father makes decisions that damage his family emotionally, and repeatedly he justifies it by saying “I don’t have a choice.” And repeatedly, both his wife and daughter challenge him by insisting “You always have a choice.”

 

European Schizoid Dissonance: The Calm of Appeasement

At the Balfour Declaration centenary conference convened by JCPA Tuesday, February 28, there was a particularly interesting juxtaposition during the first panel between remarks by Colonel Richard Kemp and Professor Julius Schoeps.

(NB: the videos of the talks will only be up next week. I will link when possible and make any amendments to this post that a second hearing might impose. Thanks to Richard Kemp for sending me a copy of his remarks; for his further thoughts see “Balfour Declaration, November 2016)

In his talk, “Israel as a Strategic Asset to Britain”, Richard Kemp drew a striking contrast between two European attitudes towards Israel. On the one hand, there are those who see her as a remarkably successful loyal ally, crucial not only to Montgomery in 1940s, but even more today in the 21st century. On the other, there are those who repeatedly sacrifice Israel’s interests and side against her. His illustrative example concerns Italian Admiral Giampaolo Di Paolo, the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, who:

In 2009… visited Israel to study IDF tactics to apply to NATO operations in Afghanistan. He was particularly interested in Israeli tactics for fighting terror in civilian-populated areas. This visit came just weeks after the publication of the infamous Goldstone Report – which alleged that Israel had committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza.

The contrast was striking: within weeks of the European Parliament endorsing the report, the European Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee was visiting Israel, for the third time in four years, to study ethical methods for dealing with terrorist insurgencies without causing undue harm to civilians.

Apparently the Europeans find scolding Israel nearly irresistible, even though they know their criticism is not only untrue… but, it’s the opposite. Israel behaves better than even other Western armies; a fortiori than the jihadis they fight, whose cannibalistic strategies create civilian casualties among their own people.

Let’s call it (European) schizoid dissonance: holding two diametrically and significantly contradictory notions in one’s empirical and moral discourse at the same time. On the one hand, the (European) cultural elite – journalists, critics, public intellectuals, researchers, NGOs –conduct a conversation in which despising Israel holds an important place, in which they have flipped the symbol and insist on seeing an Israeli Goliath bullying a hapless Palestinian David. On the other hand, the military, the security people, the grown ups in charge, ask the Israelis to teach them how to limit casualties when the enemy uses civilians as shields and how to enhance their security. And that schizoid dissonance seems to hold more or less for all European countries.

No sooner had Kemp finished his remarks than the next speaker, Prof. Julius H. Schoeps, the Director of the Moses Mendelssohn Centre of European Jewish Studies at Potsdam University, made remarks that seemed to illustrate the contradictions Kemp had just highlighted. After asserting German support for Israel and good will towards the Zionist dream, he concluded by sternly warning Israel against impeding the peace process with their settlements.