Category Archives: Prime Divider Societies

Why I am a member of Peace When

Two State Solution, yes, just not now;


Why I am a member of Peace When.

Almost everyone in the positive-sum world of “getting to win-win” agrees that the most equitable resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, is a two-state solution. Land for peace, reciprocal compromise, give a little, get a lot. This positive-sum thinking lies at the heart of what makes modern democracy possible, and has enabled the Europeans to replace millennia of wars between tribes and nations (in medieval times, an annual activity) with a cooperative and productive Union. To progressives, it’s so obvious that, as one BBC analyst put it: you could work it out with an email.

And yet, the conflict has proven amazingly enduring, and resistant to the best intentioned efforts of Western outsiders for the last twenty years. Indeed, not only did it ruin the final year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, but it made fools of both of Obama’s Secretaries of State, who confidently predicted that they would resolve this in less than a year(!). Like a Sisyphus with Alzheimers, doomed to repeat the same motions without registering the repetition, Western “conflict resolution” experts repeatedly attempt to implement the same “positive-sum” solutions, with predictably the same results: not just no success, but actual failure. The situation is worse after than before.

What escapes many who, like me, accept the idea of a two state solution, is the unmentioned now that accompanies all current efforts. This notion that this solution can and should be implemented right away, has good reasons behind it. In addition to its concern for a putting an end to the suffering caused by the conflict as soon as possible, the haste acknowledges the demographic problems in the next generation: can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?

Both are good reasons to want to move quickly, but not good reasons to ignore the obstacles in the way. The reality on the ground, the combination of “strong horse” political culture, and tribal, apocalyptic Jihadi religious culture, makes it impossible to close one’s eyes and hope that both sides are ready for it, and it’s just a matter of finding the right formula of compromise to hit the jackpot.

Choose Life

H/T: Shlomo Halak

Here’s a good metaphor for the Middle East: Israeli civil polity vs. the Arab world’s prime dividers.

In the Israeli national anthem, there’s the line: “to be a free people in our own land…” Seems so simple and obvious from the perspective of modern principles of freedom and human rights. But from the perspective of those for whom “rule or be ruled” is the imperative, such freedom is an affront to their honor. It’s not what Israel does that drives triumphalist Arabs and Muslims up the wall, it’s what they are – no longer dhimmi.

Demotic Religiosity and Economic Growth

Given the storm of controversy surrounding the Romney remarks on the culture of economic development, I’m reproducing below the beginning of an essay I wrote on demotic economic growth which outlines what I think are the crucial issues which either foster or suppress economic growth.

Economic Development and Demotic Religiosity: Reflections on the Eleventh-Century Takeoff

Richard Landes

History in the Comic Mode: The New Medieval Cultural History, ed. Rachel Fulton and Bruce Holsinger (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 101-16. 

Introduction: On Not Assuming Economic Growth

Historians have difficulty understanding economic growth in the Middle Ages largely because we take it for granted.  When it’s not there, as in the early middle ages, we either find reasons why it didn’t happen or imagine that, contrary to impressions, it did happen.  But generally, we assume that economic growth is natural, and that as soon as conditions permit, it appears.  This is the basic view of the great economic historian Henri Pirenne, who postulated that, in the newly peaceful conditions of the 11th century, the dusty-footed merchants naturally began to ply their trade and markets sprang up.[1]   More recently, in a massively impressive volume, Michael McCormick, having located an unexpected number of mentions of markets and exchanges in earlier centuries, has presented us with an already thriving economy in periods of the earlier Middle Ages.[2]

Let me suggest two points, both of which argue a fundamentally different approach.  First, that economic activity, even if it is natural to some people – Pirenne’s pieds poudreux – is not “natural” to some societies, and that when merchants and other entrepreneurs sail against these heavy cultural headwinds, growth is minimal despite their heroic efforts.  Indeed, economic historians studying today’s world, where both the technology and the example of economic growth exist in far more abundance than they did in the 11th century, have discovered not only the existence of “cultures of poverty” or, I would suggest, “cultures of impoverishment,” but that far more cultures follow this pattern than anyone expected.[3]  And second, that the cultural conditions for economic growth, at least in Western Europe, have a great deal to do with religious transformations

Let me begin with the question of cultures of impoverishment.  As you may be able to tell from my adjustment of the term that economic historians have recently discovered about the cultural dimension of poverty, that it is the culture that impoverishes.[4]  By this I mean that the political and social values of the culture, even where they may – indeed must – encourage some economic activity, have a very low ceiling of tolerance for extended economic growth.  They actually prefer poverty for most of the members of the society, and here I attribute agency – if not conscious agency – not only to the elites, but also to the laboring commoners.   The key lies in the psychological dimensions of zero-sum thinking and the structures of what I’d like to call Prime Divider Societies.

On Atheist Morality

Jeff Jacoby asks a particularly pertinent question in his latest op-ed, Created by God to be good,” on Atheist “humanism” (as embodied in the American Humanist Society) and its hostility to biblical (or quranic) morality.

It brings to mind the argument made by Kwame Appiah’s book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen: that moral revolutions do not so much occur as a result of people who do the “right thing” for the “right reason” (practitioners of Kant’s categorical imperative), as they do because there’s a fundamental shift in the peer-group’s view of what’s moral: slavery, dueling, foot binding all go out when the dominant attitude disapproved of such behavior. If you duel to the death and win (as did Aaron Burr), and it’s a career-ender because your peers take you as a hot-headed fool, dueling will not last long.

Jacoby challenges the the core message of the American Humanist Association: “that God and the Judeo-Christian tradition are not necessary for the preservation of moral values and that human reason is a better guide to goodness than Bible-based religion.”

Can people be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good? Sure. There have always been kind and ethical nonbelievers. But how many of them reason their way to kindness and ethics, and how many simply reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised?

In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. “We know that you can be good without God,” Speckhardt tells CNN. He can be confident of that only because he lives in a society so steeped in Judeo-Christian values that he takes those values for granted. But a society bereft of that religious heritage is a society not even Speckhardt would want to live in.

This is the key point. Humanists are, in fact, free riders. They come along after centuries of hard work in prime divider societies where the zero-sum dominating imperative ruled social and political relations. In those long and painful years, some people, driven to by a sense of divine authority, systematically, and at great personal cost (sometimes one’s very life) pursued the generous impulses of positive-sum interactions. Now that we’re raised in a civil society, where we’re trained from childhood to cooperate, to eschew violence, to seek the positive-sum interaction, such behavior comes much more easily.

The Society can put up billboards reading: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

But in a world where it’s “rule or be ruled,” where the nice guy is a sucker who’ll predictably get the short end of the stick, where alpha males use violence with impunity to dominate others, “for goodness’ sake” doesn’t cut much ice. Indeed, it’s quite risible.

On the nature of Hierarchy

I’ve written at length about the role of zero-sum relations and their role in establishing prime divider societies. Here’s a nice illustration of the kinds of relations that both produce rigid hierarchies, and determine their dynamics. (HT/YK)

It’s meant as a spoof of current business relations. I suspect that if the author of this drawing (another Scott Adams?) had to experience this kind of treatment in a real prime divider society, he’d realize how well off he is, wherever he is.

But then again, I may be wrong and American culture today is every bit as mean-spirited and oppressive as the world my medieval folks inhabited. My students tell me to watch The Office and that there are significant differences between the American and English versions. I’m betting the British version is closer to this illustration, and the French version would be even closer. As for the Arab one, n’en parlons pas.

My point is that this kind of behavior is universal as a tendency, against which people at all levels have to fight in whatever small measure, starting with a kid coming home from being bullied in school dealing with younger siblings. In some cultures, the resistance is weak, and the sh%# piles up more than in others.

Pour les francophones: Interview avec moi sur Guysen TV

You can see it here for the rest of the day. Click on Le grand journal – 26/10/2009.

Israel’s “Three Choices”: A tentative response to “israeli”

In a previous post on Bob Simon’s 60-minutes piece, I got a long comment from someone with the tag “israeli”, in which he made the basic argument that Simon did about needing to act now in order to avoid either self-destruction as a Jewish democracy or apartheid.

My answer to him turned out to be much longer than I had planned, and fairly dense in both style and content… lot’s of contorted short-hands and long explanatory phrases in mid-sentence. But I do think it gets at some of my broader thoughts on some key issues concerning the problem of “solving” the conflict. So I’m putting it up as an independent post, and starting a new line of comments.

If anyone wants to offer some edits of my text so it’s not so convoluted, I’d be very grateful. If anyone has links to suggest, also welcome.

I am very late to this, so i am not sure RL will even see my comment but here it goes anyway…

RL, the points you bring up are valid, but there is one or two things you are not taking into consideration… I worked in the policy world for a while, on military matters… The main thing I learned was that critiques are no good if you cannot offer a better solution.

i understand, and have been told that many times. i think, however, that in the current situation, demanding solutions is a luxury we can’t afford. first we have to think seriously and realistically about the situation before we can come up with solutions.

indeed, it’s precisely this demand for solutions that contributed so much to getting into our current predicament. rushing to solutions that policy-makers hoped would work (positive-sum, marshall-plan, land-for-peace type solutions), we systematically ignored all evidence that they wouldn’t work, then didn’t work, indeed even ignoring that they’ve blown up in our face — in this conflict, right now, concession produces violence.

so we won’t find real solutions if we don’t do more reality testing (ie shed our liberal cognitive egocentrism, pay real attention to what’s going on on the other side, and learn to identify and isolate demopaths).

what solutions will emerge for clearly seeing and acknowledging the realities (which in good post-modern style, i will grant you are mutliple and variegated), will only emerge over time. if you won’t move off your current paradigm till you have a solution in sight for this problem, you will go nowhere.

In Israel today the situation is as follows: If there is no peace deal between Israel and the palestinians, the settlements will gradualy expand to the point that a two state solution will become impossible.

i don’t know why you say that. i really doubt any serious settlements are going up in the middle of clearly palestinian areas. most activity (as far as i know — and i’ll accept correction/rectification on this — are areas that a reasonable palestinian negotiating team will agree belongs under israeli sovereignty (e.g., maale adumim, gush etzion).

in any case, this is not what i would call an axiom, so much as it is an acceptance of the current palestinian negotiating stance as immutable — ie the settlements are the reason why there’s not been a 2-state solution yet (eg why Oslo failed), and they all have to go. so if the settlements grow, it’s all over. i don’t accept any of these positions or suppositions as either “fact” or justified.

At that point the palestinians will demand citizenship and Israel will have the choice of apatheid or a democracy that is dominated by the soon to be arab majority.

your very language suggests the degree to which your thinking has been taken over by others. by any sane rules of the democratic game, the “palestinians” have no right to demand citizenship and the israelis are under no moral obligation to grant either to them.

over the last 60 years, the palestinian leadership has pursued policies, both internal and external, that are so profoundly anti-democratic that the current palestinian population, especially the generation raised by the post-Oslo leadership (Fatah and Hamas), are radically incapable of sustaining a democracy among themselves much less participating in one created and maintained with great energy and immense risk, by the israelis.

the only reasoning that this kind of idiotic thinking — that the israelis must grant citizenship to the palestinians if they don’t “give them” their own state — is so fashionable is the result of a combination of incredibly superficial political thinking (along the lines of “hamas was elected, so it must be a democracy/israel, if it wants to be a democracy, can’t insist on being a jewish state”) and really nasty anti-zionism (make them swallow the indigestible palestinians either as citizens or as sovereign neighbors and watch them die a long and painful death).

(i know some of my commentators here will point out that i’ve just “combined” two expressions of the same thing — nasty anti-zionism. and i must confess that the superficiality of most political science right now is so breath-taking that it demands explanation, and that anti-zionism and its siamese twin anti-semitism are major candidates. but i’d like to at least allow the possibility that not every intelligent idiot is a scoundrel. there are genuine dupes of demopaths who, if they realized their folly and confronted the dangers, would change their mind.) Time to swallow the red pill.

The Story of Hamas and the “Palestinian People”

Yaakov Katz has a piece on what Palestinians have told Israeli investigators about how Hamas behaved. Here’s an epistemological conundrum. How do you get an intelligent Arab, who nonetheless believes that anything Israelis say is pure propaganda, to take this seriously? What information do we trust coming out of Gaza? Palestinian/Arab? UN/NGO? Photographer/Journalist? Palestinian speaking anonymously to Western Journalist? Palestinian militants speaking to Israeli Shin Bet (= FBI) interrogators? (Surely not the last option! …featured below.)

Gazans tell Israeli investigators of Hamas abuses
Feb 1, 2009 23:39 | Updated Feb 2, 2009 0:02

Nuaf Atar spoke about the use of Gazan schools to shoot rockets at Israel. Zabhi Atar revealed that Hamas used food coupons to entice Palestinians to join its ranks and Hamad Zalah said Hamas took control of UNRWA food supplies transferred to Gaza and refused to distribute them to people affiliated with Fatah.

child victim of hamas-fatah fighting
A boy is carried after being wounded during clashes between Hamas and Fatah in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis. [file] Photo: AP

These are three examples of testimony from Hamas and Islamic Jihad men who were captured by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead. Details of their interrogations have been released for publication by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

More than 100 Palestinians were captured during the three-week operation but most were released and only a few dozen – members of Hamas and other terrorist factions – are still being held by Israel, officials said. Some of them may be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for abducted soldier Gilad Schalit.

Nuaf Atar, 25, lives in Atatra, in the northwest Gaza Strip, and was captured by paratroopers on January 11. In his interrogation by the Shin Bet, Atar said Hamas government officials “took over” humanitarian aid Israel allowed in to the Strip and sold it, when it is supposed to be distributed for free.

Hamas set up rocket launchers and fired rockets into Israel from within school compounds since the operatives knew that the Israel Air Force would not bomb the schools, he said.

Palestinians who opposed Hamas’s use of their land and homes as launch pads were shot in the legs, Atar added.

The Palestinians’ Worst Enemy: The Poisoned Gift of European Anti-Semitism

I had a conversation with a remarkable Palestinian advocate of human rights several years ago when I tried to show him the material I had on Pallywood. As we discussed the problem, and his helplessness to even address it, it became clear to me that the single most insidious enemy of the Palestinians is the European loathing of an independent Jewish nation. What seemed to Palestinians like a gift — Europeans’ hostility to Israel — has ended up strengthening the worst aspects of Palestinian culture, its irredentism, its preference for suffering Palestinians, its thirst for hatred.

And this is nowhere more evident than when Palestinians try and go sober, try and kick their addiction to hatred, try to turn from gnawing on old wounds to growing new life. Then they run into their most fearful demon, the sympathetic hater in the West: the old fashioned European anti-semite at last released from his post-Holocaust prison of politically incorrect, the radical, the revolutionary, the morally superior/envious progressive, both Christian and post-Christian, even Jewish. For these people, like those Arab leaders who have treated them so abominably for so long, the moral and symbolic value of the Palestinians lies in their suffering, not in their recovery. The forces that have driven on the astounding, unprecedented, otherwise inexplicable 60-year refugee status for Arabs who fled Israel in 1948, will not be cheated of their most precious possession: a people victim of the Jews. Indeed, I would argue, the media footprint of Jewish misdeeds — true and invented — are the very image of this corrosive need.

For those progressives with enough remaining integrity to look at the current madness over Israel and wonder what’s wrong, I invite them to the following meditation. The behavior of Hamas described below in Belmont Club’s discussion, the deeds of that very same Hamas whose flags German’s successfully petitioned their courts for permission to wave at their anti-war demonstrations, is the karmic product of sixty years of proxy hatreds, now reaching new temperatures. Under a terrifying assault by neighbors driven mad by their own leaders’ mad policies, the Gazans find themselves literally crucified by a reign of terror.

January 21st, 2009 3:31 am
The Grand Inquisitors

Up to a hundred Palestinians in Gaza who have defied house arrest orders have been tortured in children’s hospitals and schools converted into interrogation centers. People have been shot in the legs or had their hands broken. The campaign has been described as a “new massacre”. One victim had his eyes put out. No one was safe from the torturers, not even those attending funerals. When is will the UN act to put a stop to this horror? Won’t President Obama intervene to stop these barbaric acts? Aren’t international human rights monitors going to put a stop to this? When will War Crimes charges be preferred against the perpetrators?


Why? Because Hamas is in charge of the torture and their victims are simply Fatah members. If it were Israel who had done these things, well then … But since it’s Hamas, the same Hamas for whom thousands have been marching in ’solidarity’, it’s a non-story. The Jersualem Post cites reports from Fatah members describing the events.

Of course, that’s Khaled abu Toameh, who, without going to Gaza, tells us more than all the brave Ben Wedemans in their flak jackets or Taghreed el-Khodarys, with their anti-Israel talking points. And yet, many journalists dismiss Toameh because he works for the Jerusalem Post. “He’s not fully reliable, you know,” they say “with a sad wink and a nudge.”

The argument is not without its ironies. After all, imagine an Israeli reporter, reporting dirt on Israel to the readers of Al Jazeera. One can hardly imagine our MSM journalists dismissing his or her information. Come to think of it… that’s more or less the function of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in the internet, English Ha-Aretz. When’s the last time a journalist airily dismissed their testimony?

Arab Reformer Challenges the West’s Unconscious Racism

“The gift of liberty is like a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk.” Massimo d’Azeglio, Italian observer of the failure of the 1848 democratic revolutions.

The indispensable MEMRI put up an article by Omran Salmon, an Arab “reformer” to the implicitly racist assumption that the Arab world is incapable of democracy. It’s an interesting challenge because in some senses it seems to contradict my arguments about cognitive egocentrism in which I claim that by projecting liberal Western attitudes positive-sum attitudes onto Arabs, we automatically assume that they’re capable of democracy when they’re not. That, I contend, is a form of prejudice in which liberals give Arabs a free pass because, assuming Arabs are incapable of democratic values, liberals are afraid to make the demands necessary.

It turns out, Salmon’s attack on the West reflects precisely the problem Arabs have with democracy, and confirm the judgment of pessimistic Westerners. I’ll try and sort out some of the issues by responding to Salmon’s comments [in bold] below.

Special Dispatch – No. 2182
January 9, 2009 No. 2182

Arab Liberal Criticizes European Parliament President for Suggesting That the Middle East Does Not Deserve The Democracy Enjoyed By The West, December 21, 2008.

During a December 20, 2008 visit to the Omani capital Muscat, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering stated that democracy in the Middle Eastmust evolve from within, that it must reflect local traditions and values, and that the West should not pressure the region to adopt a European-style democratic system. This statement sparked criticism among Arab intellectuals; the next day, ‘Omran Salman, editor of the reformist website, [1] posted an article harshly critical of Poettering’s statements.

Following are excerpts from Salman’s article:

Western Officials Would Rather Keep the Middle East Under Dictatorships

“…What is the meaning of statements [such as Poettering’s]… that the democratic system followed in Europe is appropriate for countries all over the world except in the Arab region?

“Naturally, such statements are not innocuous, nor are they for the benefit of these alleged exceptions [i.e. the Arab countries]; rather, they are manifestations of racist tendencies as well as self-serving objectives.

“These people [like Poettering] believe that Arabs deserve nothing better than their present governments – [that is,] they do not deserve the democracy enjoyed by civilized nations. It follows that it is better not to pressure dictatorial regimes but instead to grant their wishes, [and receive] in exchange agreements, money, and profits – while the people there can go to hell.

Not a promising beginning. This indignant charge — which assumes Arabs are perfectly capable of having a democracy — comes close to a conspiracy theory about the West wanting to keep the Arab world run by dictators. A little self-critical humility might have been in order. After all, the Arab world is virtually a universal political failure, and only tiny emirates rolling in petrodollars have even come vaguely close to democracy.

The irony, of course, is that poor President Poettering was just trying to be accommodating, and, rather than make demands on the Arabs, hoped to appease them by not imposing western standards — women’s and minority rights, free press and speech — for which no Arab nation or culture (even in the diaspora) shows much aptitude. This indignation seems a bit misplaced.

How Did It Happen? Kagan on Realists as Dupes of Demopaths

Robert Kagan, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an informal adviser to the McCain campaign, whose most recent book is The Return of History and the End of Dreams, has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the bizarre turn that our “realist” thinkers have taken in recent years. It’s as if the “realists,” who should in principle line up with the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm (HSJP), have somehow adopted the Politically Correct Paradigm (PCP) — whose principles are as un-“realistic” as one could imagine, and then turned that paradigm against the only culture that makes PCP a viable option, the civil polities of the democratic West. Although Kagan focuses on the anomaly, my comments attempt to explain how this bizarre turn of events could happen. It’s got to do with the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism, something no “realist” has any business falling prey to.

Power Play
The nature of nations, like people, never changes. Today’s political realists say economics rather than military might has become the guiding principle of countries, but the conflict in Georgia shows otherwise, argues Robert Kagan.
August 30, 2008; Page W1

convoy of russian tanks
Associated Press
A convoy of Russian troops drives toward the Abkhazian border in western Georgia.

Where are the realists? When Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it ought to have been their moment. Here was Vladimir Putin, a cold-eyed realist if ever there was one, taking advantage of a favorable opportunity to shift the European balance of power in his favor — a 21st century Frederick the Great or Bismarck, launching a small but decisive war on a weaker neighbor while a surprised and dumbfounded world looked on helplessly. Here was a man and a nation pursuing “interest defined as power,” to use the famous phrase of Hans Morgenthau, acting in obedience to what Mr. Morgenthau called the “objective law” of international power politics. Yet where are Mr. Morgenthau’s disciples to remind us that Russia’s latest military action is neither extraordinary nor unexpected nor aberrant but entirely normal and natural, that it is but a harbinger of what is yet to come because the behavior of nations, like human nature, is unchanging?

This “objective law” is what Eli Sagan calls the “paranoid imperative.” Rule or be ruled… Do onto others before they do onto you. According to Sagan, this principle has prevailed in virtually all international relations between polities, and domestic relations between incumbent elites and commoners from the early centuries of the agricultural revolution. The dominance of this principle produces what I’ve called “prime divider societies.” I refer to this principle as the “dominating imperative” partly because when I spoke to colleagues in political science about it, they responded, “that’s not paranoid, it’s realistic”; and partly because I prefer saving the paranoid imperative for “exterminate or be exterminated.”

The significance of Sagan’s perspective, however, comes out when we understand the role of overcoming the paranoid imperative in creating civil polities. Only when a critical mass of autonomous moral agents can commit to renouncing the dominating imperative and trusting that others will as well, can a society create a democratic polity. I recently reread Mill’s words in an article by Alain de Botton on “The Nanny State”

    “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it … The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.”

When I first read those principles in high school, it all seemed fairly straightforward. I didn’t realize how much they appeal to what I now understand is “liberal cognitive egocentrism” (LCE) that the zero-sum games that people play for emotional reasons make Mill’s eminently reasonable-sounding conditions extremely rare to achieve at a social level.

Our problem, as a democratic culture committed to the principles of civil polities, is that we fail to appreciate how exceptionally difficult it is to achieve these levels of tolerance and good will towards others, and as a result we get profoundly confused about both the ability of other cultures to achieve the same levels (PCP 1) and about our achievements (hyper-self-criticism and PCP 2). This goes back at least to the late 60s (when I first encountered the phenomenon): if we can have civil polities based on mutual trust and mutual freedoms, why can’t we do that with the whole world? (This is, by the way, an unspoken axiom of Chomsky’s thinking.) In some senses, the UN was created precisely with this model in mind, and the legislation of universal human rights was its quintessential expression.

Today’s “realists,” who we’re told are locked in some titanic struggle with “neoconservatives” on issues ranging from Iraq, Iran and the Middle East to China and North Korea, would be almost unrecognizable to their forebears. Rather than talk about power, they talk about the United Nations, world opinion and international law. They propose vast new international conferences, a la Woodrow Wilson, to solve intractable, decades-old problems. They argue that the United States should negotiate with adversaries not because America is strong but because it is weak. Power is no answer to the vast majority of the challenges we face, they insist, and, indeed, is counterproductive because it undermines the possibility of international consensus.

Maybe the key here lies in the phrase “some titanic struggle with neoconservatives.” Among the many elements of zero-sum thinking is a bizarre (and highly emotional) force-field that distorts judgment. Like Bush Derangement Syndrome (or its many relatives, like Israel Derangement Syndrome), people so dislike someone or thing that they adopt positions that are self-destructive just so that the object of their hatred, resentment, or irritation, can suffer. From zero-sum to negative sum.

This is where we enter the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. We project our good intentions on demopaths (“realism” rephrased as “idealism”), demopaths project their bad intentions on us, and with the help of some hyper-self-criticism, we accept their profoundly dishonest and hypocritical accusations of not living up to standards they themselves hold in contempt (attacking the realists as racists for pointing out profound cultural differences).

They are fond of citing Dean Acheson, Reinhold Niebuhr and George Kennan as their intellectual forebears, but those gentlemen would have found most of their prescriptions naive. Mr. Acheson, as Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, had nothing but disdain for the United Nations and for most international efforts to solve world problems. As his biographer, Robert L. Beisner, has shown, he considered such efforts evidence of the naive hopefulness of “people who could not face the truth about human nature” and “preferred to preserve their illusions intact.” He strongly supported the NATO alliance but ultimately put his faith not in international institutions but in “the continued moral, military and economic power of the United States.” He aimed to build a “preponderance of power” and to create “situations of strength” around the world. Until the United States acquired this predominant power, he believed, negotiations and international conferences with adversaries such as the Soviet Union were worthless. He opposed talks with Moscow throughout his entire time in office.

The NYT Ship of Fools: Rodenbeck (PCP2) Reviews Pollack (PCP1)

I recently posted on the way the NYT packages discussions of the Middle East. Now we get a close look at how it packages book reviews. Below is a review of a book by Ken Pollack offering a grand strategy for the US to contribute significantly to resolving the Middle East conflict. It seems like a flawed book in many ways, but hardly in the terms in which the chosen reviewer critiques it. The reviewer is Max Rodenbeck, the Middle East correspondent for The Economist. It’s a case of washing away PCP1 with a dose of PCP2, rather than balancing it with a more sober appraisal of the situation (HSJP)

For a more valuable critique, see Michael Rubin’s review in the New York Sun. Thank civil society for multiple sources of opinion. Thank the NYT for sheltering you from painful realities, and loading up its pages with writers from the ship of fools.

War and Peace

Published: August 22, 2008

Back in 2002, I ran into one of the Brookings Institution’s top Middle East hands at the inaugural session of the United States-Islamic World Forum, a now annual event that Brookings sponsors jointly with the government of Qatar. “How’s it going?” I asked, expecting to hear about clashing misperceptions across the cultural divide. “Good,” came the gruff reply. “They’re beginning to realize that they are the problem.”

A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East
By Kenneth M. Pollack
539 pp. Random House. $30
First Chapter: ‘A Path Out of the Desert’ (August 24, 2008)

Reading this big, ambitious book by Kenneth M. Pollack, who is the head of research at Brookings’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, it is hard not to wish that what he refers to as Washington’s “policy community” would more often realize that they are the problem.

That’s pretty amazing. If he had written, “they are part of the problem,” okay. But “they are the problem.” That’s pure MOS: Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome — as if there were no problem besides our bungled attempts to solve the problem. It’s a little like saying all health problems are iatrogenic. There are no diseases; it’s the doctors’ fault.

It would have been nice, for instance, had Pollack himself thought harder before arguing, in scholarly papers and his widely read 2002 book, “The Threatening Storm,” that America had “no choice” but to invade Iraq. That ostensibly sober appraisal, coming from a former C.I.A. analyst, Clinton official and self-described liberal, arguably added more gravitas to the shrill cries for war than any other voice.

Pollack has long since confessed to having been wrong about Iraq. “A Path Out of the Desert” includes other mea culpas. “There has been far too little asking the people of the region themselves what they thought and what they wanted,” he ruminates at one point, though the book offers slim evidence of his having pursued this advice. While the administration that Pollack served gets some light wrist-­slapping, it is the following eight years of Bush policy that he calls “breathtakingly arrogant, ignorant and reckless.”

Rudenbeck speaks as if it’s a) clear how to consult the people of the region, b) that they are clear on what they want, and c) they’ll give you a straight answer whether they are clear or not.

Many of Pollack’s other judgments are as sound as is this criticism of the Bush administration. Since most of the post-cold-war world has stabilized, democratized and prospered, it is probably correct to suggest, as he does, that America should commit itself to helping the messy Middle East come up to par.

Now there’s an breathtaking piece of ignorant and reckless arrogance. Who says they want democracy? And who is they? And even if they say they want it, who says they (and here I’m speaking of the key players, the alpha males) are willing to make the sacrifices necessary for democracy (like giving up honor-killings or self-help justice). What a mealy-mouthed homogenized view of post-war culture Rodenbeck offers up with this description of post-war culture and the [obvious] conclusions he thinks we should draw from it.

Maghen Challenges Leading Conventional Ideas on Agreement Between Iran and the West

Ze’ev Maghen, Senior Lecturer in Islamic Religion and Persian Language at Bar-Ilan University, and Chair of the Department of Middle East History, recently published “From Omnipotence to Impotence: A Shift in the Iranian Portrayal of the “Zionist Regime“. The article examines and challenges some of the prevailing notions about the prospects for and the price of an agreement with Iran, and what the implications would be for Israel.

One of the interesting points about his study concerns the wild swings of Iranian thinking on Israel. One minute it’s omnipotent, the next, impotent. Not only does this reflect the Iranian mullahs’ lack of touch with reality, but also their terrible lack of confidence which they must compensate for by using totalistic language. Profound imbalance, profound instability.

Maghen opens with a description of the banal, ubiquitious nature of calls for the destruction of the U.S. and Israel in Iran. After classical music performances, soccer goals, and even a speech by Ayatollah Khamenei meant to counter President Ahmadinejad’s extreme rhetoric about Israel, Iranians robotically call for Israel and America’s demise:

In January 2006, the Iranian daily Jomhuriya Eslami carried the text of a speech delivered in Tehran’s main mosque by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene’i. Attempting to defuse the diplomatic tension occasioned by newly elected President Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel’s destruction at the previous month’s “World without Zionism” conference, Khamene’i concluded his uncharacteristically moderate sermon with the following ringing remarks: “We Iranians intend no harm to any nation, nor will we be the first to attack any nation. We do not deny the right of any polity in any place on God’s earth to exist and prosper. We are a peace-loving country whose only wish is to live, and to let live, in peace.” Without missing a beat or evincing even a hint of irony, the reporter who had covered the event continued: “The congregation of worshippers, some seven thousand in number, expressed their unanimous support for the Supreme Leader’s words by repeatedly chanting: marg bar Omrika, marg bar Esra’il – ‘Death to America, Death to Israel!'”1

Empty Posturing: A Demopath Stands up for Press Freedom in “Occupied Palestine”

Muzzling press freedom in Occupied Palestine

Khalid Amayreh

To begin with, I would like to point out that I am writing this article at the risk of being arrested for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the Palestinian Authority (PA) image.

However, the cause of press freedom in Occupied Palestine is too important to be compromised by fears for one’s safety.

Sounds like a brave man. And he may be. But his opening sentence is packed with ludicrous notions: a) there is a cause of press freedom in “Occupied Palestine”; b) it’s only for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the PA image that he runs risks (try criticizing Hamas and see who shows up at your door); and c) it’s “Occupied Palestine” that’s the problem. On the contrary, the closest thing to press freedom Palestinians ever experienced was under Israeli “occupation.” It’s when the place was handed over first to Arafat, and then in Gaza to Hamas, that press freedoms — and freedom of speech — vanished.

As one Palestinian in “occupied Jerusalem” put it: “At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison…” Another, from an area that rioted in 2000 against Israel, but balked ferociously at being “transferred” to Arafat’s Palestine in a land-exchange deal, said: “Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want — so long as you don’t touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up.”

Pipes quotes Palestinians about “Freedom of Expression”:

    ‘Adnan Khatib, owner and editor of Al-Umma, a Jerusalem weekly whose printing plant was burned down by PA police in 1995, bemoaned the troubles he’d had since the Palestinian Authority’s heavy-handed leaders got power over him: “The measures they are taking against the Palestinian media, including the arrest of journalists and the closure of newspapers, are much worse than those taken by the Israelis against the Palestinian press.” In an ironic turn of events, Na‘im Salama, a lawyer living in Gaza, was arrested by the PA on charges he slandered it by writing that Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy. Specifically, he referred to charges of fraud and breach of trust against then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Salama noted how the system in Israel allowed police to investigate a sitting prime minister and wondered when the same might apply to the PA chieftain. For this audacity, he spent time in jail. Hanan Ashrawi, an obsessive anti-Israel critic, acknowledged (reluctantly) that the Jewish state has something to teach the nascent Palestinian polity: “freedom would have to be mentioned although it has only been implemented in a selective way, for example, the freedom of speech.” ‘Iyad as-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, confesses that “during the Israeli occupation, I was 100 times freer [than under the Palestinian Authority].”

So, granted, the PA are thugs and don’t allow freedom of expression, but alas for our intrepid journalist trying to stand up for freedom of the press in “occupied Palestine,” the only time there was anything like “freedom of the press” was when the Israelis really did occupy the land.

Hence, journalists and free-minded citizens must not allow themselves to be intimidated by a police-state apparatus that views itself as God’s vicegerent on earth.

In recent weeks and months, the American-backed and Israeli-favored regime in Ramallah has been systematically violating the human rights and civil liberties of the Palestinian people in ways unseen since the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

Muslims who Admire Israel: What Significance?

There are a tiny number of Arab and Muslim intellectuals who have expressed admiration for Israel. What does this admiration mean? Do we take its numerical percentage as a sign of its significance? Say a hundred pro-Israel Muslims out of 1.4 billion Muslims, so less than .00001% of the total, i.e., less than a fraction of a statistical error?

Or do we take it as the tip of an iceberg of an opinion that cannot express itself in an honor-shame culture where honor has been defined in terms of hating Israel, and therefore every expression of pro-Israel sentiment represents something far more significant, something that, just in order to exist, must fight heavy cross-winds. In other words, it’s the easiest thing to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel in the Muslim world; it takes great courage and intellectual integrity to fight that consensus. Just as we should weight Israeli self-criticism differently from Palestinian demonization in our efforts to assess the information we get from the Middle East, so should we weigh pro- and anti-Israel sentiments in the Muslim world.

The case of Salah Choudhury, the Bengladeshi journalist who is now fighting for his life against charges of sedition, treason, blasphemy and espionage, raises yet another dimension. In addition to the peer-pressure of an honor-shame culture — so strong it can drive mothers to kill their daughters — there is also the matter of violent intimidation, whether state-sponsored (as in Choudhury’s case) or supported by a fatwa that operates at the grass-roots level. Just as Islam considers that apostates deserve death, so does this religion exercise enormous threats of and execution of violence against those it considers guilty of betraying the cause.

When one considers the joint threat of social and economic ostracism on the one hand and threat of violence on the other, even the slightest expression of support or admiration for Israel in the Muslim world needs to be factored at, say, 100,000,000 times the significance of an anti-Israel sentiment that is so easy and so (seemingly) cost-free for Muslims to express.

In honor of Choudhury’s struggle — I urge everyone to sign the petition on his behalf — I post here the reflections of another courageous Muslim, exiled Iraqi writer Najem Wali, who followed her intellectual instincts and went to visit Israel.

A journey into the heart of the enemy
Sign and Sight

Exiled Iraqi writer Najem Wali travelled to Israel to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the Arab leaders

When a child is born in Israel or to us in the Arab world, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is flowing in its umbilical cord. Since the declaration of the state of Israel on May 14 1948, Israel has been the official enemy number one for the Arab states.

But even as a child I found the rhetoric didn’t add up. How could this somehow “all-powerful” country so successfully “let the Arab nations sink into lethargy”, as the official speeches would have us believe? And why, at the same time, were they so confident that the “small state of Zionist gangs” would inevitably “disappear from the map”? I never found a convincing answer. Nor did I ever make the connection between the “Jew question” and the “Palestine question”, between the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of Israel’s foundation.

Writing (Away) One’s Future: The Nakba and Palestinian Destiny

Barry Rubin, one of the most astute observers of the Middle Eastern scene, has the following reflections on the Palestinian Nakba. They explain a critical episode in the long and painful tale of Palestinian suffering.

Self-Made Nakba
Barry Rubin
May 19, 2008

It’s become fashionable to match celebration of Israel’s founding (though part of the media can’t even admit Israelis are celebrating) with Palestinian marking of their 1948 “nakba” catastrophe.

Yet whose fault is it that they didn’t use those six decades constructively? And who killed the independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that was part of the partition plan? Answer: The Arab states and Palestinian leadership themselves.

The mourners were the murderers.

You can read details in my book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict. Here’s a summary. The key point is that in rejecting partition, demanding everything, and starting a war it could not win, the Arab side ensured endless conflict, the Palestinian refugee issue, and no Palestine. It wasn’t murder it was suicide.

Or in the words of General John Glubb, commander of Jordan’s army: “The politicians, the demagogues, the press, and the mob were in charge….Warnings went unheeded. Doubters were denounced as traitors.”

That’s an old and persisting story. It’s hard for Westerners to imagine how thoroughly Arab culture throttles dissent with this technique of considering any criticism as betrayal. It’s the dynamic that led the French Revolution to the terror. It’s a daily norm in the Palestinian territories. Their unity — 80% approve suicide terror — is itself the product of a regime of both physical and mental terror.

Briefly, the British tried to help the Arabs win; the Americans to assist them in finding a last-minute way out, and the soon-to-be Israeli Jews were ready to have a Palestinian state alongside Israel if their neighbors had accepted it.

The British government provided money and arms to Arab states (for Egypt 40 warplanes and 300 troop carriers; for Iraq, planes as well as antiaircraft and antitank guns; for Saudi Arabia, a military training mission) while embargoing them to Israel, tipped off Arabs about the timing of its withdrawals (giving them a head start to seize abandoned installations), subsidized the Arab League, blocked Jewish immigration, and let British officers run Jordan’s army in the war against Israel.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said later said, “It became clear to us that Britain viewed with favor the Arab aims regarding Palestine.”

It’s well-known that President Harry Truman supported partition and quickly recognized Israel. But in March 1948 the U.S. government offered the Arab states a serious plan to suspend partition, block a Jewish state, and create a new, long-term trusteeship. They considered but rejected it, even after Washington proposed an international peacekeeping force–including Egyptian troops–to maintain order.

Finally, if the Arab side has accepted partition, the Jewish leadership would have accepted establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. Many were desperate to get a state at all, lacked confidence they would win the war, and knew they could not buck an international consensus.

Why, then, did the Arab side, and especially the Palestinian leadership, reject partition, go to war, and trigger a 60-year-long crisis that was a disaster for their people?

There are four basic reasons:

What Checks and Balances to the Fourth Estate: Appeal for Charles Enderlin Poses the Question

In response to the court decision, some of the “friends of Charles” have come out in support of him with a petition posted at the Nouvel Observateur‘s website. [The Nouvel Obs is one of France’s three major news weeklies run by Jean Daniel, who, along with his daughter Sara, are among the signatories.] I have translated and fisked the peition below.

The petition, which Luc Rosenzweig has denounced as a “petition of shame,” and it is a precious document. It reveals the degree of confusion sown in the minds of the French elite by their quasi aristocratic status, which results in a form of (unconscious?) demopathy. Menahem Macina shrewdly points out that it recalls the “patriotic forgery” of an anti-Dreyfussard, who tried to make the forger of the documents that incriminated Dreyfus into a hero and martyr of Jewish malevolence . Like the right-wing anti-Semites of the turn of the 20th century who paraded their hatreds under the banner of Libre Parole [Free Speech], the signers of this petition present their defense of Enderlin’s reputation and indifference to the evidence as a valorous deed in defense of democracy and a free press.

I have argued that one of the fundamental contributors to the progress of Eurabia is an inertial force of aristocracy among the European elite – what one commentator called their “Olympian complex.” This attitude, and the culture that promotes it, reflect the social dynamics not of modern society, but of prime-divider society, not of a sense of equality and solidarity throughout the society, but a sense of privilege and exceptional status among the elite.

In the context of Eurabia, this means that the professional elite – media and political – that pushes the agenda of the European Union has much more in common with other elites in other countries than it does with its own commoners. It can, therefore, easily countenance a massive demographic transfer of Muslim immigrants to do the manual labor – what difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a post-Christian working in a factory? And it can at the same time dismiss without qualms the complaints of commoners when such a transfer does not work. The fate of Brussels, a city where both the capital of the EU (and hence massive numbers of well-paid administrators live) on the one hand, and one of the largest and increasingly aggressive Muslim populations in Europe on the other, offers both a real and symbolic case in point.

This elitism in the case of Charles Enderlin produces a notion of the journalistic profession that rejects transparency, that considers criticism by the journalists’ audience (their reading and viewing public) as inadmissible attacks on their honor and reputation, which threaten one of the main pillars of democracy[!].

For Charles Enderlin
NOUVELOBS.COM | 04.06.2008 | 15:39

Seven years. It’s now seven years that a obstinate and hateful campaign has tried to tarnish the professional dignity of our colleague Charels Enderlin, correspondent for France2 in Jerusalem. For seven years the same individuals have attempted to present as a “hoax” and a “series of staged scenes” his report showing the death of Mohammed al-Doura, 12 years old, killed by fire coming from the Israeli position on the 30 of September 2000 in the Gaza Strip during a confrontation between the Israeli army and armed Palestinians.

As far as I can make out, they think Charles did no wrong in reporting as he did. Even Larry Derfner admits that Charles got it wrong. But the evidence appears nowhere in this manifesto. Charles is, by virtue of his position, above such suspicion, and any effort to criticism is, by definition, obstinate and hateful. Would it ever occur to these enlightened folk to consider the decades-long campaign of Pallywood — with Al Durah as a signal success — as a “hateful and obstinate campaign to tarnish” the international reputation of Israel?

Do Palestinian Arabs Care Enough about having a Nation to Self Criticize?

Shlomo Avineri has written an interesting meditation on the Palestinian Nakba. He makes his criticism carefully, peppered with constant efforts not hurt anyone’s feelings by suggesting that the Palestinian national movement is not legitimate, strong, etc. But the thrust of his argument suggests just the opposite: the institutional weakness he identifies reflects a much broader weakness in “nationalist” aspirations. In order for the Palestinian Arabs to engage in the kind of self-criticism he calls for, they would have to confront the issue he refuses to raise: i.e., that the only real solidarity that Palestinian Arabs manage to muster among all the mutual rivalries and hatreds they feel among each other, is their hatred of Israel. And that, alas, is not enough to make a civil polity. On the contrary…

The real Nakba
By Shlomo Avineri
Last update – 12:35 09/05/2008
Tags: Palestinians, Israel, Nakba

When the Palestinians mark what they call the “Nakba” (catastrophe) on May 15, they would do well to consider that their real failure did not occur in 1948: It had already happened earlier, and it continues to happen now. The real Nakba occurs before our eyes – and theirs – every day, at every hour, and Hamas’ violent coup in Gaza is only the most recent example of it.

While Palestinians may see themselves, with much justification, as the victims of the Zionist movement’s successful establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, the reasons for their historical failure should be sought elsewhere: in the inability of the Palestinian national movement to create the political and social institutional framework that is the necessary foundation for nation-building. The history of national movements teaches us that national consciousness, strong as it may be, is not enough: Movements that could not create the institutional system vital for their success failed.

I assume this remark about “strong as it may be” represents Avineri’s effort to acknowledge Palestinian “national consciousness.” I actually think that any serious national consciousness is a key ingredient in “creating the institutional system…”, and that the Palestinians’ failures in this area come specifically from a lack of national consciousness except insofar as it articulates a passionate hatred of the Zionists. Beyond this, Palestinian nationalism seriously lacks any sense of “national” solidarity.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the Palestinian national movement, as quite a few members of the Zionist camp did in the past; it is an error that many continue to make today. But it was Haim Arlosoroff – then a young man in his early 20s – who as early as 1921 recognized that what the Zionist movement faced was not a series of violent events, but a national movement.

This warning not to underestimate Palestinian nationalism misses an important point. To the Western (including the Israeli) observer, it’s hard to tell the difference between national resistance to Zionism and the resistance of a religio-cultural tradition that needs to dominate minorities, especially religious ones. Since the Palestinians long ago learned that the West did not like hearing about religious dreams of genocide, they have systematically presented their resistance as national. In fact “national sentiment” may be the least distinctive dimension of the resistance to Israel. What we need not to underestimate is the depth of the resistance; and by emphasizing the role of nationalism, we indulge our cognitive egocentrism and make just that mistake.

Thus Arlosoroff was absolutely right to argue that Zionism did not face a series of (presumably unconnected) violent events, but he was wrong to assume that it was a “national movement.” Indeed, as Steven Plaut just pointed out, for the Arabs living in Palestine in 1920, the “Nakba” that drove them to riots was the creation of a separate politico-administrative unit, Palestine, that separated them from Syria. The resistance Arlosoroff detected was real: it had a consistent and powerful ideology behind it. But it was a mistake then, and continues today, to think of this resistance not in religious and cultural terms. It is not an act of empathy to project Western egocentric notions about nationalism on people who had and continue to have radically different religious and cultural orientations. (Ironically, that projection may be the supreme example of Western cultural imperialism, one which, in the hands of avowed anti-imperialists, may destroy the West.)

The Palestinian national movement, however, has been accompanied by a long string of failures, which have been rooted in its inability to form frameworks of consensus and solidarity; these failures weakened and fragmented it, and it seems that this is a problem the Palestinians have not been able to overcome to this day.

The first and sharpest expression of this failure came in the years 1936-1939, during the Palestinian uprising against British rule. This rebellion failed not only because it was brutally suppressed by the British colonial authorities or because the Haganah (pre-state underground) forces were able to defend the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine). What happened is that the Palestinians were unable to establish institutions that would be acceptable to all parts of Arab society in the country, and when internal disputes arose over the nature of the struggle, the rebellion evolved into an intra-Palestinian civil war. More Palestinians died at the hands of rival armed Palestinian militias than were killed in clashes with the British army or with the Haganah. Within Palestinian society there is tendency to suppress the memory of this violent struggle, which took place between the militias associated with the Husseinis and those tied to the Nashashibis. But this suppression only deepens the failure and makes it more difficult to draw lessons from it.

The price of a lack of self-criticism. Mind you, the means the Arabs living in Palestine used to supress the memory of this internally-generated catastrophe is a narrative about evil Zionists and evil British… in other words, a narrative of grievance and victimization.

1948-2008 Part I: The Sad Story of the Nakba

Efraim Karsh has an excellent article in the latest Commentary on the story of 1948 which, among other things, sheds significant light on the nature of the catastrophe (Nakba) that befell the Palestinian people at that time. I recommend reading the entire piece, but what I have excerpted below (with comments) represents the thread that has to do with the fate of the Arab population of the British Mandate of Palestine. The tale he tells offers an object lesson in how the approach one takes influences the history one writes. Karsh’s approach is founded in the principles of civil society — self-determination, government of, by, and for the people, productive economies, life-enhancing positive-sum choices — and traces the tragic tale of how and why the Palestinian people failed to accomplish any of these progressive goals. (By contrast, note the effects of a different approach and set of values.)

Karsh claims the article is based on new research into the recently declassified archives of “millions of documents from the period of the British Mandate (1920-1948) and Israel’s early days” although the piece itself is without any references. The author promises a footnoted version soon.

1948, Israel, and the Palestinians—The True Story
May 2008

…Far from being the hapless objects of a predatory Zionist assault, it was Palestinian Arab leaders who from the early 1920’s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival. This campaign culminated in the violent attempt to abort the UN resolution of November 29, 1947, which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine. Had these leaders, and their counterparts in the neighboring Arab states, accepted the UN resolution, there would have been no war and no dislocation in the first place.

Note that this reflects classic “prime-divider” dynamics — an empowered ruling elite makes decisions that benefit themselves rather than their own people. And the decisions are classic zero-sum: no shared land, no twin-nationalities… the whole loaf or no loaf.

Failed Jihad 1948: The Real Naqba

Benny Morris has a new book out on 1948. In the course of researching it he discovered how intense the religious dimension of the conflict that year. Such an observation is on the one hand, quite ordinary and empirical, on the other, a violation of the principles of cognitive egocentrism whereby the Arab objection to Jewish independence must be formulated and presented to the public as a “rational” objection, as a “nationalist” argument. Negotitations according to the PC Paradigm will only work if the dispute is about territories and rational national narratives that can come to a mutual understanding (2-state solution). But if it is profoundly zero-sum and religious in nature, then all the pacific bromides about war not being the answer fall by the wayside.

Here Morris discusses the religious dimension of 1948 and chides the modern historian for not taking it seriously.

Historians Should Take the Jihadi Rhetoric of 1948 Seriously

By Benny Morris

Mr. Morris is a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University and the author of 1948 (Yale University Press), from which this article is excerpted.

Historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric and flourishes that accompanied the two-stage assault on the Yishuv [the Jewish residents of Palestine before the founding of Israel] and the constant references in the prevailing Arab discourse to that earlier bout of Islamic battle for the Holy Land, against the Crusaders. This is a mistake. The 1948 War, from the Arabs’ perspective, was a war of religion as much as, if not more than, a nationalist war over territory. Put another way, the territory was sacred: its violation by infidels was sufficient grounds for launching a holy war and its conquest or reconquest, a divinely ordained necessity. In the months before the invasion of 15 May 1948, King Abdullah, the most moderate of the coalition leaders, repeatedly spoke of “saving” the holy places. As the day of invasion approached, his focus on Jerusalem, according to Alec Kirkbride, grew increasingly obsessive. “In our souls,” wrote the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, “Palestine occupies a spiritual holy place which is above abstract feelings. In it we have the blessed breeze of Jerusalem and the blessings of the Prophets and their disciples.”

The evidence is abundant and clear that many, if not most, in the Arab world viewed the war essentially as a holy war. To fight for Palestine was the “inescapable obligation on every Muslim,” declared the Muslim Brotherhood in 1938.

The Muslim Brotherhood gained great strength from their anti-Zionist activities particularly during this period of the “Arab Revolt” of 1936-39, launching, according to Matthias Küntzel, their first “fanatical solidarity campaign in which the idea of Jihad was linked to the policies in Palestine,” and going from 800 to 200,000 years from 1936-38 (p. 21).

Indeed, the battle was of such an order of holiness that in 1948 one Islamic jurist ruled that believers should forego the hajj and spend the money thus saved on the jihad in Palestine. In April 1948, the mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Muhammad Mahawif, issued a fatwa positing jihad in Palestine as the duty of all Muslims. The Jews, he said, intended “to take over … all the lands of Islam.” Martyrdom for Palestine conjured up, for Muslim Brothers, “the memories of the Battle of Badr … as well as the early Islamic jihad for spreading Islam and Salah al-Din’s [Saladin’s] liberation of Palestine” from the Crusaders. Jihad for Palestine was seen in prophetic-apocalyptic terms, as embodied in the following hadith periodically quoted at the time: “The day of resurrection does not come until Muslims fight against Jews, until the Jews hide behind trees and stones and until the trees and stones shout out: ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ “

Of quote not only marks the Jihad as apocalyptic, but also, alas, genocidal.

The jihadi impulse underscored both popular and governmental responses in the Arab world to the UN partition resolution and was central to the mobilization of the “street” and the governments for the successive onslaughts of November-December 1947 and May-June 1948. The mosques, mullahs, and ulema all played a pivotal role in the process. Even Christian Arabs appear to have adopted the jihadi discourse. Matiel Mughannam, the Lebanese-born Christian who headed the AHC-affiliated Arab Women’s Organization in Palestine, told an interviewer early in the civil war: “The UN decision has united all Arabs, as they have never been united before, not even against the Crusaders …. [A Jewish state] has no chance to survive now that the ‘holy war’ has been declared. All the Jews will eventually be massacred.” The Islamic fervor stoked by the hostilities seems to have encompassed all or almost all Arabs: “No Moslem can contemplate the holy places falling into Jewish hands,” reported Kirkbride from Amman. “Even the Prime Minister [Tawfiq Abul Huda] … who is by far the steadiest and most sensible Arab here, gets excited on the subject. “

Note that even the Christian Arab is swept up in the mood of collective empowerment. One cannot understand either the decisions of the Arab leadership in 1947-49, or the catastrophic scale of the defeat, if one does not understand the omnipotent inebriation they felt about their cause.

Nor did this impulse evaporate with the Arab defeat. On the contrary. On 12 December 1948 the ulema of Al-Azhar reissued their call for jihad, specifically addressing “the Arab Kings, Presidents of Arab Republics, . . . and leaders of public opinion.” It was, ruled the council, “necessary to liberate Palestine from the Zionist bands … and to return the inhabitants driven from their homes.” The Arab armies had “fought victoriously” (sic) “in the conviction that they were fulfilling a sacred religious duty.” The ulema condemned King Abdullah for sowing discord in Arab ranks: “Damnation would be the lot of those who, after warning, did not follow the way of the believers,” concluded the ulema.

The Naqba was not the terrible tragedy that befell the Palestinian refugees. They were collateral damage, soon to be turned into sacrificial victims by imprisonment in the camps. The real Naqba was the catastrophe of Jewish sovereignty in Dar al Islam — a humiliation to the Arabs, a blasphemy to Muslims.