Here is Part III of “Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict.” For previous posts, see:
Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict: Introduction
PCP (Politically Correct and Post-Colonial Paradigms
I remind the reader that this is articulated, as the PCP, not as a study in nuance, but as the assertion of a framework. You are welcome to agree or disagree. Although by and large I find this paradigm more convincing that the PCP one, I hope I have presented it with the same neutrality as the first. Assessment of the two will follow.
HJP: HONOR JIHAD PARADIGM
The HJP understands the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of honor-shame culture and Islamic jihad. These elements of Arab culture are the main factors that have made it impossible to reach a solution to the conflict. Arab leaders view any compromise with Israel as “losing face,” since such an agreement would mean recognizing as a “worthy foe” an inferior group that should be subject. Such a blow to Arab honor cannot be tolerated for cultural and political reasons: losing face means to feel utter humiliation, to lose public credibility, and to lose power. In search of lost honor, Arab (and Palestinian) elites, never particularly concerned with the welfare of their masses, have shown a ready willingness to sacrifice the Palestinian people. The more their own people suffer and Israel can be blamed, the better for their cause. In recent decades Western academics and media, for reasons of political correctness and multiculturalism, and due to a strange inability to distinguish between Arab leaders and their victimized populations, refuse to acknowledge this pattern of exploitation. As a result, ignoring this explanation for the conflict, the increasingly hold Israel responsible. As long as this pattern of Arab honor-shame and scapegoating behavior prevails and the West enables it, lasting and fair peace in the Middle East will not be possible.
HJP: THE ARAB WORLD
The JP identifies Arab political culture as an example of “traditional” or “pre-civil society” culture. In what are known as “prime-divider societies”, the elite monopolize power, wealth, education, and the public sphere, while the masses live in poverty. In these societies the prevailing political axiom runs: “rule or be ruled.” The dominant alpha males (warriors, big men) set the rules of honor-shame and determine when and how often a man can legitimately shed the blood of another for his own honor. Such dynamics encourage patriarchal domination, intimidation of dissent, and political and religious imperialism. Borders are viewed as potential sites of expansion; war is the long-term norm.
THE CONFLICT IN TERMS OF HONOR SHAME
According to HSJP, the Arab-Israeli conflict is fueled by wounded Arab honor and frustrated religious imperialism. At the end of the 19th century, the Arab world, historically established by conquest and colonization, was confronted with humiliating defeats at the hands of a significantly more powerful Western culture. In the 20th century, the establishment of the State of Israel exacerbated this indignity by marking the victory not of a great and worthy enemy, but a tiny people who, in the entire memory of Islam, never fought back against their subjection. It was one kind of embarrassment to lose a battle against an Arab neighbor or a Western nation; that was part of the game. But to lose to an inferior people, an unworthy foe, represented a more existential humiliation.
The only way a warrior can restore his honor is to shed the blood of his enemy. In the case of Israel, the humiliation was so intense that Arab leadership called for a “war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.” This rigid, hard zero-sum approach has guided Arab and Palestinian relationships with Israel. If Israel wins (a state, recognition, and peace), then de facto the Arab and Muslim world loses. Israeli independence, rather than also marking Palestinian independence, had to mark a Naqba – catastrophe – for the Palestinians.
More than a century since Zionism developed and more than half a century since Israel won its independence, Arab political culture continues to war with Israel’s existence. The HSJP, in some intuitive form, dominated most post-1948 Western perceptions of the conflict. The Arab side openly proclaimed their genocidal intentions, making themselves unwelcome in post-Holocaust Western public culture (e.g., UN/human rights talk). But after 1967, Arab and Palestinian spokesmen toned down the genocidal rhetoric (at least in foreign languages), and worked their way into the PCP as the “Palestinian David.” Perhaps the single biggest difference between PCP1 and HSJP revolves around how much one believes that the initial Arab attitude has changed: have Palestinian leaders given up their primary desire to eliminate Israel? PCP says yes; HSJP says no.
PERPETUATING THE PROBLEM: ZERO-SUM GAMES
The zero-sum logic that dominated Arab political culture towards Israel from the start, developed into a negative-sum approach after the Israelis defeated the Arabs in their “wars of honor.” The resulting attitude became ‘if we lose, then they must lose as well, even if it worsens our own conditions’. The Arab League accordingly imprisoned refugees in wretched conditions (“refugee camps”); and when they could have saved millions from Israeli occupation in 1967 by finally making peace, they answered with “the three No’s of Khartoum”: No negotiations, no recognition, no peace. Their priorities were clear: sooner the honor of the elite than the dignity of the people.
As Abba Eban remarked, Palestinian leaders have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” But even this remark, reflects Eban’s cognitive egocentrism. For the Arab leaders he described, a positive-sum, mutually beneficial outcome does not represent an opportunity because it does not redeem Arab honor. Arab elites prefer losing wars to resolving the conflict by allowing Israel to exist. When they are weak they withdraw and cherish dreams of revenge. When they feel strong enough – no matter how delusional that feeling – they go to war with Israel (1948, 1967, 1973, 2000). Noting that the problem existed long before 1967, the HSJP views the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the products of this zero-sum attitude, not its cause. Thus, the solution will not come from a return of these territories into the hands of the current leadership. That will more likely trigger even more aggressive behavior. It will come from a change in the zero-sum mentality of Arab and Palestinian leadership.
The Oslo “Peace Process” led to violence after Camp David 2000, according to JP, because Arafat never had the intention to make peace. Arafat acted with enormous reluctance, taking what he could, offering no concessions in return, and promising his honor-shame constituency that the concessions were not real, merely a “Trojan horse.” As the Palestinian saying goes: “That which has been taken by violence can only be regained by violence.”
In this kind of war, negotiations will not work. The Palestinians cannot make any significant concessions to Israel without losing honor. Additionally, they view concessions by Israel as marks of weakness, as invitations to further violence, rather than as invitations to put an end to the war. Arafat and the forces that brought on the Second Intifada interpreted Barak’s concessions at Camp David as a weakness (like the February 2000 retreat from Lebanon), and determined to exploit the opportunity with a show of force.
Very few Arab leaders have been able to make peace with Israel without losing their prestige or even their lives. Far from softening its attitudes over time, the Arab political peer group that assigns honor and shame has become increasingly bloody-minded. Arafat in 2000 preferred a zero-sum solution that preserved his honor amongst Arab leaders and the “street”, regardless of the misery caused to his people. Rather than nation-build, Arafat increased his honor by entering a disastrous war at an immense cost to everyone (negative sum).
SCAPEGOATING AND THE VICTIMS OF HONOR-SHAME ZERO-SUM
In all “prime divider societies”, the elites dominate and the general public, commoners, and uneducated poor suffer. The Palestinian and Arab peoples have suffered greatly, perhaps even more than the Israelis, from their elite’s zero-sum diplomacy. Palestinians who toil to kill Israeli civilians do not hesitate to use violence against other Palestinians who oppose their actions, including many times the torture and killing of so-called “collaborators”. Although Israelis have some protection from these terrorists (their army), Palestinians do not. Constantly exposed to the violent exploitation of their leadership and humiliation at the hands of a “foreign” rule (Israel), the Palestinian people are unquestionably the most miserable in the conflict.
Their misery, however, serves the greater Arab cause. The narrative of Palestinian victimization at the hands of the Zionist entity operates for the Arab elites as a “weapon of mass distraction”. It enables the elites to scapegoat Israel for the suffering that the Arab leadership has largely inflicted upon their people, and to direct the “rage” of the people against Israel. Over the last 60 years, this powerful WMD has been the only tool consistently able to unify the “Arab nation” in a collective solidarity. An increasing number of Western analysts and commentators, curiously unable to differentiate between the oppressed Arab peoples and their oppressing leaders (PCP2), have increasingly adopted this WMD and repeatedly blamed Israel for the plight of the Palestinian people. This tactic, however, shields the Arab elites by legitimating their claims, and thus prolongs the cycle of internal violence against the masses.
EXPANDING JIHAD AND THE IMPLICATIONS
Unlike the PCP, the HSJP argues that the Arab world’s abreaction to Zionism has become more virulent in the past forty years, not less. Since Nasser’s “secular” Arab nationalism failed to solve the problem in 1967, a more explicitly religious dimension increasingly came to the fore. The very idea of an independent, Jewish “Zionist entity,” had always represented a theological blasphemy as well as an unbearable humiliation. From its first century (7th-8th century CE), political Islam divided the world into two categories: Dar al Islam (the abode of peace where Islam rules) and Dar al Harb (the abode of war, “the sword”). Islam believes that the entire world will eventually convert and Dar al Islam will reign supreme. Additionally, once Islam conquers a territory, that land cannot revert to Dar al Harb (one of the reasons given for the bombing in Spain, once al Andalusia). Islam classifies Jews within Dar al Islam as a “protected” people (Dhimmi) [link to definition]; they are legally and culturally inferior, but not required to convert. For Jews to “live free in our land,” an independent Jewish state in the heart of Dar al Islam not only confounds Islamic religious beliefs, it insults God’s honor.
The longer the frustration and humiliation, the more the religious language becomes apocalyptic: i.e., the ultimate battle between Islam and the Jews. And their “end-time” scenario is at once cataclysmic – huge devastation must precede the victory of Islam – and active – we Jihadis are the agents of God’s wrath and destruction. According to a hadith which is increasingly popular amongst Palestinians, when the end of time comes, the Muslims will slaughter the Jews who are hiding behind rocks and trees. The very rocks and trees will call out, “O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come kill him.” Confronted with this text, which appears in virtually every schoolbook, officials will act as if they had never heard it.
Over the last twenty years this apocalyptic Jihad has spread in Muslim communities around the world. With the help of the internet, “local” jihad has merged with anti-Western sentiment, spread through both Shi-ite Islam (Khoumeini’s Iran, Hizbullah) and Sunni Islam (Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban, al-Qaeda). Movements depicting Israel and the West as the deadly enemy of Islam have arisen even in the West. Jihadis view globalization as a Jewish-American plot to rule the world, against which they set their own globalizing project – the global victory of Dar al Islam). Israel then is just one of their targets; they have now almost all anti-semites love anti-zionism.