Arafat wasn’t Gandhi, and not much has changed

As always, nobody understands the Mideast conflict better than Barry Rubin.

He has written two posts about Barack Obama’s Cairo speech that are must-reads: “Speaking Flattery to Power” and “Good intentions plus misunderstanding equals failure“.

I want to print them out and nail them to the White House door. But I suppose that like anyone else, the President and his advisors have difficulty hearing voices with which they don’t already agree.

Although you really should read all of Rubin’s articles, here are a few of his comments.

On Obama’s understanding of the Palestinians and the likelihood that his approach will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Turning to Palestinians, he uses an appealing image but one so wrong that it undermines Obama’s entire approach. The Palestinians, he says, have “suffered in pursuit of a homeland” for more than 60 years.

But if that were true the issue would have been solved 60 years ago (1948 through partition), 30 years ago (1979 and Anwar Sadat’s initiative) or 9 years ago (Camp David-2). What has brought Palestinian suffering is the priority on total victory and Israel’s destruction rather than merely getting a homeland. This is the reason why the conflict won’t be solved in the next week, month, or year.

On Obama’s demand that Palestinians should give up violent ‘resistance’:

“Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed,” citing the American civil rights’ movement as example. This sounds noble but it is silly because it ignores the social and ideological context.

Fatah believes it got control of the West Bank and leadership of the Palestinian people through violence and killing. Hamas in Gaza; Hizballah and Syria in Lebanon; and Iran’s Islamist regime as well as the Muslim Brotherhoods believe that “resistance” works.

From the standpoint of Palestinian leaders, violence and killing are not failures. Moreover, violence and killing are commensurate with the goal of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian leadership, which is total victory. Their main alternative “peaceful” strategy is the demand—shared by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas—that pretty much all Palestinians who wish to do so must be allowed to live in Israel. A formula for more violence and killing.

None of this is rocket science. All you need to do is listen to what the Palestinians say and watch what they do, instead of wishfully imposing liberal Western ideals on people who don’t share them. Why are our politicians incapable of doing this?

On his implication that the major onus will be on Israel:

Obama’s phrases were carefully crafted. He called on Palestinians to stop violence, show their competence in administration, and accept a two-state solution, living in peace alongside Israel. Hamas was commanded to be moderate. Yet he in no way seemed to condition Palestinians getting a state on their record. His administration may think this way but he didn’t make that clear.

Middle Eastern ears won’t hear this aspect–which is part of the reason they may cheer the speech—in the way Washington policymakers intend. Inasmuch as the United States now has more credibility for them it’s because they hope it will just force Israel to give without them having to do much. When this doesn’t happen, anger will set in, intensified by the fact that the president “said” the Palestinians are in the right and should have a state right away.

Everything specific concerning Israel’s needs and demands–an end to incitement, security for Israel, end of terrorism, resettlement of refugees in Palestine—weren’t there. While Israel was specifically said to violate previous agreements on the construction within settlements issue—an assertion that’s flat-out wrong—there was no hint that the Palestinians had done so.

This, too isn’t rocket science. Maybe the reason is just that it’s much easier to pressure Israel, a real state with responsibilities (and which is dependent on the US for essential military equipment) than to affect the behavior of non-state entities that are supported by Iran.

On the relationship of the West to the Muslim world:

The first problem is that Obama said many things factually quite untrue, some ridiculously so. Pages would be required to list all these inaccuracies. The interesting question is whether Obama consciously lied or really believes it. I’d prefer him to be lying, because if he’s that ignorant then America and the world is in very deep trouble.

If he really believes Islam’s social role is so perfect, radical Islamists are a tiny minority, Palestinians have suffered hugely through no fault of their own, and so on, then he’s living in a fantasy world. Unfortunately, we are not. The collision between reality and dream is going to be a terrible one.

The second problem is the speech’s unnecessarily extreme one-sidedness. Obama portrays the West as the guilty party. Despite a reference to September 11—even that presented as an American misdeed, unfair dislike of Islam resulting—he gave not a single example of Islamist or Muslim responsibility for anything wrong in the world… [my emphasis}

So if Muslims are always the innocent victims, isn’t [sic] Usama bin Ladin and others correct in saying that all the violence and terrorism to date has been just a “defensive Jihad” against external aggression and thus justifiable? Why should anything change simply because Obama has “admitted” this and asked to start over again?

And on Obama’s contrition:

In the Middle East if you say you’re to blame, that communicates to the other side that their cause is right and they’re entitled to everything it wants. If you apologize, you’re weak. Sure, [although] some relatively Westernized urban liberals will take what Obama said [as he intends], I doubt whether radical states and political forces, as well as the masses, will do so.

The main ingredient in the Obama speech was flattery. There is a bumper sticker that says: Don’t apologize. Your friends don’t need to hear it and your enemies don’t care.

Obama’s situation might be described as: Don’t grovel. It scares the hell out of your friends and convinces your enemies you owe them big time.

Obama may think he’s reversing the rhetorical mistakes of the bellicose George Bush. Unfortunately, he’s gone way too far. I needed my anti-nausea pills for some of this.

It is depressing to see that the administration’s ‘new’ approach is already doomed. It took Bill Clinton 8 years to understand that Yasser Arafat was not Mahatma Gandhi; let’s hope that Barack Obama is a quicker study.

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2 Responses to “Arafat wasn’t Gandhi, and not much has changed”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I believe what this article does is legitimate and correct. I do not take objection to one criticism made here.
    But I think both Vic Rosenthal and Barry Rubin miss something. I may be wrong here, and they both know far more about the situation than I do. But I would want to give Obama some credit and try to have a bit more generous view about what he is trying to do.
    He is trying to bring Peace, Peace not only to the other side, but Peace for Israel also.
    As a mediator he needs to win the trust of both sides. One way to do that is to suggest to each side something positive about themselves. He seems to feel name- calling is pointless, and that confidence must be built especially from the side most alienated from the United States.
    Thus his flattery and bull to the Islamic world, in which he tries to see it as largely positive with the ‘extremists’ as exception.
    He is I think working a bit here in the direction of ‘self- fulfilling prophecy’.
    What he is trying to do, and it may well be impossible to do, is transform attitudes- and that means transforming the Islamic world from an attitude of absolute hatred and non- acceptance to one of acceptance and willingness to live in peace with us.
    It may be his chances of success are very small, and the ‘dream itself’ proves more damaging than good.
    But what if, and I admit the chance now seems small, he does succeed in moving at least a good part of the Arab world and whatever entity comes to rule the Palestinians, if one does, towards real recognition and acceptance of Israel.
    What if too we move towards developments which lead us to a more Jewish state, one which is not endlessly preoccupied with the ‘Palestinians’ but which focuses more on our own development as a society and people?
    I don’t think he is wrong for wanting Peace for everyone, including us.
    I just hope he does not come to hold the naive and mistaken view that the way to this is through one- sided pressure on Israel.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    The problem is that it is probably too soon to do this with the Palestinians, who smell blood.
    Also I think the Muslim world, both Sunni and Shia, is moving in the direction of Islamism today, which isn’t encouraging.
    So in principle you are correct, but the time isn’t right for peace agreements.
    Will it ever be? I’m afraid only after the Arabs learn that it is impossible to beat Israel militarily, and unfortunately they have interpreted the last two wars as victories for them. Their strategy is to leverage world opinion to save them from real defeat, while hurting Israel as much as possible to do psychological and morale damage. This seems to be working for them lately.