The Arab refusal to lose face

Some, like Edward Saïd, have tried to transform the Judeo-Arabic conflict into an imperialist crime in which the Arabs play the role of sole victim. Except in trying too hard to be the angel one ends up the beast. Thus in two years in Syria, one counts the refugees in the millions and the dead total far more than in the entire two generations of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arabs, at least the more farsighted, realize that they are the pawns of an excess. Especially when their own societies fare so poorly. Its leaders continue to confuse revolt and revenge with liberation, and to underestimate the importance of relying on a free and stable society that would fight not only in the name of the past, but also the future and especially the present. The Yishuv, on the other hand, prepared for such a challenge. And Israel, despite its doubts, wants to believe that it would just be enough to “accept the ‘other’” for that other to be definitively satisfied. And yet, on the Arab side, the great hurdle is the fundamental inability to recognize the right of Israel to exist.
Arab society, were it true to its own citizens, rather than to its honor, should admit they have reached an impasse and recognize its errors. But it refuses to do so because in so doing it would humiliate itself, lose face, even though such an admission would, in the long run make it much stronger. Malevolent forces refuse to move in this direction. And they recruit among Arabs, Westerners and Jews, people who continue to pander to the Arab fear of admitting error, despite the damage this does to both Jews and Arabs. Anti-Zionism thus becomes, everywhere, a latent anti-Judaism, and in the Arab world, an ethnocentric and religious imperialism, and a principal obstacle to peace now. That is what needs to be understood in grasping this problem at its root – the fear of shame and the desperate need for honor.

In the recent issue of Time magazine (dated 19 May 2014 vol. 183, No. 19, p.16) the famous Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote an article provocatively titled: “Israel has run out of excuses”, with a similarly unsubtle sub-title: “The Netanyahu government should stop manufacturing reasons to avoid a peace deal”. One of his arguments is that“in 1988 we recognized Israel on 78% of historical Palestine, a deeply difficult and historic concession. (…).”
He goes on to add that in 2002 “the Arab league introduced the Arab Peace Initiative, offering recognition from 57 Arab and Muslim-majority countries in exchange for Israel’s respect for U.N resolutions, which would mean the return of that 22% of historical Palestine to the Palestinians. (…)”.

Under these conditions, the “22%” of which Erekat speaks would include not Israel but only the so-called "disputed" territories that prior to 1967 were held by Egypt and Jordan, countries that never proposed, by the way, their being administered by an indigenous "Palestinian" jurisdiction. If the so-called “refugees” were to return to "historical Palestine", then they would go to the 22% only and not to the 78%. But are we so sure about that, and how many would there be ? 100,000, the figure mentioned in documents divulged by TheGuardian and Al Djazzira in January 2011? More than 4 million for the PLO? Over 7 million, according to Hamas?And all these people would be just in the “22%” ? Quite a challenge…

In fact, by deliberately failing to indicate where the refugees would be allowed to return, Erekat sends mixed signals, remaining ambiguous and, above all, maintaining the myth of a right to return to the Israeli 78%and not just inside the “22%”!…It’s necessary to think more deeply about that.

Because years ago, this keypoint was underlined by ex-President Bill Clinton in his Memoirs “My Life” (2004, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, New York). Here's what Clinton first writes (p. 938) about December 23rd 2000:

It was historic : an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank (…). The ball was in Arafat’s court. I was calling other Arab leaders daily to urge them to pressure Arafat to say yes. They were all impressed with Israel’s acceptance and told me they believed Arafat should take the deal. I have no way of knowing what they told him, though the Saudi amabassador, Prince Bandar, later told me he and Crown Prince Abdullah had the distinct impression Arafat was going to accept the paramaters.

Which parameters ? Clinton wrote earlier in the same book (p.937) about one on them, of which the most important, as we shall see later, is the refugee question:

On refugees, I said the new state of Palestine should be the homeland for refugees displaced in the 1948 war and afterward (…) I recommended an international effort to compensate refugees and assist them in finding houses in the new state of Palestine (…)

And, p. 944, Clinton underlines the true point of our meeting today :

 “In December (2000) the parties had met at Bolling Air Force Base for talks that didn’t succed because Arafat wouldn’t accept the paramaters that were hard for him. Finally, Arafat agreed to see Shimon Peres on the thirteenth after Peres had first met with Saeb Erekat(the same who has wrote the previously cited opinion piece in Time magazine). Nothing came of it. As a back-stop, the Israelis tried to produce a letter with as much agreement on the parameters as possible (…). Arafat wouldn’t even do that, because he didn’t want to be seen conceding anything. The parties continued their talks in Taba, Egypt. They got close, but did not succeed. Arafat never said no ; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes. Pride goeth before the fall”.

The question that begs for an answer, given the theme bringing us together here and now, is: What fundamental reality is exposed in the permanent ambiguity underscored by Bill Clinton? Doesn't it mean that contrarily to what some have claimed, the Palestinians are by no means ready to sign anything definitive?
Let's return to Erekat's remarks and as we try to elucidate the persistent Arab refusal of a "peace of the brave". He mentions an "Arab" peace initiative and even alludes to "57 Arab and Moslem countries" that would be ready to recognize Israel. Let me insist: He invokes "Arab" countries and an "Arab" initiative as though this term, "Arab", were not just highly, but vitally important. Imagine if an Israeli prime minister said to the Palestinian leader in charge: How would you characterize your future state? Will it be named "Palestinian state"? And were that the case, would you be willing to renounce its "Arab" character? On that subject, are you ready to accept a Jewish minority on your soil, like we accept an Arab minority on ours? Supposing the Palestinian leader were to respond affirmatively to the last two questions; it would be a true historic first, wouldn't it?

But does there exist anything like "doubt" on the Palestinian side ? It does not appear, to my knowledge, that basic conditions for this type of debate are present in Palestinian "society". Why so?How did this refusal originate? What factors explain the fear of losing face? Is it for reasons of tribal honor characterizing this type of human grouping? It would seem likely, that there are two other reasons : one of them theological, which is absolute adherence to Islam, and the other political, which is Arab nationalism, and that they are in constant interaction. In political science we name that : the theological-political dimension.

We shall indeed see, and this is a key point, that all Arab discourse is totally frozen for the two reasons we just mentioned. Let's look at the first one, the theological. Just think of verse 19 in book II of Genesis (as well of course in the Torah) ; what does it say? Adam created names for the animals, he did not recite them, as is the case in the Koran (Koran 2/31:"God taught Adam the names, all of the names"), but in Genesis II Adam did not submit but freely agreed to obey or disobey.
According to Emmanuel Levinas, that is what Moses Mendelssohn calls "the irreducible obligation of freedom, especially freedom of conscience, a rampart against all forms of oppression" (In Jérusalem ou Pouvoir religieux et judaïsme (1982) Editions Gallimard, 2007, préface, p.9).
And, when Adam eats the forbidden fruit, and also when Cain slays Abel, what happens in the two cases? Does God kill in the name of the Verb? On the contrary, he lets live, and, by the way, that explains the eminently blasphematory nature of any word postulating a right or duty to kill in the name of the divine.
But now let's return to the difference between reciting and freely naming: that is exactly where we may find the source of the Arab incapacity to cast doubt: All the World is part and parcel of the divine word, which is in its essence unchangeable and therefore must be recited and not freely thought. This theological posture reinforces the ethnic factor, when it is stated in a hadith, for example, that Arabs are deemed the best Moslems, as underlined by Paul Balta :

"Arabs are preeminent to the other Moslems" " (in L'islam, éditions Le Monde/Marabout, 1995, p. 102,Balta adds in note 1 : "It is true that Bokhari cites a hadith of Mohammed: "The debasement of Arabs debases Islam".

We thus have the explanation of the importance of the word “Arab” : it is synonymous with absolute superiority above anything else. Isn't this an essential explanation of nationalism, which is so different from patriotism? It's close to racism, isn't it? Look at this, for instance : according to the Koran the Jews (and the Christians and the wholeworld) will be dominated because they are deviants (5.51) and that is why it is deemed absolutely necessary to rectify their behavior, especially Israel which is designated by name (2.40).
Finally, you can’t give them the power to be free, as an independent country, it’s against the holy book, of which the Arabs are in charge.

Look now at the second reason behind the Arab refusal of peace: the Arab nationalism that emerged subsequent to the others like Japanese, Italian, German nationalisms and is eager to enrich the religious roots with adoration of the glorious past, as is noted by Paul Balta when he quotes, in the same book (supra, p. 115) :

The Christian Michel Aflack, founder of the Baath party, affirmed that "The breath of the Prophet still animates Arab nationalism" and the Moslem Nasser stated that "Mohammed was the imam of socialism". Balta goes on to quote (p. 116) from Nasser's 12 November 1964 speech: " (…) We have declared that our religion is a socialist religion and that in the Middle Ages, Islam constituted the world's first successful socialist experience”.

As you see, Arab nationalism and absolute adherence to Islam are two sides of the same coin, which is the Arab refusal to embrace peace. And so, what is to be done to counterthis? The only way will be to initially focus on a historical question (the Arabs adore the historic tale) and especially the refugee question beforethe territorial boundaries, which is a far more sensitive issue. In other words the refugee question should not be put off to a later date.

As long as the question is not raised, it makes no sense to waste time with the territory question.Negotiators, especially the Palestinians, frequently tend to relegate the refugee issue to the background even though it is primordial, andit serves as an excuse for the refusal to go farther.

Given this situation, a tripartite commission of internationally recognized historians should debate the question in an open setting, which means that the sessions would be continuously filmed and that witnesses for both sides would come and testify. For instance, was it an exodus face to war as explained (brilliantly) by Yoav Gelber in “Palestine 1948” (2001 and 2004 in Hebrew edition) or wasit an “expulsion” as the Palestinians and the Israeliallies said ? In addition, it is false to claim that contemporary Jews have been present in Israel only as a consequence of the Shoah. What was going on in the 1930s, when numerous non-Palestinian Arabs came to work on ground recently purchased by Jews who had paid a much higher price than the former Arab owners.

As long as the parties are not in agreement on History, they will make no progress.

Let me immediately add that it is also the possible to determine whether or not the apparently fundamental oppositions between the members of two peoples, one of them Jewish and the other Arab, could not be conducive to development of a third perspective, which would be the idea that historically, as is indicated by your/our new Jeremiah, David Belhassen: as the true historians knows there existed a Hebrew-Canaanite people, which following the invasions and massacres of the Philistines, the Romans and lastly the Arabs, was diffracted first topographically, and then culturally, all the way into the heartland of Europe (in Russia for example).
Contrarily to the affirmations of Shlomo Sand and Arafat on the origin of the Palestinians, neither the Philistines, the Basan people, the Ammonitepeople nor the seven nations across the Jordan border (Deuteronomy 2 , 3, 7) were “Arabs”, and it is possible to go deeper if archeological research is not enough. The genetic geographic studies recently conducted in the university of Barcelona (adopting the Italian Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza method) may help : They show that the majority of North Africans are Berbers, not Arabs, and that only 3% of Egyptians are “Arabs”, the others being "ancient Egyptians", Copts for example. It would be interesting to develop the subject with regard to Syria Iraq Lebanon… To counter the ISIS jihadists for instance (Isis a former God of Egypt…)

What would be the interest of the anthropological research? Perhaps it would demonstrate that the conflict opposes not separate peoples, but rather the same Hebrew-Canaanite people with different faiths. As for the wisdom of Zionism, in his latest book David Belhassen effectively explains that it is far from having religious roots.

All of thishistory remains to be verified, of course, and it is assuredly not a way of saying that a binational state is the answer, but once the Arab part agrees to be as self-critical in its analyses as the Israeli part, then a kind of “peaceful coexistence”similar to that of the French and Germans, whose conflicts killed millions from the Thirty Years' War, could be imagined.

If the spirit of the brave is finally alive, “coexistence”could lead to the constitution of a Confederation of Israeli and Palestinian States, provided that the Arab and Jewish minorities present on their respective territories have the right to remain.With peace at hand, Abbas could surely visit his birthplace and even reside there, if of course the israelis can also reside safely in Ramallah Hebron and so on…
 Unfortunately, this apparently isn't the wish of the Palestinians in charge, who once again refuse to lose face and to deny their identity as Arab-Moslems..

And yet, after close to a century of denial, a high-ranked Turkish dignitary has finally admitted that his people had in some ways wronged the Armenians, and who knows, maybe the time has come for the Arabs to recognize that they would heighten their stature by recognizing that Israel cannot possibly be 100% wrong…In that case, it would be interesting to learn the percentage of responsibility they would concede.

As we wait to find out, let us meditate on an idea put forward by Leo Strauss, extracted from the preface to his book on Spinoza, which is addressed to the Jews but might as well concern the Arabs. Strauss relays the remarks of a famous zionist Leon Pinsker (in “Auto emancipation”1882) relaying the thoughts of  Hillel Hazaken (about Pirke Avot 1-14)  :«  If I am not for myself, who will be for me ? And if not now, when ? » Leo Strauss comments as follows :« He (Pinsker) omitted the sentence which forms the center of Hillel’s statement : « And if I am only for myself, what am I ? »

It is indeed high time that the question also be tackled by the Arabs.

1 mars 2016
Lucien SA Oulahbib 21/6/2017

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