Bring the bazaar mentality into peace talks

With thanks: DiaHere’s an important piece from Mark Silverberg of the Hudson Institute to set you thinking:

“Our media, talking heads, academics, and even our government strategic thinkers have been dealing with the Arab and Muslim world based on the politically-correct paradigm of even-handedness, attributing most international problems to poverty, misunderstandings, rectifying historical grievances, and, in the case of Israel, territorial disputes — while ignoring or underplaying key elements, such as the importance in Middle Eastern cultures of the values and importance of honor, shame, clan loyalties, theocratic religion, retaining absolute power, and frustrated religious imperialism.

“As Harold Rhode, recently of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, wrote for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, it is crucial to understand the mindset of our enemies – something the current US Administration and the leaders of the European Union appear loathe to do.

“Dealing specifically with Iran, but implying that the Arab dictators and despots of the Middle East move to the same beat, Rhode concludes that the paradigms that govern US foreign policy in the Middle East today are totally at odds with the paradigms that actually govern the actions of our enemies.

“The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians or the Arab world in general. As Rhode notes: “One coming from a position of strength will only make a concession if he is absolutely sure that doing so will consolidate and therefore increase his power. If one believes that his adversary will gain even the slightest advantage through such a measure, he will never concede an inch.” The attitude, quite simply, is: “rule-or-be-ruled.” As such, compromise, as we understand the concept, “is seen as a sign of submission and weakness” that brings shame and dishonor on those — and on the families of those — who concede.

“This was made abundantly clear in Hamas’s violent reaction to Mahmoud Abbas’s direct negotiations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in Hamas’s insistence that Israel never be recognized as a Jewish state.”

You might have heard it said that if Jews from Arab and Muslim countries were in charge of policy-making in Israel, we would have peace in no time: Jews from Arab and Muslim countries ‘understand’ the Arab mentality.

By that, we do not mean that peace is achievable by Jews and Arabs recalling balmy evenings spent together drinking arak, or other bygone examples of shared ‘coexistence’.

What we need is to conduct peace negotiations according to the rules of the bazaar. If I am a stallholder who wants to sell a carpet, I will ask the highest price for it. I will not tell the customer that I will actually settle with him for half or a third of the price. I will not raise the customer’s expectations beforehand by telling him details of the compromise that I have in mind, or he will only want to pay less.

This is precisely the mistake that Israeli politicians such as Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have made in the past – they have promised to make concession after concession to the Palestinians. The Arabs have interpreted such appeasement as a sign of weakness. The Arab side pockets each concession without giving anything in return. They will not even continue peace talks without adding pre-conditions. This is a sure recipe for eternal conflict, not peace.

What’s worse, Israel’s concessions are tangible assets – land. Any putative Arab concession for peace is abstract and reversible.

Lately Israel has altered its negotiation strategy to make recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a cardinal principle. But the Arab side has laughed off this Israeli demand as a distraction from the real issue of ‘occupation’ and Jewish settlement building on the West Bank.

Israel must continue to assert its rights as the state for the Jewish people as a matter of justice and honour. It must emphasise how few rights Jews were granted in Arab countries, and that Arabs in Israel have more rights than Arabs in 21 Arab states.

When the topic of Jewish settlement building on the West Bank comes up, it must bring up the issue of Jews ethnically cleansed from their homes and communities all over the Arab and Muslim world.

Israel must assert the rights of Jews to receive compensation and reclaim their stolen land and property in Arab countries. If necessary, it must walk away from the negotiating table, as a buyer walks out of the carpet bazaar, until the other side takes these demands seriously.


  • Thank you Bataween.

    Your analysis is word-perfect! But Mizrachis now have a non-Mizrachi ally in Israel, who comprehends the mindset you articulated: Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Moldovan Foreign Minister.

    We are all too familiar with the string of arab requests for 'goodwill gestures' from Israel prior to negotiations.

    Lieberman was asked what goodwill gestures he had in mind before the current 'peace processing' moves. He retorted that Israel has given more than enough such gestures, and it is time that the arabs reciprocated.


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