Sunday, December 20, 2009

Arab honour and the peace process

Ted Belman

Arab honour is at the root of Arab rejectionism and intransigence. It prevents Arabs from accepting blame or compromising. It also prevents Arabs from losing land to Israel or ending the conflict.

Arab honour is closely linked to Islamic concepts of jihad and dhimmitude. Arab honour impells them to seek domination. Failure to dominate, dishonours them. Accepting responsibility is an anathema to their honour..Muslim violence against the publication in Denmark of cartoons featuring Mohammed is a prime example of their refusal to accept the rule of law or western norms that are at odds with what their honour demands. The same goes for their reaction to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

Prof Richard Landes covers this phenomenon in Part III of “Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict.” titled HJP: Honour 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.[..]

“According to HSJP, the Arab-Israeli conflict is fueled by wounded Arab honor and frustrated religious imperialism.”

Denis Schulz on Honor and Islam writes

“The less honor reposing in a person or a group, the more angry and violent the response to any challenge, real or imagined, by said person or group.”and “[..]

..those who have the least of it spend the most time defending it”.

The peace process, if not the existence of Israel itself, is closely tied to the necessitudes of Arab honour. The Arabs simply refuse to accept responsibility for the problem and therein lies the problem.
Using Shulz’s insight, the bigger the defeat, the greater the need to be fully vindicated.

In The refugees, still essential to peace, Rami G. Khouri* claims the Arabs wish to achieve a negotiated, peaceful end to their conflict. I beg to differ. If the Arabs were so willing, why aren’t they willing to compromise by agreeing to accept 95% of the land. The truth is, they are willing to end the conflict, if at all, only on their terms.

For Khouri, “Israel’s refusal to come to grips with the core issue that matters for the Palestinians, which is their status as refugees.” is what is preventing peace.

While he acknowledges “half the people were forced into exile, either by deliberate Zionist ethnic cleansing or by the normal dynamics of war that caused civilians to flee temporarily to safer areas.” he fails to mention that the Arabs started the ‘48 war or that the invading Arab armies counseled the Arabs to leave. He makes the ahistorical claim that “the national community of Palestinians was shattered” whereas no such community existed at the time.

He demands that

“Israel acknowledges its role in the refugeehood of the Palestinians and takes steps to end that problem. The Arabs have all accepted the demand that they coexist in peace and normal relations with an Israeli state that is predominantly Jewish, as it is now, with Jews comprising around 80 percent of the population. The Israelis in return have not moved at all toward coming to terms with the legal, political and moral decisions they must take to play their central role in resolving Palestinian refugeehood – since they were the principal party in bringing it about. “

I would argue that but for Arab aggression against Israel, there would be no refugee problem, I would further argue that but for Arab refusal to resettle the refugees as Israel did Jewish refugees from Arab countries, there would be no such problem.But he does make an interesting analogy,

The current Israeli superiority in military power will not bring it lasting peace and security because the Palestinians will not simply disappear into history – no more than the exiled Jews in Babylon went away to never return. [..]

The Palestinians have passed through the same experience, two and a half millennia later, of seeking to end our exile through nationalist self-assertion and reaffirmation, along with patience and hard work.

He shamelessly takes from the Palestine Mandate which called for the “reconstituting their (Jews) national home in that country (Palestine)” by arguing for “the eventual return and national reconstitution in the ancestral homeland.”

Then he returns to the solution.

For now, the Palestinians and all Arabs have expressed a willingness to coexist with Zionism – if the Israelis in turn come to terms with how critical it is to acknowledge and resolve the refugee issue in a reasonable and fair manner that does not negate the idea of a predominantly Jewish state.

Why should such “willingness to co-exist” be considered a concession. And why is it only “for now”? Israel was legally created and recognized by most states in the world in 1948. Yet the Arabs refuse to abide by the rule of law and accept it. Their honour demands that they not. Their honour demands that they destroy, or at least, dominate Israel.

Reading between the lines is the thought that Israel can accept some refugees back into Israel, because it is 80% Jewish, and still remain “predominantly Jewish”, i.e. one hundred thousand, or even two hundred thousand, barely alters the percentage.

If this was so important to the Arabs why don’t they agree to Israel retaining 10% of the disputed lands in exchange?

Nowhere does he ascribe to the Arabs, responsibility for causing the problem or for maintaining the problem, not just by refusing to allow refugees to be settled but also by inculcating in them the desire to return. But for this inculcation, there would not have been a national consensus or desire to return.

The analogy above noted is really a false one. Prior to the Jewish expulsion to Babylonia, Jews had a nation and a country. Prior to the ‘48 war, the “Palestinians” had neither.

Furthermore, to fight for only 5% of the 4.5 million “refugees” to be returned, is to fight to get Israel to take responsibility for the problem. That would exculpate the Arabs. But, accepting less than every inch of land back is something they will not do. And that assumes that the Arabs are prepared to end the conflict rather than to just coexist for now.

If that weren’t enough,, their honour doesn’t permit them to end the conflict. Islam requires all lands over which Islam is supreme to be retained or recovered, if lost. It would be an enormous loss of honour to end the conflict without destroying Israel.

Jonathan Dohoah-Halevi comments on the matter in a JCPA article,

“Osama bin Laden has written: “We request of Allah…that the [Islamic] nation should regain its honor and prestige, should raise again the unique flag of Allah on all stolen Islamic land, from Palestine to Andalus.” Bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, established that the Islamic obligation to wage jihad in order to recover lost Islamic territories applies to Andalusia.

“Accepting the Arabs’ terms for a Middle East settlement, or even going so far as “liberating” Palestine from Israeli rule, will not be the last stop in the radical Islamic journey being led by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, which share the vision of spreading Islam all over the world”.

Abbas is not returning to negotiations because he is not prepared to accept President Obama’s terms that the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict.

Professor Barry Rubin, in his latest article on why Obama’s offer was rejected, referred to Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer at Camp David because it didn’t contain the “Right of Return”.

“As for the Right of Return demand, it was in line with something Qaddumi had said in March 2002: “The Right of Return of the refugees to Haifa and Jaffa is more important than statehood.” [..]

Gaining total victory and destroying Israel was more important than getting a Palestinian state, ending the “occupation” and all the real or alleged terrible suffering of Palestinians we constantly hear about. So it was, so it remains.”

Nothing has changed for the better. Nothing will change.

* Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

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