Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Problem with Peace

The recent Paris bombings have reminded me of a friend of mine who once made the point that in ones daily work life, it’s often the “client” who is the most dangerous person. His line of thinking was simple – we spend so much time focusing on the opposition that we forget that the people who are supposed to be our backers don’t always have our interest at heart.

I think this friends remarks because nothing has been more true when it comes to the long and elusive search for anything resembling a peace plan. Both the democratically elected Israeli officials and the autocratic Arab leaders on the other side have worked hard to avoid it. Why have they done so when poll after poll has shown that what their people want is peace?

The reason is simple – making peace takes courage and peace makers die. What’s more important is that the peace makers are always killed by their own people. The late Anwar Sadat of Egypt was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood not long after he became the first leader in the Arab World to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The late Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who didn’t like the fact that Rabin had returned land that Israel had taken by military force in order to secure peace.

We have to remember that war and violence may be horrible and costly but there are beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are more often than not, the people with power and money. In the Middle East, Israel remains a convenient bogyman for leaders in the Arab World as at allows the leaders of the Arab world to blame social issues faced in the Arab World on something else other than the failings of government.

Much as my fundamentalist Christian friends may beg to differ, the same is true on the Israeli end. Peace, as far as most Israeli leaders are concerned, is very bad. If you look at Israeli society, you’ll find that Israel is the best living example of “totemism” at work. People identify themselves by what they are not. The “common enemy” is the nation’s best friend because this gives the nation shared values.

Think of it this way – in 2002 and 2006, the late Saudi King Abdullah provided a brilliant solution to the problems of the region. Israel would have to give up its occupied territories and return to its I966 Borders in return for diplomatic recognition by all 22 members of the Arab League. Both Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Nethanyahu (who has built a career shredding the Oslo Peace Process) described the plan as a “Non-Starter.”

Why did they do that? Well, a part of it is due to who were their backers. Mr. Nethanyahu has built his career on the premises that it is impossible to make peace with the Arab world. This has won him allies on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum and more importantly, it allows him to control the religious right in the USA, which provides American funding for the Israeli establishment.

Then you have to look at the fact that much of the Israeli “myth” has been built on the fact that Israel is a plucky bastion of sanity in an insane region. As far as most Westerners are concerned, Israel is an oasis in a desert filled with nasty Arab Muslims who have an irrational hatred of Israel. Imagine what would happen to that core myth if the said Arabs started behaving like nice peace loving people.

Let’s put it this way, the pain and misery of the Middle Eastern conflict makes people happy. Terrorist groups like IS and Al Qaeda are happy because it gives them a “just cause” to fight for. Right wing anti-migrant parties in the West are happy because it gives them something to talk about and makes them relevant to voters. Security forces love conflict because governments throw money at them. Politicians who never served a day in the military want the conflicts to go on because they can pretend to be men at someone elses expense. Movie makers love conflict because it gives them powerful stories to sell tickets and banks love conflict because they loan money to high browning customers who will pay whatever interest rates you charge them.

If one follows the money trail, it is very clear that peace is very bad and war is very good. Therefore, politicians and the people who count tend to talk peace but do very little about brining it about because peace would screw up a working system.

However, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once said, “We must think differently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions.”

Mr. Rabin, a former military man, was right. He had the courage to understand that Israel would only get peace if it returned land it had taken by military force. He had the courage to ignore the “Zionist” nut jobs in AIPAC. He took decisions for Israel rather than for Zionist lobby groups and he could give the Israeli public what it needed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rabin’s assassination by the very people he was trying to protect (Jewish migrants to Israel), taught every player in the Middle East conflict a lesson – the fact that trying to change the status quo had a personal cost.

For a brief moment, the Middle East had hope. That was thanks to the likes of Mr. Rabin who had the courage to go down the path regardless of the personal cost. The world is a poor place without the likes of Mr. Rabin. May he rest in peace. 

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