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Friday, June 05, 2009

They just don't get it

From the Lebanon Daily Star:
US Central Command Chief General David Petraeus told Al-Hayat newspaper in comments published on Monday that the administration of US President Barack Obama considered Hizbullah a terrorist organization, adding that the party did not participate in fostering stability in Lebanon. "Hizbullah's justifications for existence will become void if the Palestinian cause is resolved. Reaching an agreement over a peace process in the Middle East will eliminate several groups' justifications for existence," he explained. Petraeus added that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will pave the way for Arabs and Muslims to help the US in its war against terrorism.
The biggest single mistake that well-meaning Westerners make when analyzing the Middle East is when they assume that everyone thinks the way they do.

To a Westerner, it seems obvious that organizations that have no logical reason for existence would become irrelevant. In the Arab world, things are quite different.

Westerners look at problems and instinctively try to find optimal, logical solutions. They want to draw a straight line from point A to point B. They create project plans, hold conferences, debate issues, and attempt to make everybody happy - all with the underlying mindset that everyone is like them.

Arabs do not think like we do. Westerners have to stop trying to place the square Arab peg in the round Western hole and actually understand an entirely alien mindset.

(This is not to be judgmental. I am not saying that either way of thinking is superior, just that they are vastly different.)

Westerners need to understand the Arab attachment to symbolism, to pride, and to religion before making such wrongheaded analyses.

To Western eyes, Hezbollah has had no reason to exist ever since Israel withdrew to the UN-drawn Blue Line nearly a decade ago. Yet they do exist today, and they are more powerful than ever. This should be reason enough to look again at what Hezbollah is all about.

The direct method is often the easiest. This is from the Hezbollah Charter:
Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.
Experience has shown that when Arab terror organizations make statements like these, they never retract them.

From an Arab perspective, the "justification" for Hezbollah is crystal clear and explicit: they will continue to exist until Israel is destroyed. For a large number of Arabs, a peace treaty would be, by definition, between Israel and Arab traitors - a useless gesture whose only possible purpose would be to destroy Israel by stages. To them, Israel's very existence is an unpardonable affront to their honor as Arabs. Hezbollah is not Palestinian.

Even forgetting about Israel, Hezbollah has two other purposes that keep them relevant after any "peace treaty:" they aim to turn Lebanon into a fundamentalist Islamic state, and (more recently) they are enabling Iran to increase its influence in the Middle East. (Syria also finds Hezbollah useful to advance its own interests.)

Looking at things from this perspective - most of which Hezbollah says in very clear language - the idea that a Palestinian Authority peace treaty with Israel would weaken Hezbollah is laughably, and dangerously, naive.

UPDATE: Barry Rubin noticed the statement as well.