Thursday, November 26, 2020

By Daled Amos

Following the news of Israel's peace agreement with the UAE and Bahrain, we had a laugh at John Kerry's expense when we watched the 2016 video of Kerry assuring his audience that peace between Israel and the Arab world without first resolving the Palestinian question just wasn't possible.

And Kerry knew this because he had, even a week earlier, spoken to "leaders of the Arab community."

It would be interesting to know just what Kerry said to those Arab leaders -- and what exactly they said to him in response.

Did he misinterpret what they said to him?
Did those leaders intentionally mislead Kerry?

It certainly wouldn't be the first incident of an apparent 'miscommunication" between Arab leaders and a member of the US government.

In a recent post, Judean Rose asks: Joe Biden’s First Meeting with Golda Meir: Did it Lead to the Yom Kippur War? The basis for the question is a Twitter thread by Nadav Eyal, Chief International Correspondent for Reshet News.

Once again, Arab officials apparently misled a US politician as to what they were thinking about Israel.

Joe Biden (YouTube screencap)

But apparently, this is not limited to US politicians.
As a matter of fact, Arab leaders have been known to mislead other Arab leaders as well.

In his book The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai tells a story from the eve of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence:
Musa Alami, the well-known Palestinian Arab leader, made a tour of the Arab capitals to sound out the leaders with whom he was well acquainted. In Damascus, the President of Syria told him:
I am happy to tell you that our Army and its equipment are of the highest order and well able to deal with a few Jews; and I can tell you in confidence that we even have an atomic bomb...Yes, it was made locally; we fortunately found a very clever fellow, a tinsmith...(p. 53-54) [emphasis added]
Patai gives another example, this one from the Six Day War, when on the first day (June 5, 1967) the commander of the Egyptian forces in Cairo sent a message to the Jordanian front:
that the Israeli air offensive was continuing. But at the same time, he insisted that the Egyptians had put 75 per cent of the Israeli air force out of action. The same message said that U.A.R. bombers had destroyed the Israeli bases in a counter-attack, and that the ground forces of the Egyptian army had penetrated into Israel by way of the Negev! (p. 109)
If Egypt had been honest with Jordan from day 1, Hussein might not have entered the war, and Jordan would have retained control of Judea and Samaria -- and the Kotel.

But behind these examples of miscommunication, there are issues of Arab culture. 

For example, the story about the tinsmith is pure exaggeration, what Patai refers to as the "spell of (Arabic) language," namely the "prediliction for exaggeration and overemphasis  [which] is anchored in the Arabic language itself" (p. 55)

As for Egypt's deception of Jordan, Patai describes it as wajh, or an attempt to avoid loss of face. In fact, Patai blames King Hussein's years in England for his failure to see this for what it was:
Had Hussein not lost, during his formative years spent in England, the ear for catching the meaning behind the words which is an indispensable prerequisite of true communication among Arabs, he would have understood that a real victory over Israel would have been announced by Amer and Nasser in a long tirade of repetitious and emphatic assertions, and that the brief and for Arabs, totally unusual factual form of the statement betrayed it for what it actually was: a face-saving device, a reference not to a real, but to an entirely imaginary victory. [emphasis in original] (p. 112-3)
But what about Biden and Kerry?

Again, without knowing what each side actually said, it is impossible to know what went on.
But their misunderstanding of their Arab hosts might be due to the Arab concept of shame.

Patai distinguishes between shame, which is "a matter between a person and his society," and guilt which is "a matter between a person and his conscience" -- or as he puts it: "A hermit in a desert can feel guilt; he cannot feel shame."
One of the important differences between the Arab and the Western personality is that in the Arab culture, shame is more pronounced than guilt...What pressures the Arab to behave in an honorable manner is not guilt but shame, or, more precisely, the psychological drive to escape or prevent negative judgement by others. [p. 113]
We tend to associate the Arab concept of shame/honor with of 'honor killings,' but there are implications on a national level too.

In his preface to the 1976 edition of his book, Patai writes that although Egypt lost the Yom Kippur War, the fact that they caught Israel by surprise and were able to initially gain the upper hand, allowed the Egyptians to perceive the war as a victory, and cleared the way for peace negotiations:
A manifestation of this new Arab self-confidence is the willingness to enter into disengagement agreements with Israel. It is, in this connection, characteristic that it is precisely Egypt, the country that won what it considers a victory over Israel, which has embarked on the road of negotiation with her....It is quite clear that the feeling of having demonstrated strengh is for an Arab state a psychological prerequisite of discussing adjustments and reaching understanding with an enemy. [emphasis added] (xxiii - xxv)
How would shame/honor manifest itself in discussions between Arabs and Westerners?

In his 1989 book, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, David Pryce-Jones writes about
Kenneth Pendar, an American intelligence officer whose task it was to persuade Moroccans to side with the Allies during the last war, expressed the difficulties of conducting a negotiation in which he expected a yes or a no from people unable to commit themselves to either, because they could not tell who would win the war and acquire honor or who would lose and be shamed. [emphasis added] (p. 45)

 Pryce-Jones goes on to quote Henry Kissinger, who complained of the difficulty of negotiating with the Saudis because of their style that was "at once oblique and persistent, reticent and assertive" based on the allocation of honor or shame.

Based on this, one can imagine that Kerry and Biden could each have easily misinterpreted what they heard in accordance with what they wanted to pass on to their respective audiences.

Interestingly, when Patai writes about the confidence the Yom Kippur Was instilled into the Arab world in 1973, he contrasts Egypt -- which considers the Yom Kippur War a victory -- with other Arab countries that either cannot make such a claim or have never fought Israel, and are therefore opposed to negotiation.

That would seem to rule out Jordan and Sudan, on the one hand, and the UAE and Bahrain on the other.

But King Hussein making peace with Israel is not surprising, considering his tenuous control over his country, the majority of whom are Palestinian Arabs. There was leverage the US could apply, even if the peace treaty itself could cause trouble for Hussein at home.

Considering the leverage that the US applied to Sudan, that country also had a lot to gain. But both Egypt and Jordan have a cold peace with Israel and the Arabs in both countries have expressed their hatred of Jews and Israel. It's not clear that the situation in Sudan is any better.

What about UAE and Bahrain?

Some have belittled the Abraham Accords because those 2 countries have never actually been involved in a war with Israel.

But maybe that is the point.

Egypt and Jordan fought against Israel, and whatever the considerations on the government level -- on a national level, Israel remains an enemy in the eyes of the Egyptian and Jordanian people, regardless of the benefits Israel has to offer and are nowhere near normalizing relations. There is an absence of a state of war, but the mood of belligerence persists.

Not so with UAE and Bahrain, which has never fought Israel. 

The intent of the Abraham Accords is not to bring peace in order to end a state of war -- instead the point is to normalize relations, a goal that is conceivable for UAE and Bahrain, but not for Egypt and Jordan, which still cannot go beyond a 'cold peace,' let alone a full, real peace.

In November 2017, Mordechai Kedar wrote The Ten Commandments for Israeli negotiations with Saudi Arabia, which he described as "immutable principles" for negotiating with Saudi Arabia "and any other Arab nations who wish to live in peace with the Jewish State."

One of those principles is the need for normalizing relations as opposed to just making peace:
10. Peace with the Saudis must entail more than just a ceasefire with an attached document ("Salaam" in Arabic) . Israel agreed to that in the case of Egypt and Jordan as a result of the ignorance of those running the negotiations on Israel's side.

Israel must insist on complete normalization ("sulh" in Arabic), which includes cultural, tourist, business, industrial, art, aeronautical, scientific, technological, athletic and academic ties and exchanges, etc. If Israel participates in international events taking place in Saudi Arabia, the Israeli flag will wave along with those of other countries, and if Israel is the victor in any sports competition in Saudi Arabia, the Hatikva anthem will be played, as it is when other countries win medals. Israeli books will be shown at book fairs, and Israeli products officially displayed at international exhibitions taking place in Saudi Arabia.

An economic document, whose details I am not in a position to elaborate, but which must be an addendum to the agreement, is to be based on mutual investments and acquisitions as well as a commitment to non- participation in boycotts. [emphasis added]
This is what we are seeing now.

A foreshadowing for what is possible is in another comment by Patai, where he addresses the "Arab street" that today we are told is supposedly ready at any moment to rise up in protest, yet whose anger Trump has somehow been able to avoid these past 4 years:
The volatility of Arab reaction to the October War was paralleled four years later by the rapid evaporation of Arab wrath over President Satat's initiative in establishing direct contact with Israel. This was observed by Fuad Moughrabi, professor of political science and co-editor of the Arab Studies Quarterly, in 1980:
The Arab world reacted strongly and passionately to Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. But contrary to what many had expected, the intensity of the reaction was not followed by any concrete, effective steps to neutralize the conseqauences of the visit. Sadat did the unthinkable and got away with it. (p. 339)
Moughrabi wrote this in 1980.
Sadat was assassinated in 1981 -- by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

Back then, Arab opposition to Sadat was not directed against the idea of peace, but against the Camp David Accords themselves, which removed Egypt as a participant in the war against Israel -- a war which was supposed to benefit the cause of the Palestinian Arabs.

Today, with the Arab support for the Palestinian Arab cause at its lowest ebb, there are genuine prospects for continuing what the Trump administration started.

That is, assuming that this time around Biden actually listens to what the Arab leaders are saying.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.


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