Foreign Policy

Unraveling the Middle East’s Zero-Sum Cultural Mindset

A similar view is shared by Harold Rhode, formerly of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. In a recent article published in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he writes: “The attitude, quite simply, is: “rule-or-be-ruled.” As such, compromise, as we in the West 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.” Thus, from the Islamic perspective, there is no basis for compromise and nothing to negotiate with Israel (as Secretary Kerry is discovering) other than its demise since the core issues are defined in zero-sum political, ideological and religious terms. If Israel “wins” recognition, the Palestinians “lose” on all fronts, and should any Arab leader compromise the “right of return” by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, he will be humiliated, condemned, removed from power and/or would likely be assassinated as was Anwar Sadat for signing the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978.

This zero-sum cultural mindset pervaded the Oslo “Peace Process” when Arafat could not bring himself to make peace with Israel despite eight years of direct negotiations with the Israelis. “Arafat”, Landes writes “acted with enormous reluctance, taking what he could, offering no concessions in return, and promising his honor-shame constituency that the concessions were not real – merely a Trojan horse.” In response to virtually universal condemnation from the Arab world, Arafat justified his actions in making the agreement by stating: “I am hammering the first nail into the Zionist coffin.” He equated the Oslo Accords with Mohammed’s Treaty of Hudaibiya with the Jewish Koreish tribe of Mecca, which he maintained for two years – until his forces grew strong enough to crush the Koreish. Speaking in Johannesburg in 1993, after signing the Accords, Arafat assured his audience that Jerusalem, in the end, will be exclusively Muslim, that the only permanent state in present-day Israel would be the Arab state of Palestine, and that the “peace process” would end in the Palestinian conquest of Israel – no surprise here given that Fatah’s constitution maintains to this day that “the struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.”

Intertwined with this overriding sense of humiliation, anger and fear of loss of power should any compromise be made on Israel’s right to exist are the religious aspects that flow through this conflict – principles that are downplayed by Western leaders as mere rhetoric. Recently, the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs official praised Palestinians who carry out religious war against Israel, and the coordinator of the National Committee on Summer Camps told his local media that Palestinian summer camps instill in children the Palestinian culture, “which unites the culture of resistance, the culture of stones and guns … and the culture of shahada (martyrdom).”

Robert Wistrich in his book: A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad also leaves no doubt that the Arab rejection of Israel is based in large measure on Islamic principles that permeate the culture of their societies. It is reflected, he writes, in an irrational hatred of Jews who are portrayed as evil incarnate. Martin Gilbert’s many works on the subject of the treatment of Jews in Arab lands throughout the centuries confirm that this attitude towards Jews cannot be separated from the Arab enmity towards Israel as a Jewish state and the genocidal rhetoric and suicide bombers (shahids) that flow from it.

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