Israel has celebrated its 63rd independence day, but it is a hollow celebration in a country that is less independent than it has been in decades. Rather than working within regional and global realities, its leaders instead fanatically pursue normalization and stabilization. But normalcy and stability are illusions in the Middle East, as the past few months have reminded us.
The Camp David Accords, jewel of the normalization crown, have proven to be worthless. The Oslo Accords were discredited in far less time than that. Had Israel given in to pressure and exchanged the Golan Heights for a peace treaty with Syria-- that agreement would no longer be worth the paper it was written on. And yet in January, the Obama Administration was aggressively pushing Israel to turn over the Golan Heights, for which so many IDF soldiers gave their lives, for exactly that.
Arab leaders don't understand the Western obsession with treaties. Nor do they consider them to be binding in any way. To them an accord or an agreement is nothing but a statement of their interests, which becomes obsolete the moment their interests change. There is no such thing as a permanent peace agreement that binds nations and peoples. All treaties with Arab leaders are signed with individuals and their families. They do not represent any permanent reconciliation or normalization. That can only be achieved through intermarriage and complete cultural blending.
Arabs view the Israeli pursuit of peace as insecurity. When Israel talks about how much it wants peace, it loses face. The Arabs view such talk as a sign of weakness, an admission of guilt by thieves who now want to strike a bargain to avoid what's coming to them, or a disingenuous claim to cover up plans for war.
The culture of the Shouk, the middle-eastern bazaar, is the bluff and the mind game. To assert a lie confidently is to strengthen your bargaining position, to speak the truth softly is to be thought a liar. Everyone knows what they want, but no one comes right out and says it. No one but a tourist or a sucker. If you come out and say that you want peace, then you're either a sucker, a coward or looking for an excuse to start a war. Arab states assume all three things about Israel. Often at the same time. Because our behavior confuses them as badly as they confuse us.
Israel demonstrates superior force and then sues for peace. It surrenders to terrorists and then it bombs them. It retreats and then talks about a permanent settlement. Arab behavior often looks crazy to outsiders, but our behavior looks much more crazy to them. We think that they say one thing and do another. They think the same thing about us. And with good cause.
Arab leaders speak the language of the region. Israeli leaders speak some bizarre Western dialect that is foreign to the region and its sensibilities. Arab leaders assume that foreign diplomats who don't understand that what they say isn't what they mean are either idiots or being disingenuous. Confused? You're now an honorary diplomat. And Western emissaries either end up believing everything they hear to not believing anything they hear. But their problem is that they confuse the poetry of the words with the content of the message.
Israel pursuing the mirage of permanent peace and brotherhood is one of the dumber things they have ever encountered. There is no such thing in the region. The Arabs hate the Persians. The Sunnis hate the Shiites. The Egyptians hate the Saudis. Bedouin clans that live side by side for centuries have blood feuds that have gone on for centuries. Look at Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, any Arab country under a microscope and you see a whirling mass of smaller entities who only stop fighting when a stronger force gets in the way.
Everyone in the Middle East hates everyone else, and will go on feeling that way until the end of time. The only way to stop your neighbor from cutting your throat, stealing your car or making off with your daughter-- is to threaten to do the same thing to him. And worse.
Israeli leaders of another generation understood this regional reality. But the distance between the men who drained the swamps and fought bandits, and the men who live enclosed in the massive population density of the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area, up there with London, Moscow, Tokyo and Rio De Janiero, has grown too great. They are intimately familiar with Tel Aviv, Paris and Brussels. But they have no understanding whatsoever of the people they live among.
Urbanization in civilizations means that the people who have the most awareness of an external threat, are cut off from the centers of power. Too many Israelis have come to think of Arabs as people like them who happen to speak a different language. Cousins they just don't get along with. Few would have been stupid enough to make that mistake seventy years ago. But insularity, multicultural propaganda and the popularity of surface elements of Arab culture have made it ubiquitous.
The New Middle East is a fairy bubble born out of that myth. And no matter how many times it bursts, there are still those who chase after it.
There can be no permanent peace or normalization with the Arab world, except within the context of regional realities. Those realities are that Arab leaders are obligated to publicly hate Israel, while privately cooperating on issues of mutual interest. Any written treaty is worthless, but oral agreements can work, so long as they benefit both sides. The Arab Street will go on hating Israel, as they have hated religious minorities and anyone who is different from them in any way. There will be no brand new Middle East, just the same old one as before.
The difference between the Middle East as it was and as it is, is window dressing. These are still borderline feudal societies with the important families controlling the land and the government. And the peasants having barely enough to tie their shoes together with. The Arab world consists of ramshackle post-colonial governments run by powerful families. The parliaments and ministers, the bureaucrats and officers, are generally the sons of powerful families, their nephews, distant cousins, and anyone else who can be counted on to be loyal to the tribe. Whether the men at the top call themselves sheiks or colonels, they rely on the support of that oligarchy, and rule through some combination of bribery and armed force. The Arab Spring is nothing more than prominent families and religious factions fighting it out for supremacy.
If Israel is to survive in the Middle East, it will only be able to do by accepting those realities, and maintaining its existence by demonstrating and using the power it has. The only normalcy and stability it can have is that the Arabs will accept that it is not going anywhere. Something that had already been accomplished in the late seventies, only to be trashed by bleeding heart leftists in the nineties. Only by making it clear that it will not be destroyed, undermined or bullied into giving up, will that reassert itself.
The State of Israel exists in a violent and unstable part of the world. That violence will be part of its reality for as long as it is there. There should be no more land for peace or peace initiatives of any kind. They do far more harm than good. Like any bad neighborhood, the only thing to do is secure your property, keep watch over it, move along anyone who doesn't belong there, and keep a weapon handy at all times. Only then can you reach a limited understanding with the local gangs and even gain their respect. That is the regional reality. You don't achieve regional normalization by signing a few accords and turning over some land. Instead you do it by turning your presence into an indisputable fact. And if you work with that regional reality, then the regional reality will work with you.