Friday, September 23, 2005

News from the front

Whew! After my stress-busting rant in the last posting, I got precisely one reply for and one against, so shall assume tacit support from the rest of you and continue in the same vein.

First up, hat tip to the genius folks at LGF for this report on Hamas's intention to turn the Netzarim synagogue into a museum displaying weapons used against Israel in the intifada. LGF editorialised as follows:

"I’m reading this again, and wondering where the hell is the world’s outrage about this? Newsweek prints a false rumor that a Koran was dunked in a toilet, and the entire planet goes nuts. Hamas announces that they’re going to turn a Jewish house of worship into a memorial to mass murder ... and the silence is absolutely deafening."

Quite.

I had dinner with "Anna", an old friend from BCI, who works for the Peres Center for Peace. "Anna" is what I would call a member of the "Sensible Left". She works with Palestinians on a daily basis, has her rants against heavy-handed IDF tactics in the West Bank, and wants to see a two-state solution on the Green Line borders or even a pragmatically constructed bi-national state in certain circumstances. Par for the course so far.

But where it gets interesting is what else she says - some amazing insights from someone who actually works with Palestinians.

She talked about the "Palestinian myth" of rightful ownership of all the land from Med to Jordan, which she says is accepted by the young even though the older generation know full well that it is untrue - it just serves their cause. But, she says, it is now a fact on the ground in the same way as we claim the settlement blocs to be, and it has to be negotiated as such, regardless of the perceived or real injustice of having to do so.

She was equally willing to concede that even a withdrawal to the 1967 border would not necessarily bring the fulfilment of their aspirations because of this "myth" of 100% ownership, and that more violence might well occur. Her view was that a Palestine in the Green Line borders and substantial improvement in economic conditions might avert this and lead to long-term stability.

I probed as to how this would be achieved and she admitted to having considerable frustrations with the lack of industry and entrepreneurial spirit amongst the Palestinians. She said they were on the whole very passive, doing little to help themselves and waiting for others to present solutions to them. Also there was her frustration at events in Gaza with the vandalising of hothouses and light industrial zones handed over after the Disengagement.

We discussed the rampant corruption and favouritism that occurs throughout the developing world and especially in the Palestinian territories. One of "Anna"'s greatest fears is that Hamas takes power and also becomes corrupt - something you cannot accuse them of right now. But it seems to be an ingrained part of the culture that you hold loyalty to your tribe and family above integrity in the workplace. The concept of bureaucracy is very Western (viz. Max Weber etc) - as soon as you introduce it anywhere else, it is seen as an opportunity to graft for your cohorts.

She asked me if I would have any investors for an Israeli-Palestinian co-operative venture. My response was that given the Palestinian track record in Gaza with the $14m donation from Jewish philanthropists to preserve the greenhouses that depreciated to a pittance after mere hours of Palestinian ownership, I was not sure it represented a good investment by any normal criteria. Also, I would be more inclined to help tackle an unemployment rate in Israel approaching 10% and deal with the poverty that affects 1 in 3 people here, before trying to offer a hand to people who have a track record of violence.

I did say that a more interesting approach might be to support an Israeli-Palestinian enterprise in conjunction with investors from the Arab world. My view on it is that any solution has to involve the rest of the countries that caused the mess in the first place. These countries have shown far more malevolence and disdain for the Palestinians - their own brethren - than anything Israel can be accused of. Normalising their relations with Israel and a future Palestine through strong economic ties would bring a much broader stability to the region.

Another theme "Anna" talked about was how aware she is that she and others in Israeli NGOs patronise the Palestinians. I agree that there is a pseudo-Christian missionary zeal about the way the Israeli Left treats them. It cannot be helpful to treat them as a dumb kid that behaves badly in class to the detriment of the other children and never learns from his mistakes. Either treat them the same and let them stand on their own two feet and live with the grazed knees, or put them in a separate remedial class so the other kids can get on with their education unencumbered.

Ultimately I think one of the main problems is one of underlying culture and jealousy. The Palestinian culture is not Western; Israel's culture largely is. The Palestinians believe it is their right to have the trappings of the Israeli-Western way of life, but show little sign of having the willpower - let alone the know-how - to achieve it for themselves. Unfortunately, the West, the other Arabs, and the Israeli do-gooders lack the ability to tell them. So we end up with a situation where they see the best hope of achieving it as throwing the Jews out and taking it for themselves, as they are indoctrinated to think by the Palestinian Authority's own mosques, media outlets and school curriculum.

Who can help the Palestinians to build their economy? Israel can provide technical expertise on agriculture, IT, biotech and numerous other areas in which they lead the entire world. But the capital needs to come from the oil-rich Arab states and be invested in business. Instead, Saudi Arabia held their umpteenth telethon on state TV, raising money to support "jihad in Palestine". Heaven forbid they should raise money to support new businesses there.

Is it mere coincidence that most of the Arab world - perhaps even the Muslim world - finds itself in a similar position? It resents the success of the infidel West and can only replicate it because of the fluke of sitting on half the world's oil wealth - even then, it is only small, enlightened benign dictatorships in the Gulf that even manage that. And we are constantly hearing from the British Muslim community that they are marginalised, impoverished and not part of the mainstream culture.

Yet they cannot expect the trappings of Western society to continue to be handed to them as we have done so far (Omar Bakri Mohammed's house and car, for example), if they are unwilling to make concessions to the society that has built that wealth. If Saudi religious leaders are still issuing fatwas declaring the world is flat (seriously), then how would we expect a Muslim child to become a scientist?

And if we pander to "Sir" Iqbal Sacranie and his cronies about the future of Holocaust Memorial Day, what hope is there that Muslim children today will grow up to be historians of anything other than a revisionist nature tomorrow?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

We are constantly told that this the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a complex one. However you brought up a point that is at the heart of the whole matter - the middle east-west divide. It is this more than anything else that perpetuates the current situation and only a resolution to bridge such incompatible ways of life will give any sort of peace process real legs.

Well said though...