"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A few thoughts on Arabs, Israelis and America: 'small tribes' talk and all that

The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace by Aaron David Miller
When the Jewish State was created, many people's homes were stolen.

 My brother found this book somewhere and gave it to me for my birthday. He said he saw the word "Arab" and knew how much I like them so he got this.   About halfway through this nearly 400 page book I was ready to toss it aside because I was exasperated with how much time and money and energy has been used in trying to bring peace to this region! (Not to mention all the trees killed to write all those drafts and official treaties!)

The author is a former State Department historian, negotiator and analyst who worked for several administrations on creating treaties between the Arabs - mainly Palestinians but also Syrians were mentioned a number of times - and Israelis.  He is an American Jew (and I was shocked with just how many other people in this process were Jewish), but not religious.  The first section explores why Americans favor Israel. He speaks of the Jewish community and how Israel is like an insurance policy for them. He devotes much time to AIPAC and its influence on Congress and how it is highly influential in making US policy favorable to Israel and appropriating funds for the Jewish State. He also speaks of the conservative evangelicals who strongly support Israel. In one chapter he visits Jerry Falwell and later attends a night for Israel held at John Hagee's church in Texas.  Pastor Hagee presented millions of dollars to Jewish organizations and had a program the author stated didn't mention Jesus Christ one time. This was about Jews and Israel after all.  Jesus isn't so popular with that crowd. 

The organization that assures US support of Israel by controlling Congress.

The second section included rather long chapters on Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and James Baker - three men the author thought worked the most on Arab-Israeli peace. I felt I knew much more about these guys after reading those chapters.  The last section dealt with presidential years  - how the presidents like Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 dealt with the situation. He went into discussions of the various Israeli leaders and how the US presidents got along with them (or not). Another main player was Yasser Arafat and also mentioned several times was Hafez al-Assad from Syria.  He was a tough guy with little room for negotiating. The author stated how weird it was that a man who lost ground in a war would come with such confidence that he wanted everything back.  Perhaps the author believes what is lost in war is negotiable because, hey, you lost.  I didn't take extensive notes, but did mark a few pages especially in the earlier section about small tribes and great nations.

In the later chapters the only thing I noted was during the 6 months between Rabin's murder and the next election in May 1996.  The author admitted they did "all [they] could to ensure that Shimon Peres...won the election." Of course Benjamin Netanyahu did instead.  This quote stuck out to me: "The idea that America doesn't sometimes interfere in Israel's politics is about as absurd as the notion that Israel doesn't meddle in ours." (pg. 267)

In the section on smaller tribes ...  "Great powers...meddle in the affairs of small tribes at their own risk....Small powers can't always best you, but they can always outwit and outwait you."  He uses the example of Vietnam, "a nation that has defeated the Chinese, French, and Americans. It's a fact of life: small guys who have a single-minded purpose and resolve can wear out and wear down big guys who may be focused for a time but are far from home with many other things to do."  (pg. 45)  He also gives the example of Iraq. (This book was published in 2008.)

These ghosts of the past make Israel a security blanket of sorts for the Jews.

"Smaller nations will do just about anything to survive and are not inclined to listen to or even trust advice offered by a distant power whose political and physical survival is not at stake. The ghosts of the past, made real by history's fears and traumas, speak louder than the untested promise of a brighter future offered by American diplomats."  (pg. 37)

"Americans who recognize the galactic gap between a secure and confident America and the traumatized and insecure world of Israelis and Arabs fare best of all."  (pg. 38)

"This region hates big ideas, certainly those offered up from outside and usually those from inside as well. ... Small tribes don't convert or transform easily. In fact, if there's any conversion, it's usually the other way around. The last three truly big ideas floating around out there - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - came from them, and they converted us."  (pg. 38)



Ali said...

Hi Susanne, I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago and since I'm a Syrian/Palestinian who currently lives in the US I thought I'd share my two cents here.

I won't try to argue who's right and who's wrong, that's just an exercise in futility. Besides, I'm already too biased to do it and I've seen countless arguments online about the subject all of which ended nowhere. But here are some of my thoughts about Arabs, Israelis, Americans and the ME.

The three Abrahamic religions, which came from the ME, abhor the killing of innocent life and consider it a major sin; and yet their followers have spilled the blood of each other in places they consider the holiest on earth.

Arabs and Israelis use the common greetings Salam (Arabic) and Shalom (Hebrew) on daily basis, which both carry the meaning of “peace”, and yet they are unable to accept the existence each other in peace. Some devout Christians in the US vehemently support Israel on religious grounds, but they turn a blind eye to their fellow Christian Arabs in Jerusalem who are left stateless and deprived from an Israeli citizenship.

Americans have no qualms sending massive armies to countries they can’t pinpoint on a map, as long as it isn’t very expensive. An Israeli has the right to think of any criticism as antisemitism, and an Arab has the right to blame all of his life’s misery on the US, Israel and the Devil (mostly in that particular order).

No offense to anyone, but that’s just my personal opinion. Unless the killing stops and people, not their governments, start talking to each other; I really don’t see a peaceful resolution.

Susanne said...

Ali, welcome and thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations on this topic! I think you summed up things well and I like your idea of people talking. I know how much talking to someone "on the other side" has changed my own life and how I view things.

I appreciate your feedback!

Suroor said...

I really liked Ali's comment and I agree with it 100%.

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I'm with Suroor and must say that Ali summed up my thoughts 100% and said it much more eloquently than I could.

Qusay said...

This region has seen wars before the Arabs and the Jews existed, since the Egyptians and the Hittites fought over it, and Ramses the second made a truce which lasted 40 years, and this is something more than 1000 years BC, as you can see... histroy has been repeating itself for quite a while now :(

Susanne said...

Qusay, sadly it seems world history is full of fighting over land/natural resources. I guess it's how things will always be until people change.