Owning the Mideast Peace Process

By Barry Rubin

There's an Arab proverb that goes: When an enemy extends his hand to you, cut it off. If you can't, kiss it. Who do you think this applies to today? In contrast to the "empower-our-enemies" approach, two of the best Middle East journalists have just written from different perspectives on the real Middle East.

The results are refreshing, as elsewhere throughout the media the odds are fixed at about four to one against sanity.

At one think tank, Khaled Abu Toameh has published "Ramallah vs. the ‘Peace Process.'" He tells the story of two Israeli Arab businessmen who wanted to open a Fox clothing store in the West Bank, like the one I like to shop at in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center.

Although given Palestinian Authority permission and having already made a big investment, they found themselves the target of attacks and calls for store to be firebombed.

The assaults were even organized by PA journalists. So they gave up - costing West Bank Palestinians 150 jobs.

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I could easily give another half-dozen such examples. As Abu Toameh concludes: This incident is an indication that the same "anti-normalization" movement which [PA leader] Abbas supports will be the first to turn against him if he strikes a deal with Israel. But of course, both because this is a powerful radical movement and because he himself is one of the leaders of the anti-peace camp, Abbas ultimately won't make a deal.

Journalist Aaron David Miller asks: "Does [US Secretary of State] John Kerry's Peace Process Have a Chance?" In subtle terms, he answers: "No."

Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu wants to say no to America's top diplomat and take the blame for the collapse of negotiations.

This proved sufficient to get them back to negotiations, but more will be required to keep them there, let alone to reach an accord. Right now, neither has enough incentives, disincentives, desire or need to move forward boldly.

Unfortunately, right now, the US owns this one more than the parties do. This is not an ideal situation. It would have been better had real urgency brought Abbas and Netanyahu together, rather than John Kerry.

In other words, Kerry wants and needs these talks; Netanyahu and Abbas don't.

I mean it literally when I say that there are only three sensible people on the Middle East given regular access to the mass media. One is Miller, the other two are Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post. (If I have left someone out, please remind me. But remember, I said "regularly.") If you want to know the real attitude in the Middle East, consider this recent exchange in Israel's Knesset: Jamal Zahalka of the Arab Communist Party, Balad: "We, the Arabs, were here before you [the Jews] and we will be here after you!" The prime minister asked permission to approach the podium and said: "The first part isn't true, and the second part won't be."

Remember that the Communist Party is the most moderate of the Arab parties.

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The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (www.gloria-center.org). His forthcoming book is Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Yale University Press).

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