Let's Make a Deal

Posted in Peace and Conflict , Other | 09-Oct-07 | Author: Barry Rubin

Quick! Tell me. Who’s desperate to make a deal? Who acts as if they are the weaker party, eager to negotiate solutions in order to end their people’s suffering and the costs of conflict?

Certainly not Iran. It has been pushing ahead with its nuclear program for more than three years during a period of intense Western diplomatic effort, lots of talk about sanctions, and even the implementation of some. Iran is indifferent to threats of attack or warnings of isolation. To a large extent—but not completely—the regime thinks the West is bluffing. But if Tehran really sought nuclear energy, not bombs, it could easily cooperate and have power stations in operation far faster. And if Iran was really acting out of fear of being surrounded by American power, it could help resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq—instead of inflaming them—in exchange for U.S. forces withdrawing more quickly.

Certainly not Syria. It could have the Golan Heights if it wanted in exchange for full peace and an end to sponsoring terrorism against Israel. It could greatly expand Western economic investment and aid in exchange for acting more moderately. But Damascus is happy to wait until it gets precisely the terms it wants: everything for nothing.

Certainly not Hamas. It is unwilling to make more than the most minor rhetorical cosmetic changes. If the Gaza Strip is suffering through sanctions there is plenty of money for its gunmen and propaganda outlets. It would rather wait for decades and the hope of destroying Israel.

Certainly not the Palestinian Authority. With Fatah potentially on its deathbed, it goes on with all the old corruption, incompetence, and demands. Fatah is happy to take foreign aid, diplomatic support, and prisoners released by Israel. But Fatah is quite happy to live with “occupation” rather then making a deal to get an independent state.

Certainly not the Iraqi insurgents. Their whole strategy is to wear the Americans down into leaving. They are indifferent to how many of their own Sunni Muslims die or how much wreckage they do to Iraq’s society and economy.

Being a terrorist means never having to say you’re sorry.

On the other side, however, matters are different. Let’s make it clear: the West is more concerned over the suffering of Arabs than their own governments or leaders. It is desperate to get the Palestinians a state while both Hamas and Fatah want only an independent country on their own terms, no matter how many dead bodies and material suffering that requires. Hamas wants total victory and Israel’s eradication; most of Fatah merely wants an agreement to move that dream closer to reality.

Why is this? Because they:

--Think they are winning

--Fail to comprehend the concept of compromise.

--Embrace a culture of patience in which steadfastness wins versus what they perceive to be a Western culture of instant gratification

--Use militancy as a demagogic substitute for peace or prosperity, a reason why the dictator must be supported and the terrorist is a hero.

--Understand that he who says no gains bargaining leverage.

--Hold such extreme goals that they cannot be satisfied by any conceivable deal with Israel, America, or the West.

But why, then, is the West in general so desperate when it is doing pretty well and the other side is basically losing and losing out? There are many reasons for this also:

Some are eager to show their willingness to make a deal in order to keep their allies happy. Thus, Israel’s government has to keep the United States and Europe satisfied that it is doing its best. The U.S. government wants to show the Europeans, Arab states, and its own voting public that it is trying to conciliate enemies and resolve conflicts.

Then there is the fact that much of the West is genuinely afraid of war and violence. It has more to lose, after all. And it often does not understand extremism or the role ideology plays, thinking that soft words turn away wrath and you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It expects the militants can be bought off with money, power, or happiness (material gain).

They assume the Palestinian leadership will be grateful if given a state, when they want to be given all Israel; that Iran merely need feel secure from U.S. power, when it wants to throw America out of the region; that the Iraqi insurgents want more of a voice for the Sunni minority, when they want to chop the head off the Shia majority; or that Syria just wants the Golan Heights when it desires Lebanon enslaved and Israel disappeared. Or that Muslim Brotherhoods want a reformed democratic state when they pray for (and stalk prey for) an Islamist theocracy.

Meet those demands, Mr. Diplomat.

And there is greed as well, all the cash made from commerce. Sometimes, too, there is a sense of being on the same side as the supposed “enemy,” that is because they hate their own cultures and countries, the Americans, or the Jews.

Ok, but that leaves one more question for today. Why, then, don’t the radicals win if their strategy is so good? Here’s one reason. As Kenny Rogers sang in “The Gambler”:

“If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.

You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em,

Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

A good poker player understands when to end the game and collect his winnings.

Instead, all the forces listed above just demand more and more without delivering on their own promises until even the biggest suckers among Western governments and politicians learn the lesson. (Ok, that’s over-optimistic. Many never learn but at least they give up or shut up for a while.) So this partly brilliant strategy brings little return.

There are very good reasons why Western efforts at engagement are never followed by marriage and why endless confidence-building measures, peace plans, aid packages, summit conferences, apologies, and all the rest keep failing.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center http://gloria.idc.ac.il and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (GLORIA) Center http://meria.idc.ac.il. His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).