Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira

Differences often vast between Arab street and leaders

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — There’s an unpleasant lesson in the enthusiastic homecoming provided to Ahmad Daqamseh, the Jordanian soldier who served a 20 year sentence for killing young Israeli girls at the “Island of Peace” on the Israeli-Jordanian border, and another unpleasant lesson in Dagamseh’s comments that Israel is a rotten place that must be destroyed.

Twenty years ago, King Hussein interrupted a foreign trip to return home and pay condolences to the families of the slain girls.

Hussein’s gesture, the cooperative security arrangements with Israel pursued for years by Jordanian authorities, and the moderate posture outside the glare of publicity by King Abdullah, clash with what commentators describe as widespread animosity to Israel in the Jordanian society.

The delicacy of managing Jordan has been made more difficult by 1.5 million Syrian refugees in a country always on the economic edge, and heavily dependent on foreign loans and grants.

Some two-thirds of its population identified as Palestinians does not add to national stability, with a monarch, administrative and military elite that is–for the most part–not Palestinian.

The picture of public tension, sharp opposition to anything Israeli, along with quiet cooperation of authorities with Israel repeats itself in several key sectors of the Middle East.

Most notable, aside from Jordan, are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, several Gulf States, and the Palestinians of the West Bank.

Anwar Sadat felt himself strong enough to make a high profile visit to Israel, and to plead his case before the Knesset. Hosni Mubarak and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as Jordanian Kings Hussein and Abdullah and Palestinian leaders Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have met with Israeli officials on numerous occasions, but not with the publicity chosen by Sadat. Arab commentators from several countries have been outspoken in opposing simplistic denunciations of Israel, and have compared the Jewish State favorably with their own. But the popular antipathy appears to be strong, and prevents significant departure from an overt and frequent identification by national leaderships with the Palestinian claims of 1967 borders, a capital in Jerusalem, and the return of refugees..

Palestinians, meanwhile, seem to be ratcheting backwards from 1967, insofar as they are planning a suit in the UK against the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and demand that European officials do not meet Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem..

The failure of major political figures to question the wisdom of turning back history suggests the weakness of them all, up to and including the leadership of what appear to be stable Arab societies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.They are all on an edge of popular unrest, with the examples of Sadat’s murder, Egypt after Mubarak, Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Libya after Qaddafi, and Syria’s Assad dependent on Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. They all show the influence of strong anti-Israel statements by leaders since 1948, reinforced by incitement in the mass media and education.

Left open is the question, how can Israel take a chance that major concessions will produce a stable relationship with Palestine and other Arab governments?

It’s easy for western leftists or Israeli opposition politicians to demand successful negotiations with Palestinians.

It’s harder when you’re bordering Syria, and remember Palestinian rejections of proposals to divide disputed land.

The suspicion deepens whenever the Palestinian leadership names another landmark after a martyr who died while attacking Jews, we see another clip of what is taught in Palestinian schools, when we go to sleep to the sound of explosions a couple of hundred meters distant alongside Isaweea or Shuafat, or note rifle carrying police patrolling our streets and shopping areas also used by residents of Isaweea and Shuafat.

Alongside problematic reminders about our neighbors are daily experiences of Israelis and Palestinians getting along. They include cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security personnel, which don’t quite erase the memory of Palestinian police who went bad and attacked Jews.

We don’t hesitate to ask an Arab workman to fix something in our apartment, or to open the door to an Arab bringing an order from the grocery store.

I profit from insights received from Arab friends I occasionally meet while walking around our mutual neighborhood.

What does this combination of bad and good portend for the makers of public policy?

Israelis should take with a grain of salt those outsiders (whether Presidents, Prime Ministers, or well-known Jews) who express the politically correct position that we have to reach an accord that creates a Palestinian state.

A half century of Palestinian nay saying and Israeli construction has convoluted the landscape to leave an area that is clearly Palestinian, but not nearly enough for a Palestinian leader to accept, and a patchwork of Palestinians and Jews over the rest of what Palestinians claim.

Does anyone seriously expect Israeli authorities to move some 800,000 Jews in order to please Palestinians, who also want a solution for the descendants of those who moved as a result of the 1948 or 1967 wars?

The Gazan leadership is threatening again. They say that Israel must lift its embargo and allow air and sea ports for Gaza, or there will be another explosion of Gazan fury.

The last time there was such an explosion, it cost Gazans some 2,500 lives, who knows how many injuries to be dealt with by inadequate Gazan facilities, and more rubble alongside the rubble not cleared since the previous explosion of Gazan fury.

We live alongside crazies in this neighborhood. Some, it is true, are Jews who are convinced that God gave it all to them.

We can argue if Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is one of the crazies, due to his insistence that any agreement with the Palestinians must include the transfer of population as well as territory. If Palestine can be a country without Jews, as its leadership demands, then he demands trading the land and population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank for the land and population of Arab communities in Israel.

Nutty racism, or a bargaining tactic that emphasizes the extremism of Palestinian demands?

It isn’t easy to answer that or a number of other questions involved in this long standing dispute.. Which is another way of saying that there isn’t an easy solution. Or no solution apparent, other than coping with the tensions and possibilities of living alongside and in the midst of one another.

Things may change if a Palestinian leader emerges who is the equivalent of Nelson Mandela or Anwar Sadat. For the sake of peace with Egypt, Menachem Begin’s government signed away all of Sinai including Israeli settlements.

The ball’s in their court, waiting for someone who knows how to deal with it.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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