"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

European Lessons for the Middle East ( Part I)

The following images does not require any excessive imagination: Take 1 : An American President appears from his office surrounded by Middle East leaders. Take 2 : The President announces a new set of initiatives/steps/programs/etc aimed to revive the “Peace Process” … sounds familiar? Déjà vu? That was more or less the way the ceremony in Washington DC looked a week ago, a sort of show which became an obligatory ritual for the last 20 year. The irony is that the spectacle itself is the clearest evidence of its own futility, or better put a sad recognition that the last 20 years have yielded much more “Process” than “Peace”.

Palestinians and Israelis don´t need confirmations from Washington DC, reality talks for itself . First of all the “Process” failed to prevent the loss of thousands of human lives . Secondly the irresolution, the tactical and astute maneuvers only derived into a generalized frustration and despair that catalyzed an augmented “Entrenchment” mood at both sides : Among the Palestinians an Islamic (and radical) discourse is eclipsing the former secular dominant sector of the Palestinian national movement: The takeover of the Gaza strip , the results of last elections are the clearest evidence of that process. From the other side, Israeli secular Jews became more receptive of a “Two States Solution”, a softer talk that turned to be the ultimate perfect alibi for a rather hard line policy : The Israeli Jewish society ( 75% of the population) is nowadays more supportive of collective punishments (such as the Gaza blockade), a general indifference of collateral damages, support the inclusion of preconditions to the Palestinian , etc. . Not exactly the best recipe for a good neighborhood. On the top of it the actual government is dominated by right wing parties that are against any real concession.

The historical narratives of both sides apparently support the intransigent strategies: Arabs are sure that their ancestors´ power of will as the main motive for the expulsion of the Crusades invaders from Palestine some 800 years. And they want to repeat it. In a similar fashion, Israelis are convinced that Israel owes its existence mainly to the determination and sacrifice of its founders. Since the debate “Resistance vs. Compromise” is too wide for a modest blog I will only comment that any serious strategy, even the most intransigent must weigh the consequences of the worst case scenario. Reminder: Some 2000 years ago Jews tried to defy the Roman Empire twice ( 66 and 132 AD)and in both cases the messianic hard line strategy ended in a colossal catastrophe, 2,000 years exile included. Palestinians don’t need to go so back: The intransigent position toward Zionism combined with a lack of political astuteness brought upon them the Nakbah, the loss of Palestine and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from their home.

History has plenty of human collectives that learnt the lesson of blind inflexibility on their own (literal) flesh , and generally a bit late. Take the example of Europe: The peaceful and prosperous continent was during hundred of years the stage of the cruelest wars. Even the XX Century bloodsheds of Sedan and Verdun were not more than a prelude for the 1918 vengeance, the seeds of the next disaster. “Civilized” Europe needed the “lesson” of Auschwitz, Dresden, the Blitz, Hiroshima, Stalingrad, and more than 50 millions casualties to engage in a serious alternative path in order to end with the vicious cycle of violence . The EU, the Euro,common market etc. are not economic or political enterprises but a mechanism to prevent future catastrophes. For the time being the lesson is present.

So, after wandering to Europe and XX century history, what is the punch line in relation to the “Peace Process”? Well, I guess that Bismarck´s quote says it all: “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others." Since there is more than enough experience of others, the moment for a smart attitude (and Bismarck was VERY smart) has come to the Middle East. Since everybody knows what is the merchandise, what is the price, and what is the deal , the possible gains of hard line strategies or astute tactical maneuvers are insignificant when compared to the risk of possible REALLY bad experiences . In other words, more “Peace” and less “Process” is needed , as the Middle East and its peoples don´t have another 20 years to spend in empty speeches.

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