Obstacles to Arab Hearts and Minds

By Belen Fernandez

A June 25 editorial in the Jerusalem Post online entitled ‘Arab hearts and minds’ begins: ‘Another day, another massacre in Iraq.’ The remainder of the first paragraph covers the details of the day in question and the attendant massacre (result of fanatical Sunni behavior in Baghdad street market). The author makes it clear that the current pattern of Iraqi days and massacres is unlikely to subside given impending US troop departures.

The second paragraph of the editorial delineates one of the consequences of recent global distraction by Persian hearts and minds, which is that “Iraqis have continued to kill each other and Americans,” with one of the non-American victims identified as the national karate coach. The fourth paragraph describes US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ invitation to friendly Arab militaries “to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan”; analysis of the invitation is invited by the following question in paragraph five: “Still, isn’t the administration curious about why it must work so hard to convince [the Arabs] to do what is in their own interest?”

Arab confusion may stem from the fact that the destabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan was initially declared to be in their own interest. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes was deployed to the Middle East in 2005 in an attempt to clear up some of the confusion, but in the end merely confirmed the difficulty of winning Arab hearts and minds when Arabs didn’t know what they wanted. After failing to convince Saudi women that they wanted driver’s licenses, Hughes returned home; she further contributed to Arab confusion the following year by stating that all lives were equally precious in the middle of Israel’s war on Lebanon, in addition to confusing Hezbollah with Hamas.

The Jerusalem Post editorial is 13 paragraphs long. It is not until the eleventh paragraph, however, that we are informed of its point, which is that “[f]ixating on [Israeli] settlements gladdens Arab hearts, no doubt. It will not, however, bring stability to Fallujah or Kabul.” It turns out that, although the author of the article apparently sympathizes with the current administration’s curiosity at Arab reluctance to act in their own interest, there is no sympathy for Obama’s surrender to the idea that “if only Jewish life over the Green Line was placed in suspended animation, Palestinian moderates would make a dash for peace.”

The dash for peace is ruled out through ninth-paragraph curiosity as to why the Palestinians did not dash for “an offer by Ehud Olmert that would have given them the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank.” Innovative grammatical structures such as “the equivalent of 100 percent” are not expanded upon, nor are motives behind the failed Jewish dash for the equivalent of a homeland in Uganda; the possibility of Jewish life in suspended animation, however, is upheld via a Jerusalem Post link to “Mini Israel,” a tourist attraction 15 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport.

The Mini Israel website touts the attraction as “[f]eaturing over 350 beautifully crafted exact-replica models, of historical, religious, archeological and modern sites.” There is presumably no need for exact-replica separation walls among the modern sites, as it is presumably easier to deal with mini jihadists than life-size ones; the Jerusalem Post editorial writer meanwhile fails to arrive at the conclusion that a Mini Palestine is the solution to Arab confusion.

The writer’s claim that settlement fixation will not bring stability to Fallujah or Kabul raises the question of why Undersecretary Hughes was instructed in 2005 to inform the Middle East that President Bush supported a Palestinian state. As for what will bring stability, the twelfth paragraph of the article offers the following option: “Perhaps a sense of certainty that America will not waver in its determination to lead.” The final paragraph elaborates:

“When the Arabs study Washington’s handling of Iran’s post-election upheaval, or how it’s responding to the mullahs’ quest for atomic weapons and to North Korea’s brinkmanship, will they take heart from Obama’s commitment to multilateralism and his dexterous employment of soft power and suasion? Or will they, looking at the results, hedge their bets and disingenuously attribute their vacillation to Jewish settlements on the West Bank?”

Leaving aside the details of how the Arabs are going to conduct this study when they don’t even know what is good for them, we are confronted with a perspective on vacillation that does not account for continuing Arab support for a two-state solution over the past several decades. Vacillation here refers instead to the possibility that the Arabs will invoke the settlement issue as an excuse in the event that Robert Gates invites them to stabilize Iran and North Korea in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. The inclusion of the word “disingenuously” casts hearts and minds in a new light, suggesting that Arabs may in fact know what is good for them but simply choose to do the opposite.

– Belen Fernandez is completing a book entitled Coffee with Hezbollah. She is a regular contributor to pulsemedia.org. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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