The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Bazaar

Many commentators are suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now been elevated to the top of incoming President Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Like many of his positions, Obama has been purposely ambiguous about his position vis-a-vis Israel and Hamas, except to voice the tired phrases that stress the important of a “peace process.” A commenter at The Belmont Club named “Alexis” pinpoints one of the key problems with a reliance on “process:”
An American tourist goes into a bazaar. He looks at a rug and falls in love with it. He tells the merchant, “I just love that rug. It is so beautiful. How much money does it cost?” The merchant had been willing to sell the rug for $100, but he had been planning to quote $500. But hearing this American, he replies, “It’s a cherished heirloom of my grandmother. It’s difficult to part with, but because my beloved son needs back surgery, I might be willing to part with it for $10,000. But just for you, I’ll bring it down to $9000. The American replies, “Oh no, I’ll pay the full ticket. Your son needs the money. Here’s $10,000.” The merchant then accepts the money with a mixture of disbelief and contempt.

That’s the problem that calling the Levant “The Holy Land” brings. The more an outsider wants “peace”, the higher the price the bazaar merchants will demand. And remember that in Arab culture, everybody haggles. According to underworld lore, even the prostitutes will haggle over their own price.

There are those who take the view that Americans must bear some variety of “The White Man’s Burden” to guide the “Holy Land” into a promised kingdom of mutual respect, true justice, and everlasting peace. Perhaps they forget the importance of tough love. When a parent caves in to a child’s demands in exchange for a momentary respite from quarrelling, even if such a desire for peace comes only occasionally, the effect is to teach the child to become a spoiled brat.

Terrorists exist for a reason. There may be an internal cultural component, but the main reason why terrorists act the way they do is because their tantrums often succeed at getting them what they want. Calling the Levant “The Holy Land” ensures that every spoiled brat in the region can get all the attention he wants if he acts out and threatens the peace of mind of every devout fool who is willing to pay any price to achieve “Peace in the Holy Land”.

When outsiders ram “peace” down the throats of people who don’t want peace, peace is not the result. Not real peace. Real peace happens when those who actually live with the consequences of “peace” want peace more than any outsider, whether he is an American or a Swede.

The “peace process” has become yet another form of rental income collected by grifters who fleece the unwary traveler. The “peace process” has become a cow for those who milk the conflict for power, influence, and money.

It would not be wise to sell one’s soul in exchange for “Peace in the Holy Land”.

I worry that Obama, like many of the Presidents who preceded him, will try to “ram peace down the throats of people [the Palestinians] who [demonstrably] don’t want peace.” In essence, that’s what every “peace process” since 1967 has attempted to do, and every one has failed.

Maybe it’s time to walk away from the bazaar and allow the principles who inhabit it to work things out, or not. Maybe it’s time to recognize that the price of “peace” is set far too high (the destruction of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East) and that one of the parties has no intention of buying the goods, only extracting as many concessions as possible until it is strong enough to burn down the bazaar. Maybe it’s time to recognize that peace is an illusion than cannot be achieved until those who would burn down the bazaar decide that life is better than death.

It’s a lot to ask of a new President, but maybe it’s time that someone did.