Friday, February 03, 2006

Just Don't Provoke Them

Henryk M. Broder, The Wall Street Journal:
Everything we need to know about European policy toward Islamic fundamentalists can be found in a Jewish joke from World War II. Two Jews find themselves in a concentration camp and don't know what awaits them. One says to the other, "Moshe, ask that SS man over there what they're going to do with us." "Cut it out, Shmulik," says the second one. "Don't provoke the Germans, they might get mad!"

Don't provoke them. Just last week, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw explained how, in the dispute with Iran over nuclear power, the West is hoping for negotiations that would avoid "humiliating" Iran and allow it to maintain its "national dignity." In providing this explanation, Mr. Straw was fully aware of Iran's broken agreements, threats and nuclear plans, and of the futility of the "constructive dialogue" the Europeans have been holding with the regime in Teheran for the last quarter century. Just don't provoke them. The mullahs might get mad!

This syndrome of anticipatory capitulation is based on a reversal of cause and effect, action and reaction. The perpetrators are handled with kid gloves, while the potential victims are counseled to be moderate. "Israel threatens Iran with Military Attack," read a headline in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, after the government in Jerusalem announced that it would not wait for Tehran to fire a nuclear weapon at Tel Aviv. The headline at Focus Online, another German publication, was even clearer: "Israel Threatens Iran with Self-Defense!" This "threat" has to be taken seriously, unlike Iran's announcement that it would "wipe Israel off the map," which is considered mere "rhetoric."

Future historians studying the 21st century will be amazed at the naiveté of the Europeans, who see no parallels to the 1930s appeasement of the Nazis and insist on believing they have to help Iran maintain its dignity, even at the cost of nuclear disaster. At the same time, they will stumble on the many odd commentaries written about Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections. Rarely has there been such a determined effort to put a positive spin on a depressing reality. The Dutch paper Volkskrant wrote that it could hardly suppress "a slight sense of schadenfreude at the punishment of Fatah's corrupt leaders. London's Independent argued that "the world has long demanded democracy from the Palestinians. Now they have it." READ MORE

The Berliner Zeitung had a daydream: "Hamas could be an example of how radicals can change, and how Islam and democracy are compatible." France Soir took Israel to task for "not wanting to speak to the new Palestinian leadership" and recalled that it was "the warmonger, provocateur and right-wing extremist fighter Sharon" who evacuated Gaza.

While most editorial writers and commentators made up stories in order to avoid an insight that Die Welt summed up in a few words ("Triumph of the Terrorists"), the usual experts from the public-academic complex spoke up to defend their position against reality. A day before the elections, the director of the Hamburg Orient Institute, Udo Steinbach, said in an interview that the elections "could be stabilizing for this sad part of the Palestinian world" and could get the peace process going again, "although, as we all know, Hamas has a very negative attitude toward Israel."

Christian Sterzing, former foreign-policy "coordinator" of the Green parliamentary party and now a representative of the Green's Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ramallah, spoke of a "protest vote" in which Hamas was elected "not because of but despite their Islamic orientation." The "largely secularized Palestinian society" would not accept "rigid Islamicization internally." Mr. Sterzing knows exactly what moves Palestinian voters, but he probably has never tried to buy a beer in Hebron or to find a café in Nablus where women are welcome. He thus sees the positive side of the "Palestinian paradox": Hamas representatives are now "in a Parliament that they boycotted and fought 10 years ago." That, to him, is the mark of a successful "integration strategy." If drug dealers were similarly "integrated" into the bureaucracy by the Food and Drug Administration, Mr. Sterzing would probably laugh himself to death.

But different rules apply in the Middle East. There, reality is like clay that can be molded to order. Helga Baumgarten, a German professor of political science at Bir Zeit University and a specialist in political spiritualism, believes Fatah and Hamas are working toward the same goal: "the end of Israeli occupation" of the territories occupied in 1967. Ms. Baumgarten speaks fluent Arabic, but she apparently hasn't noticed that Hamas wants to free all of Palestine from the "Zionist occupation," including the areas "occupied" before 1967. Meanwhile, she takes refuge in the subjunctive to legitimize terror: "Hamas is somewhat ambivalent, they use the term 'resistance,' which could at least selectively include violent resistance." "Could" -- as if Hamas had not often shown in a very direct idiom, in buses and cafes, how they "selectively" apply resistance.

This is how analysts and commentators are talking and writing about the abyss of reality. If we take the Palestinians seriously, we must respect their decision. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that they have decided, in a democratic process, to commit collective political suicide. Instead of sending out individual suicide bombers, Hamas now has the chance to make a big bang on a larger stage. Every nation gets the government it deserves: that saying applies not only to the Israelis, but also to the Palestinians.

Hamas's success is just the logical result of a long process. For over 50 years, the Palestinians have lived in a virtual reality, nourished by the hope of "return" and the re-establishment of the status quo before "Zionist colonization." They have suffered for so long -- under occupation and their own inept leaders -- that they have lost the will to resolve the conflict politically. The suffering must continue; otherwise, all the sacrifices would have been in vain. It is too much to expect the Palestinians to free themselves from this historical trap.

Hamas is acting quite correctly, according to its own logic, by continuing the armed struggle while at the same time demanding that the U.S. and the EU finance that struggle. After all, that is exactly what the U.S. and the EU have been doing for a long time, though via the Palestinian Authority, which was not even capable of neutralizing the terror commandos of the al-Aksa Brigades connected with the "moderate" Fatah. So nothing will actually change. The Americans and the Europeans will continue to call for a political solution to the conflict and to draft new road maps. And they will continue to pay, no matter who governs in the Mukata in Ramallah. Otherwise the terrorists might get mad.

Mr. Broder is a columnist for Der Spiegel. Belinda Cooper translated this article from the German.