Let me level a broadside against Palestinian society’s spirit – its zeitgeist.
The tenor is narcissistic.
In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, scientist Steven Pinker presents the idea of a morbid national resentment — ressentiment in French. “Morbid national resentment” characterizes Palestinianism.
Palestinian nationalism expresses the conviction that its civilization has a historical right to greatness despite its lowly status. They feel that their lowly status is explained by the malevolence of an external foe, namely Israel.
According to Palestinians, if Israel would withdraw to the 1949 ceasefire lines (what are mistakenly called the 1967 borders), then Palestinians would be justly elevated into statehood.
Their group-equivalent of narcissism evidences a big but fragile ego with an unearned claim to preeminence. Their narcissism can trigger violence “when the narcissist is enraged by an insolent signal from reality.” (See p. 524)
The presence and visibility of Israeli troops is taken by Palestinians as an insolent signal from reality. In the case of Gaza, Israel maintains a visibly hard border like an international border but has otherwise withdrawn to the 1949 lines. What more is Israel supposed to do?
If Gazans were not to look outward – literally – they would mostly not see the fences and military patrols. The partial sea blockade is only visible to Gazan fisherman but not to most of the close to two million residents of the coastal strip. Within the enclave, they see self-rule. Due to their narcissism they remain mind-blind to their autonomy.
Both the Palestinian self-described victims and the alleged Israeli perpetrators distort their stories in opposite directions. “[E]ach omit[s] or embellish[es] details in a way that [makes] the actions of their character look more reasonable and the other’s less reasonable.” Diverging narratives are a psychological Moralization Gap. Who should we believe? (p. 490) (For me, Israeli narratives are more believable, but not entirely so.)
Ressentiment whips up the emotions of thwarted dominance – humiliation, envy, and rage – to which narcissists are prone. (p. 524)
Several things determine whether ethnic groups can coexist without bloodshed…. One important emollient is the way a group treats a loose cannon who attacks a member of the other group. If the malefactor is reeled in and punished by his own community, the victimized group can classify the incident as a one-on-one crime rather than as the first strike in a group-against-group war…. [A]n even bigger factor is ideology. Things get ugly when intermingled ethnic groups long for states of their own, hope to unite with their diasporas in other countries, keep long memories of harms committed by their neighbors’ ancestors while being unrepentant for harms committed by their own, and live under crappy governments * that mythologize one group’s glorious history while excluding others from the social contract. (p. 525)
Among the Palestinians, a cohort of young men and teenage males periodically comes of age and begins to riot – an Intifada. Palestinians don’t regard these stone-throwers and tire-burners as loose cannons. The riots are a rite of passage. Fathers and older brothers fought, and now time has come for the younger cohort to test its mettle and gain esteem and status. These riots begin after “an insolent signal from reality,” but they are way out of proportion to the igniting spark. And the fuel for flames has been there all along.
The Palestinian ideology circles around the unrealistic idea that all Palestinians in their diaspora should have a right to return to live where their ancestors originated. In fact, most members of the diaspora are considered to be refugees even though they were born elsewhere, even though they have never set foot in historical Palestine.
The U.N. has enabled this. In no other case of refugees has the refugee status been granted to all descendants of verifiable refugees. Palestinian refugees by ordinary standards are those who were displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The youngest refugee is seventy-one years old, and the total number of genuine refugees alive today is about ten thousand. Yet, upwards of a million Palestinians receive assistance from the U.N. These men, women, and children and something like 5 million Palestinians of the diaspora are all deemed to have the right to return. Palestinian ideology keeps alive the long memory of the harm from 1948.
The Palestinian Authority, founded in 1993 by the Oslo Accords, is a crappy government. It has been a kleptocracy, actually an anocracy.* It squandered international aid that flowed in during the heady days after the Oslo agreements. More recently, though, international concerns have invested prudently.
Palestinian infrastructure is antiquated. It dates back to Jordanian rule if not to British rule. The Palestinian police force is brutal.
Many peaceable countries today are in the process of redefining the nation-state by purging it of tribalist psychology. The government no longer defines itself as a crystallization of the yearning of the soul of a particular ethnic group, but as a compact that embraces all the people and groups that happen to find themselves on a contiguous plot of land. (p. 525)
A Palestinian state represents such a crystallization of yearning, so it would not embrace Jews who live in the West Bank. A Palestinian state is not symmetrical to the state of Israel, where Arabs live as a tolerated minority. (Israel itself is still a crystallization of the yearning of the Jewish soul.)
Is there a cure for narcissism? I think not. Is there therapy for the narcissist to learn to engage with other people in healthy, productive ways? I believe so. What therapy is available for the Palestinians?
Pinker does suggest using game theory in peace negotiations. When both sides lay down their arms, they immediately garner a peace dividend. What dividend would Israelis see? Not much, though. Their economy is doing well. The tourism sector is doing well. Israel enjoys one of the best road systems in the world. Mass transit keeps improving. The Israeli economy has a large knowledge-based sector. Israel is one of the 36 members of the exclusive Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This puts Israel on par with the United States and most of the English-speaking world as well as with the European Union and Japan.
Where would there be a peace dividend? A heavily militarized Hezbollah sits perched over Israel’s border with Lebanon. They have rockets aimed at Israel’s population centers. The peace dividend for Israel would be enormous as would the peace dividend for Hezbollah. However, ideology stands in the way. Hezbollah’s jihadi doctrines label Israel a Satan – the little one alongside the U.S. as the Great Satan, “Zionists” and “Crusaders.” With such an ideology, they will not negotiate with Israel. (Perhaps Hezbollah is suffused with group-level narcissism themselves.)
A peace dividend with the Palestinians is a pittance in Israel’s calculus.
Pinker refers to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and calls a centralized nation-state that holds a monopoly on violence a Leviathan. Pinker credits such states with bringing down the level of violence in the world. The Leviathan’s ruler tries to keep his subjects from “cycles of raiding and feuding that just shuffle resources or settle scores among them but from his point of view are a dead loss” (p. 42).
Israel is now the Leviathan over Palestinians to prevent and punish them for suicide raids and other aggression against Israelis, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), under the Oslo Accords, is supposed to enforce the social contract for security and public order among Palestinians themselves. What does Israel now want? It wants the PA to force the Palestinian population to refrain from offenses against Israelis so that Israel does not have to be the Leviathan. The PA has been unwilling to do this and even promotes violence by granting stipends to the families of so-called martyrs. To the extent that the Oslo peace process died, this flaunting of terrorist activities killed it.
Palestinians, like other indigenous people, resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement. But, Hamas in Gaza (and other Palestinians) deludes itself that the Little Satan will pack up and leave. They recall the glory of when the Crusaders decamped back to Europe.
Palestinians will be ready to yield to coexistence only when they have given up all hope of getting rid of the alien Jewish settlers, even in Israel itself.
crappy governments – Pinker’s term; see my previous post.
anocracy – see my previous post.
Reference: Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking.