by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
This week the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot informed us that Jason Greenblatt, President Trump's special representative for international negotiations, said that the Americans intend to reconnect the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority. If Greenblatt actually did say that, it reveals an important component of the American Peace Plan whose preparation has been going on for over a year
Gaza's culture is Bedouin, while that of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is that of farmers and city dwellers. That is only one of the reasons the two areas don't mesh.
Whoever included reconnecting Gaza to Judea and Samaria in the as-yet-unannounced plan must have been really impressed by the pronouncements of various Palestinian spokesmen, because all of them – to the very last one, whether PA or Hamas – keep harping on the need to reunite the two "parts of the homeland." Israel prefers having the two continue as separate entities hostile to one another. Polls taken in the PA show unequivocally that the Arab street, whether in Gaza or Judea and Samaria, wants the unification which fell apart when Hamas took over Gaza in June 2007.
The Americans hearkened to the Palestinian consensus they observed on this issue and concluded that both the Palestinian leadership and public are all for it, leading them to make it part of their plan, in the hope that the Palestinians would then accept the plan which all – the PLO, Hamas, Fronts and organizations – have refused pointblank even to consider. Greenblatt also said that "Netanyahu will have to make difficult decisions," meaning that Israel will have to accept the reuniting of Gaza with Judea and Samaria.
So if all the Palestinians want reunification and the Americans agree, where does the problem lie? Why don't the Palestinians agree to this part of the peace plan, at the very least? The answer is found in a very important aspect of Middle Eastern culture, one which has no counterpart in Western culture – the varied nuances of speech.
Western culture takes what is said at face value, for example: If I say that I agree with the person I am talking to, it means that I have listened to what he says, thought about it and have decided to accept his opinion. The West has faith in the sincerity of the person talking, believes what he says and accepts it as is. After all, there is free speech and anyone can say what is on their mind, so that when someone says something, it is what he really thinks and feels.
In the Middle East, however, everything anyone say has three layers: The upper and visible layer is the content of what has been said, the middle one is what the person speaking really means and the lowest is what he is hiding. While hearing someone's words, a listener in the Middle East tries to penetrate to the hidden layers, understand the real intention of the speaker and reveal what is being hidden from him.
That is why when any Palestinian Arab politician, PLO or Hamas, declares: "We must reunite Gaza and the West Bank" he means " I understand that this is what the man in the street wants and I am saying what he wants to hear," hiding the fact that he is certain that it will never happen and that he intends to blame the other side for the continued split.
Why won't the reunification happen? Because the two areas differ totally in their culture, language, behavior and thought patterns. Gaza Arabic is a Bedouin dialect, a derivative of Saudi spoken Arabic, while that of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria is a Palestinian dialect similar to the Arabic spoken in Syria. The language gap is not just a technical factor in communication, it is the expression of cultural differences: Gaza's culture is Bedouin, while that of Arabs in Judea and Samaria is that of farmers and city dwellers.
Gaza's leadership is Hamas, an organization with a religious character that reflects its population's makeup, while the PLO rules the PA with a secular agenda that suits the Arab population of Judea and Samaria, except for the Hevron Hills whose residents are more traditional. The split between Gaza and Judea/Samaria is not only political, but based on cultural differences, with a cultural abyss separating two different populations who have never lived together except for the short period from the establishment of the PLO in 1994 to the split in 2007, fourteen years later, during which time there was no cultural blending between the two regions.
Even more significant is the bad blood flowing between the two ruling organizations, the PLO and Hamas. The expressions they use against one another are the worst in Arabic political language: "Traitors", "Collaborators with Israel", "corrupt", "bloodsuckers", "Israeli border police" and many other much more malevolent accusations.
The mutual anger and fury factor plays an important part as well: Hamas terrorists remember the unspeakable tortures they suffered in PA Security Force interrogation dungeons, while those in the PLO remember well how in 2007 Hamas terrorists executed PLO Security Force members as their families looked on, and hurled those who escaped to the roofs of high rise buildings in Gaza to the ground. In the Middle East, moreover, there is no forgetting and no forgiving. Instead, there is watchful waiting until the right moment comes for taking revenge and recovering the lost honor of the victims' family.
The Hamas organization was established in late 1987 and since that date, has challenged the PLO leadership and PLO recognition in the Arab world and on the international front as being the sole organization representing the "Palestinian People."
Israel supported the concept of the PLO being the best alternative for Israel and for a long time, Israel's leaders – Peres, Beilin, and an unwilling Rabin – were of the opinion that the PLO, despite its being far from Zionist, is the answer to Hamas. If only we give the PLO the power to govern the Palestinians, they dreamed, it will be transformed into a peace-loving organization and soon "take care of Hamas without the interference of courts and human rights groups."
The world was strongly impressed by the Israeli leadership's opinion and also adopted it, although the Hamas leaders opposed it vehemently claiming that the PLO had lost its direction when it signed the Oslo Accords that gave Israel an "insurance policy." After all, in Hamas' view, Israel should be wiped off the face of the holy land of Falestin, a region consecrated to Muslims alone.
Mahmous Abbas was almost assassinated when he visited Gaza the first time after becoming PA chairman. The bullet brushed past his face and killed one of his bodyguards. Several months ago he sent his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, and PA Security Forces head, Magd Faraj, to Gaza, and as they drove a few hundred meters past the Erez Checkpost into Gaza a bomb went off next to their cavalcade and missed them by a hairsbreadth.
I have been saying for over 11 years – since the day Hamas took over Gaza – that due to these deep differences, conflicts and disputes, the divorce between Gaza and Judea/Samaria is final, without any chance whatsoever of bridging the abyss that separates the two organizations. Their representatives have met hundreds of times in attempts to end the split between the two and despite the signing of papers hundreds of times by both of them, nothing has happened. Perhaps the future will bring a reconciliation agreement, but it will signal only an agreement, not reconciliation, because the organizations have long gone past the point of no return.
All that remains is to discover what made Jason Greenblatt announce the reunification of Gaza and Judea/Samaria as part of America's "deal of the century." He obviously thinks it stands a chance because that is what they are all asking for and he – like other Americans – believes that what they say is what they mean. Americans do not believe that in the Middle East someone can say one thing, mean the exact opposite and hide his plans to eliminate the person he is showering with love, affection, hugs and kisses.
This may be the real reason for the failure of all the American and Israeli peace plans. Americans and Israelis think like Westerners and the Palestinians and their fellow Arabs think like Middle Eastern people. Until the Americans and Israelis realize Eastern culture in depth with all its layers, they will continue to create peace plans.
We will have plans aplenty, but no peace.
Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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