Curb Your Optimism About the Middle East. Turn On Your Realism
Some of my friends who know more about Middle East affairs than I do caution me against having too much optimism. Life is complicated, they note, especially in Middle East politics.
I am reminded of the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s famous quip about negotiating with the Palestinian leaders in 1973: They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
That quip came back to mind after Hamas gunmen from Gaza launched bold and bloody attacks on southern Israel, killing more than 1,000 people — the vast majority of whom were civilians — and igniting a war with Israel that threatens to rumble across the entire Middle East.
The shock caused a sense of diplomatic whiplash in neighbors like Saudi Arabia, which had been nearing a historic normalization agreement.
Among other benefits, the talks would have opened the door to economic and political deals, including a formal security arrangement with the United States and boosted the kingdom’s civilian nuclear program.
But then, as if to say, “Hey, what about us?,” Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, attacked.
Serious questions still rage about how Hamas could have organized, rehearsed and pulled off such a grand and bloody scheme and catch Israelis off guard.
But many who ask why it happened probably should turn to the recent negotiations in Riyadh for clues.
The very fact that the meetings brought Israeli negotiators to the Saudi kingdom, land of Islam’s holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina, was a monumental breakthrough. The kingdom has banned Jews since the days of the Prophet Muhammad.
But, as much as well-meaning outsiders — like me — might feel delighted by the prospect of people from different backgrounds being “able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached, there are many others for whom such a move is strictly forbidden.
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