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Monday, July 24, 2017


Once again, Palestinians are behaving irrationally.

Once again, no one knows what to make of it.

And once again, once you apply the honor/shame construct, it all makes perfect sense.

Abbas didn't want to see the terror attack on the Israeli policemen. But he is bound by the social rules of his society, and once the events were set in motion, he has no choice but to act like a typical Arab leader who is too cowardly to face down the insane shame culture.

Israel closing down the Temple Mount for two days was a source of a huge amount of shame. It showed that Jews ultimately control the area, and the myth that the Waqf controls it was shown to be a lie. The idea that Jews control the purported third holiest site in Islam is a source of deep shame that has been buried for years by the fantasy of Waqf control.

Once the shame started, it cannot be erased.

The fact that Israel re-opened the area in less than 48 hours is irrelevant; the metal detectors - or cameras or extra guards or wands or anything - just add to the shame of reminding the Arabs of who is the boss of the Temple Mount in the sense of who ultimately provides security. All else is irrelevant.

Once we have entered the honor./shame universe, actual facts or logic are meaningless - all that matters are symbols. And symbols don't get bigger than pretending to "defend Al Aqsa." (Which is what the stabber in Petah Tikva shouted this morning, as he stabbed an Arab mistaking him for a Jew.)

Abbas cannot act in a way that diminishes his honor, so he needs to double down on demanding honor and refusing shame. He must use all the weapons in his arsenal to "win". Because the other aspect of honor/shame societies is the zero-sum game, and if Israel gets anything out of this episode that it didn't have before- like normal security that any society would demand - Abbas thinks he loses. Winning the zero-sum game becomes more important than human lives. Abbas therefore ups the ante and says he will end security cooperation - the biggest weapon in his arsenal. He feels he has to go for the big guns because if he loses, he is finished - his shame will end him as a leader.

So now a very reasonable Israeli expectation for basic security becomes a life-or-death pissing match to the Palestinian leadership. They cannot back down. If Israel would offer to compromise by painting a stick figure of a camera on all entrances to the Mount the pushback would be exactly the same. Actual facts are of no interest.

Meanwhile, the honor/shame dynamic is played out with more terror attacks. Hamas' leader called the father of the murderer of the father and his children in Halamish explicitly in terms of honor, saying that "Your son brought pride to the nation." Abbas cannot be seen as less interested in national pride than Hamas, to do so would be politically costly, although he cannot explicitly praise the attack either or risk alienating his Western friends. So he stays quiet. But he will pay the salary of the murderer for the rest of his life.

As often happens, the logical West is confronted with the irrational Middle East. Usually the West blinks before dealing with these seemingly crazy people who would happily start a war over metal detectors. Because crazy people are scary and unpredictable and passionate, while normal people just want to live their lives without that drama.

The interesting part of this saga is how the Western world reacts. Israel's requirement for security in the face of a proven threat reflects what every other nation would do. The PA's reaction is completely bonkers by any normal yardstick. If the world wasn't so reflexively "pro-Palestinian" it wouldn't coddle the crazy demands, but the Palestinians have made an art form of these kinds of crazy demands that end up sounding reasonable over the years of constant repetition.

This time might be a little too crazy for, say, Western Europe at least. Palestinians have been losing their support behind the scenes, especially in Arab countries but cracks are appearing in the West as well. Their UN victories are getting narrower, and European parties are pushing back more against the UNHRC bias. They believe in the two state solution but they are not quite as certain that the 1967 lines are so sacred. Palestinian intransigence is being seen more and more as an obstacle to peace.

This episode may hurt the Palestinians in the long run much more than a symbolic victory would gain them. And this can be accelerated if the West uses the honor/shame dynamic to shame the Palestinians into acting like responsible adults.






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