Two plus two equals four

If you utter a falsity often enough, you believe it. That is the case when we mistake dictators as being democratic.

arab peace
The former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was described as a moderate so often that we actually came to believe it – and were taken by surprise when we discovered the Egyptian people didn’t agree [GALLO/GETTY]

We have before us the example of George Orwell, the eccentric British author of 1984, whose real name was Eric Blair. What’s interesting about Orwell, or perhaps simply predictable, is that he adopted his pen name to save his respectable parents the disgrace of having to admit that their son didn’t work for a living, but was (oh, the humiliation) a writer.

And the irony: this same Orwell spent years toiling over a story whose theme is that it’s possible to erase the past by a simple act of denial. Thus, Winston Smith (1984’s main character) is told in a torture chamber within the “Ministry of Love” that his belief that his country, Oceania was, at one time, not at war with Eastasia is a delusion: “Oceania is at war with Eastasia”, he is told. “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”

Orwell would tell us that those who read 1984 and put it aside in relief (“thank God we don’t live in a world like that”), miss the point. The past is altered continuously, even perniciously – and now (some 63 years after the book’s publication) no more constantly than when it comes to the Middle East.

“Mubarak is a moderate”, “we have always supported democracy in Egypt” and “the Arabs aren’t interested in peace” are perhaps not as insidious as “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia,” but they’re damned close. The beauty of these phrases (as Winston Smith learned) is that if you utter them often enough, they actually become true.

Hence, we described former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a moderate so often that we actually came to believe it – and were taken by surprise when we discovered the Egyptian people didn’t agree. So? So now we’re worried that the current revolution will deny the Egyptian people their fundamental rights. Unlike with Mubarak – who was chock full of them.

Human beings are good at this kind of thing, as it turns out, because adopting these phrases (“we have always supported democracy in Egypt”) helps us evade responsibility for the state of the world. Then too, it’s easier to follow the script than to utter the truth – “Mubarak is a tyrant, but what the hell, we supported him anyway,” “we’ve never given a fig for democracy in Egypt” and finally “it’s not the Arabs who aren’t interested in peace, but Israel”.

It’s this last phrase that seems most pertinent now, when the-take-it-or-leave-it 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) is being discussed again, as a possible resolution of the Arab-Israeli (and, hence, the Palestinian-Israeli) conflict. 

There is real opporunity in the initiative – that it presents a baseline for a comprehensive agreement, that it is a fair and transparent offer that provides Israel both peace and security, that it was put forward in good faith by a respected ruler who is tired of war and has come to accept the fact of Israel’s existence.

But just as often its critics touch on the initiative’s obstacles: the Arab states “were never that interested” in it, they can’t “deliver on it” anyway, it can’t do for the Palestinians what they won’t do themselves and now, alas (and in the midst of the Arab Spring) the Arab world is just too unstable for anyone to take it seriously. 

It’s also possible, of course, that even were the API to be accepted by every Arab nation, a known and unknown set of extremist groups (we can name them, easily: Hamas, Hezbollah, radical offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood itself – or groups we haven’t even heard of yet), will undermine its legitimacy, attack its authors and fight Israel to the last ditch.

Which is another way of saying that, since the API holds out no hope of convincing absolutely everyone everywhere that peace is not only possible but can be put in place (and since it cannot protect every Israeli everywhere and all the time), it is simply (and finally) unworkable.

Or worse; the initiative was put forward to mask the Arab world’s real intent of lulling Israel into a false security, after which its antagonists can move in for the kill. It’s not only not good, it’s “double-plus bad” – as Orwell’s “Newspeak” (his fictional language in 1984) would have it.

But perhaps – and just perhaps – we have this backwards.

Since the API was proposed, world leaders – and most particularly Israeli leaders – have questioned its legitimacy, pertinence and importance. Do the Arabs really mean it? Are the Arabs willing to implement it? What is the true agenda of its Arab authors?

So you see, the problem that Israel has with the API is not with the word “peace”, which is what we all assume, it’s with the word “Arab”. Put another way: if the API had been proposed by say the United States and was thusly named the American Peace Initiative, the questions asked about its legitimacy, pertinence and importance wouldn’t be asked at all.

And to ask whether all Arabs everywhere (and all political currents and movements) would follow it, is to simply cloud the one, overwhelming and unspeakable truth: that for many Israelis the words “Arab” and “peace” simply don’t belong in the same sentence – while the words “America” and “Israel” and “peace” do.

In our mouths, it’s the truth, in theirs, it’s a lie. 

Mark Perry is a journalist and author living in Arlington, Virginia. He is the author of eight books, including the recently released Talking To Terrorists. He is a regular contributor to Asia Times and Foreign Policy and a frequent guest commentator on Al Jazeera.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.