by James L. Abrahamson, Ph. D., Contributing Editor
Though appeasement—placating or pacifying an opponent by acceding to his demands—gained a bad reputation following the outbreak of World War II, diplomats should not reject it out of hand. Appeasement is an appropriate policy choice in a least two cases: an opponent has limited aims that can be satisfied without undue harm to the appeaser’s own nation or a weaker nation needs to buy time for rearmament. As a diplomatic strategy, however, appeasement truly succeeds only when both parties to a dispute have limited aims, demands that can be satisfied short of virtual surrender by one of the negotiators.
During the past half-century, Arab and Muslim efforts to destroy Israel have repeatedly failed, which seems to have convinced the Western powers that Arabs are ready to compromise and accept a two-state solution, if only Israel will offer tolerable concessions—appease them.
Despite that history of Arab/Muslim failure, the West’s belief peace can now be achieved through appeasement—now called negotiations or “reaching out”—may be unfounded. Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, addressed that belief. On 19 January 2009, he released a report on “The Resistance Strategy: The Middle East’s Response to Calls for Peace and Moderation.”* According to Rubin, who is also editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, the West has given too little attention to the Middle Eastern meaning of “Resistance,” the new slogan used especially by Hamas, Syria, and Hezbollah but also by Iran and the Lebanese who favor the Iran-Syrian block.
The new strategy has deep Middle Eastern roots; under other names it reaches back to the Fifties. As presently formulated, Rubin states, it explicitly rejects the “new Middle East” proposed by Israel and the West, whose leaders hope that through negotiations they can achieve compromises that will produce “prosperity, democracy, and stability”—peace—in the Middle East.
As a recent speech by Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Dheikh Naim Qassem made clear**, a peace “settlement is an illusion that won’t lead to any results.” Resistance “is not a local, regional, or international political tactic. It is not a part of deals among nations, and not a negotiation tool for political gains.” The Middle East’s radicals intend to wipe Israel off the map through “bloodshed,” not compromise. In Rubin’s view, the radicals believe that only armed struggle will intimidate and ultimately defeat Israel and the West. Against a half-century’s evidence to the contrary, they regard Israel as ready to “fall apart and give up” and the West as “weak and corrupt.”
The Obama administration and its Western allies might better realize that the Islamic radicals who control the political and ideological discourse in the Arab world and parts of the wider Islamic world as well do not want peace, as Westerners understand it. The destruction of Israel is the Arabs’ ultimate goal but there is no time limit in that a constant state of violence distracts their public from the abysmal state of their world in terms of education, science, political freedom, economic progress and general societal well being. Only when the Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim supporters realize that time and God are not necessarily on their side and that they cannot win through bloodshed can there be any possibility of peace. Up to this point the Arab propensity to believe that their problems and shrinking influence in the world can be laid at the feet of imperialism and Zionism and that the West and Israel are but a facade of power, teetering on the edge of self-destruction, feeds their continuing illusions of ultimate victory. Until these illusions are banished there can no hope for a lasting two-party solution that will bring peace and prosperity to the region.
Such a realization is a long way off. Based upon long service in the Middle East and North Africa, Colonel Norvell DeAtkine observes that belief in the ultimate success of Resistance—muqawwama—has become part of the Arab psyche. If Arabs just resist, and persist, the illusion of victory will become reality. “Reaching out” to the Islamic and Arab world in terms of accommodation to Islamic “dictats” such as in suppressing literature deemed offensive by Islamic thought control radicals, and amateurish attempts, however well intentioned, to curry favor with injection of Quranic verses in presidential speeches will not, therefore, bring an Arab-Israeli “peace.” It would be a peace that many Israelis call the peace of the dead. This sort of latter day appeasement, which is deeply imbedded in Western academia, and increasingly in the media as well, acts as a facilitator for the persistence of Arab illusions. It prolongs violence and suffering, more to the Arabs that the appeasers claim to support, than to the Israelis, who know that they can depend only on the strength of their own people.
In that sense, the Resistance is of a piece with Muslim hopes of using terror to defeat the United States and establish a global caliphate governing an Islamized world. The West has no intention, as the radicals claim, to enslave Muslims and destroy Islam, but to this point the so-called information war has been won by the Islamic radicals, using an “unholy alliance” as the late Shah of Iran once termed the strange confluence of Islamic radicals and far left intellectuals, to undermine Western efforts to convince the Muslim world that the radicals are destroying their societies. They must be convinced that the radicals seek only power, not justice. Until that happens West must continue efforts to defeat enemies who employ ruthless violence in pursuit of unlimited ends.
Negotiating with such partners—attempting to appease them—remains a trap until the unlikely day when the Arabs have changed their aims and ways. Would that the West and Israel had the support of truly moderate Muslims in the effort to convince Palestinians and their supporters that they cannot win through bloodshed.
Colonel (ret.) James Abrahamson USA, a graduate of West Point and the holder of a doctorate from Stanford University, served 27 years in the Army. He is a member of the board of directors of American Diplomacy Publishers and a contributing editor of American Diplomacy, and has authored four books on military history.