Shibley Telhami: The key Middle East issue

Shibley Telhami, author of The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East, describes the key to the Middle East as the perception among participants that one can achieve one’s desired outcomes.

From an interview with Diane Rehm (~44:00):

Before and after the Arab uprisings, it is remarkable that a majority of the Arabs still in principle support a two-state solution, just like you have in Israel. And I poll in Israel, on this one, among Jews and among Arabs.

But here’s the problem — and this is the problem that I think Secretary Kerry is going to have to contend with — which is that a majority of both don’t believe a two-state solutions will ever happen. So they’ve lost faith. That’s the difference between now and the 1990s.

In the 1990s a huge majority of both sides thought it was going to happen. Now a huge majority thinks it’s not going to happen. And when you think it’s not going to happen, it doesn’t matter whether you return to negotiations. You’d be an idiot to make a concession if you think it’s going to lead to conflict. Why give up something when you know you’re going to face…

And we see this assessment of conflict even influences their ability to emphasize or not emphasize. When they think they’re going to be in conflict, they’re less ready to empathize, because they want to be hardened enough to fight the conflict. Incitement becomes a tool to mobilize people to fight the conflict that they see inevitable.

So we can’t … We’re fighting symptoms, we’re fighting symptoms. What we need to do is deal with the core issue, which is transform the perceptions — and that can’t be done through going back to the negotiating table.

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