Middle East politics and alliances have been largely driven by hatred, but there is far more too it than the very ancient hatred of Arabs to Jews (which some might trace back to Esau and Jacob), especially in recent times.
Two adages spring to mind. the ancient proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has driven alliances in the region for decades, and posits that parties will set aside their enmity in the face of a common enemy. The second, attributed to Golda Meir, is that “peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”. This goes much further, and puts a metric on Arab hatred as a driver of their behaviour ahead of what some might consider a more natural instinct to want the best for their own.
One of the key barriers to progress in the peace process is the lack of anyone for Israel to talk to, which is largely a result of the hatred between Hamas and Fatah. Because of this division, no-one leader can claim a mandate to represent the Palestinian people in any negotiations with Israel. Israel is actually dealing with two de facto Palestinian states (hence talk to three-state and one-state solutions). Ironically, their inability to form a unified front against us is actually helping Israel.
Building on this, there has recently been a further fracturing within Hamas, which has now split along its political and military wings. Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar have repeatedly locked horns over policy in Gaza, and are no longer on speaking terms. This shift could have contributed to Israel’s choice to de-escalate after the recently clashes rather than fight another war in Gaza.
We can thus see two political responses to hatred:
- The formation of new alliances, such as Egypt and Israel over their mutual hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood & Hamas, Saudi Arabia and Israel over their mutual hatred of Iran, and Iran and Syria over their mutual hatred of Israel. In these cases, the benefit of shared interests outweighs (or temporarily displaces) previous enmity, or other alliances (such as Arab solidarity with the Palestinian cause).
- Stalemate, such as between Hamas and Fatah, and now between Haniyah and Sinwar (within Hamas). In these cases, the hatred between the groups is (a) so much stronger than their hatred for Israel as to outweigh any perceived benefit, and (b) internally destructive so as to inhibit their ability to have a united front against Israel.
While the quote attributed to Golda Meir sounds poetic, social psychology research has shown that we have a negative bias, and “bad is stronger than good“. This has even been quantified to the point that it takes five positive comments to outweigh one negative comment. Extending this principle to the relative cost of making peace with Israel, it would take a lot of love towards their children to outweigh their hatred of us.
In light of the new alliances currently developing between Israel and parts of the Arab world, and some Muslim nations in Africa, it’s time to revisit Golda and restate the principle: “peace will come when the Palestinians hate each other less than than they hate us“.