Avoid the misunderstandings to get to peace

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House with President Obama, they were careful not to make fun of Obama, whose popularity is lower than his bow to the king of Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu didn’t ask Obama if he celebrates Ramadan, and Abbas didn’t call Obama a “Zionist hack.” Those were good things that came out of the first face-to-face talks in two years. But they need to make sure to avoid creating misunderstandings as were created at Camp David, when Ehud Barak thought he offered a real peace deal to Yasser Arafat, and Arafat thought that peace was based on meeting face-to-face.

Misunderstandings, in fact, have been the major cause of most of the conflicts in the Middle East. Just look at the history.

The history of Arab-Israeli relations is filled with misunderstandings, even before the misunderstanding that took place last July when Israeli and Lebanese forces exchanged fire over the trimming of a Cypress tree.

In 1948, it was all just a misunderstanding when Jewish immigrants from Europe arrived in Israel and declared their own state. They thought they were in New York where the Jewish population was vibrant and the Arabs of New York, who were all called “Syrians,” welcomed the Jews with open arms.

In 1956, Israel launched an assault on the Suez Canal and captured the Sinai when someone yelled in a Tel Aviv coffee shop “The Egyptians are claiming that since the Hebrews left Egypt, they have no right of return.”

In 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser yelled about “driving the Jews in to the sea.” But the Egyptian dialect is filled with heavy with guttural-based sounds easily misunderstood. What Nasser really said was he wanted to drive the Jews “to” the sea.

In 1973, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat attacked Israel because he thought it was the “Day of Kipper,” which is his favorite fish; and you can’t get a great Kipper dish anywhere else in the Middle East except in Israel, although there is Nasrallah’s café off Shadeed Street in South Beirut. But Egyptians are less desired there than the Israelis.

When Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak were at Camp David, Arafat felt uncomfortable being at a hotel named after the Hebrew King David. Arafat was concerned because he recalled that Jewish resistance fighters had blown up the King David Hotel 53 years earlier. Maybe Clinton could have hosted the peace talks on more neutral ground, like in Beirut where both Arafat and Barak would both fear for their lives together.

Arafat did feel slightly snubbed when Barak refused to meet with him face-to-face at Camp David. No one explained to Arafat that Barak spent most of his days at Camp David at the local boutiques checking out the new dresses. Israelis know that prime ministers don’t last long and can be quickly out of a job and he might have to return to hunting down Israel’s most wanted.

When Ariel Sharon walked upon the Haram al ash-Sharif in 2000, he made a declaration that so many Arabs simply misunderstood. Sharon said Jerusalem will always be the “capitol” of Israel, he was using the word “capital” which referenced the city’s monetary value.

The 2nd Intifada began with a misunderstanding, too, when a Palestinian heard that the Israelis had decided that instead of returning the West Bank they were going to keep all of it. Wanting to make sure they had everything, a Palestinian picked up a stone and tossed it towards the Israelis in a gesture of cooperation, yelling “Don’t forget this piece of the West Bank.”

Even the Gaza War in 2008 began with a misunderstanding. Hamas was abiding, for the most part, to the truce or “Lull” with Israel that summer. So in honor of having dramatically cut back the number of Qassam Rockets fired at Israeli civilians, Hamas decided to celebrate with their own fireworks display, shooting off Chinese-made bottle rockets. Of course, Hamas never mailed the celebratory invites to the Israelis, who saw the Chinese bottle rockets as being more of a deadlier threat than the Qassams.

Oy Vey. That’s all one can say in the Middle East. Although that is a misunderstanding, too. The guy who said the phrase wasn’t declaring anguish but merely trying to get his donkey, named Oy, turn to the right, or go “that way.”

Misunderstandings. They happen all the time. Like when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Palestinians that he would “freeze” all the settlements. He meant he was going to buy air conditioners for all the settlers, a promise he said would be completed by Sept. 26.

And when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate with the Israelis until those settlements are frozen, he was merely waiting for the temperature in the settlements to chill, because the settlers because they are such an emotional people. Step one foot on “their” land and they go berserk, twisting their beards into braided knots.

Of course, the worst moment was when an Israeli negotiator told an Arab negotiator at the very first peace talks back in 1993, “If you compromise, we can both live in peace.”

The Arab responded angrily, rejecting compromise and declaring, “No Jew is going to tell me what to do!”

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show Host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

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About R. Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian journalist, columnist, author and standup comedian. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Chicago Sun-Times for his groundbreaking series on the Palestinian Intifada in 1990, he has won Four (4) Society of Professional Journalism Lisagor Awards and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New America Media in November 2006. In 2010, he won the SPJ Sigma Delta Chi National Award for writing. Hanania’s journalism and communications career is extensive. A former Chicago City Hall political reporter for 17 years, Hanania is the president of Urban Strategies Group media and consulting. He is a syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate and writes every Sunday for the Saudi Gazette Newspaper and Al Arabiya. In Broadcast media, Hanania co-hosts the live radio talk show "Radio Baladi" with columnist Ali Younes every Friday morning at 8 AM EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit. Hanania has authored eight books including the humor book "I'm Glad I look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America" (1996), and he is the contributor in seven books including “Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History” which features his Palestinian food recipes as well as experiences growing up Arab in America. He also authored "Arabs of Chicagoland" (2005). In addition to journalism, Hanania is also the Palestinian standup comedian who has performed around the world including in Beirut, Dubai, London, Dublin, Palestine, Israel, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and for universities across the United States and Canada. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com and at www.Hanania.com/ Reach him by email at [email protected]

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