History, Myth, and Rashida Tlaib

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s characterization of Palestinians welcoming Jewish Holocaust survivors is another window into the mind of the Palestinians, and yet another reason why a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians is illusory.

It is immaterial whether Tlaib believes her faux reconstruction of history. What is important is that it is part of the cultural character that Palestinians bring to the table. They are and will forever be the victims whose generosity toward the Jews went unappreciated.

The inability to see the world through the cultural lens of the other, however distorted, is one of the greatest threats to both diplomacy and the interpretation of political intelligence.

Too often, we in the West project our view of the world onto our adversaries. This phenomenon, in both the intelligence community and the social sciences, is called mirror imaging. It is the mindless belief that all cultures are equal, and all people ultimately want the same thing, which generally means what we in the West want. Our adversaries, despite the divisions of history and culture, want what we want and think as we do.

The most dramatic instance of mirror imaging occurred during the Cold War when the Central Intelligence Agency failed to comprehend that the Soviets were pursuing a first-strike nuclear capability.  Influenced by their university training and the group think of the scientific community, CIA analysts working on the National Intelligence Estimate of Soviet strategic objectives and intentions, the famous NIE 11-3/8, brought with them the rational model of their education. Nuclear weapons were there for deterrence in a strategic equilibrium known as mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Although the evaluation of capabilities is based on data and should be removed from intentions, it is the nature of people to be incapable of disengaging the two. If we believed that a nuclear first strike was totally beyond the motivations of the Soviets, then any increase in their nuclear capabilities could only be interpreted as a means to enhance deterrence.

Fortunately, America is an open society, and it is not just the intelligence community that has access to critical information about policy. In 1974, the mirror in the mirror imaging began to crack as a consequence of tensions outside the community. This resulted in the creation of an external competitive analysis project known as “Team B.” The external evaluators were headed by the distinguished historian of the Soviet Union Richard Pipes, and concluded what John Collins, of the Congressional Research Service, and others had earlier determined -- the Soviets had not bought into MAD.

The famous, or some would say infamous, A-Team/B-Team conflict over the findings of NIE 11-3/8 is illustrative of our problems in understanding the Arab/Israeli conflict. Much of our thinking is based on a Western paradigm that the Palestinian Arabs want peace, and peace can be brought about through negotiations modeled on Western labor relations.

We conveniently forget, however, that when the pilots’ union and United Airlines, for example, go to the bargaining table neither has an interest in destroying the airline.

This, of course, is not true in the Arab/Israeli conflict. Hamas’ raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel. And the only difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is that Hamas wears this as a badge of honor whereas the Palestinian Authority tries to obfuscate this while paying psychopaths to murder innocent Israelis.

Professor Adda Bozeman, whose distinguished career focused on the often-irreconcilable differences found in cultural divides, cautions us that a culture that reveres an illustrious mythical past does not share a common framework with one that is oriented toward the future.  This is why the Palestinians have sacrificed generation after generation to reclaim an honored fabled past that ties them to the land.

In the culture of honor and shame, it is necessary to recapture honor at all costs, whether by sending young people on suicide missions or killing a female child that has “disgraced” the family.

Across the bargaining table you have one side, the Israelis, who are worried about the future of their children. On the other side, you have Palestinians worried about reclaiming the honor of sacred land despoiled by the presence of Jews on Islamic soil. In the middle, you have Westerners projecting post-industrial democratic values where they do not belong, engaging in an irrelevant mirror-imaging.

The one indisputable fact of Middle East peace negotiations is that every time there has been a proposed Jewish state bordering an Arab state, the Arabs have said no.

In a dramatic video surfaced by Palestinian Media Watch showing an interview with Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat on PA TV, Erekat says, “I heard [former Israeli Prime Minister] Olmert say that he offered [Abbas] 100% of the West Bank territory. This is true. I will testify to this.” Erekat went on to say that Olmert actually offered more than the 1967 territories. Abbas said, no, which is what the Palestinians have said since the Peel Commission of 1937.

Erekat’s statement is a summation of the historic fact that the Arab/Israeli conflict will not conform to mirror imaging or the paradigm of labor relations. Rashida Tlaib reminds us that in politics, one’s myth might also be part of one’s reality, and it is that reality that comes to the bargaining table.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s characterization of Palestinians welcoming Jewish Holocaust survivors is another window into the mind of the Palestinians, and yet another reason why a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians is illusory.

It is immaterial whether Tlaib believes her faux reconstruction of history. What is important is that it is part of the cultural character that Palestinians bring to the table. They are and will forever be the victims whose generosity toward the Jews went unappreciated.

The inability to see the world through the cultural lens of the other, however distorted, is one of the greatest threats to both diplomacy and the interpretation of political intelligence.

Too often, we in the West project our view of the world onto our adversaries. This phenomenon, in both the intelligence community and the social sciences, is called mirror imaging. It is the mindless belief that all cultures are equal, and all people ultimately want the same thing, which generally means what we in the West want. Our adversaries, despite the divisions of history and culture, want what we want and think as we do.

The most dramatic instance of mirror imaging occurred during the Cold War when the Central Intelligence Agency failed to comprehend that the Soviets were pursuing a first-strike nuclear capability.  Influenced by their university training and the group think of the scientific community, CIA analysts working on the National Intelligence Estimate of Soviet strategic objectives and intentions, the famous NIE 11-3/8, brought with them the rational model of their education. Nuclear weapons were there for deterrence in a strategic equilibrium known as mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Although the evaluation of capabilities is based on data and should be removed from intentions, it is the nature of people to be incapable of disengaging the two. If we believed that a nuclear first strike was totally beyond the motivations of the Soviets, then any increase in their nuclear capabilities could only be interpreted as a means to enhance deterrence.

Fortunately, America is an open society, and it is not just the intelligence community that has access to critical information about policy. In 1974, the mirror in the mirror imaging began to crack as a consequence of tensions outside the community. This resulted in the creation of an external competitive analysis project known as “Team B.” The external evaluators were headed by the distinguished historian of the Soviet Union Richard Pipes, and concluded what John Collins, of the Congressional Research Service, and others had earlier determined -- the Soviets had not bought into MAD.

The famous, or some would say infamous, A-Team/B-Team conflict over the findings of NIE 11-3/8 is illustrative of our problems in understanding the Arab/Israeli conflict. Much of our thinking is based on a Western paradigm that the Palestinian Arabs want peace, and peace can be brought about through negotiations modeled on Western labor relations.

We conveniently forget, however, that when the pilots’ union and United Airlines, for example, go to the bargaining table neither has an interest in destroying the airline.

This, of course, is not true in the Arab/Israeli conflict. Hamas’ raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel. And the only difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is that Hamas wears this as a badge of honor whereas the Palestinian Authority tries to obfuscate this while paying psychopaths to murder innocent Israelis.

Professor Adda Bozeman, whose distinguished career focused on the often-irreconcilable differences found in cultural divides, cautions us that a culture that reveres an illustrious mythical past does not share a common framework with one that is oriented toward the future.  This is why the Palestinians have sacrificed generation after generation to reclaim an honored fabled past that ties them to the land.

In the culture of honor and shame, it is necessary to recapture honor at all costs, whether by sending young people on suicide missions or killing a female child that has “disgraced” the family.

Across the bargaining table you have one side, the Israelis, who are worried about the future of their children. On the other side, you have Palestinians worried about reclaiming the honor of sacred land despoiled by the presence of Jews on Islamic soil. In the middle, you have Westerners projecting post-industrial democratic values where they do not belong, engaging in an irrelevant mirror-imaging.

The one indisputable fact of Middle East peace negotiations is that every time there has been a proposed Jewish state bordering an Arab state, the Arabs have said no.

In a dramatic video surfaced by Palestinian Media Watch showing an interview with Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat on PA TV, Erekat says, “I heard [former Israeli Prime Minister] Olmert say that he offered [Abbas] 100% of the West Bank territory. This is true. I will testify to this.” Erekat went on to say that Olmert actually offered more than the 1967 territories. Abbas said, no, which is what the Palestinians have said since the Peel Commission of 1937.

Erekat’s statement is a summation of the historic fact that the Arab/Israeli conflict will not conform to mirror imaging or the paradigm of labor relations. Rashida Tlaib reminds us that in politics, one’s myth might also be part of one’s reality, and it is that reality that comes to the bargaining table.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.