Trump meets with UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan
Trump meets with UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-NahyanReuters
P.T. Barnum once opined – with some degree of scientific evidence one might argue – that there is a sucker born every minute. Decades later, H.L. Mencken, the journalist, satirist, and cultural commentator, and always quick with a wit, offered this, about the gullibility of man: “No one in this world, so far as I know— and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me— has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

But it was Carl Sagan, who popularized the study of man and his relationship to science, who wedded the two: “Both Barnum and H. L. Mencken are said to have made the depressing observation that no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. The remark has worldwide application. But the lack is not in intelligence, which is in plentiful supply; rather, the scarce commodity is systematic training in critical thinking.”

It is indeed about critical thinking, and nowhere is it more apparently scant than when Arabs are willing to accept Israel’s concessions while offering none of their own – except the promise that they would recognize the Jews – whatever that is really supposed to mean. That was the case this past week, when the world was served the most recent Israel-Arab peace plan. Between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Yes, the Jews – and Israelis alike – having been targets of such inexcusable hostility for so long, are quick to suspend their collective common sense when someone is willing to be nice. Until they aren’t. Especially in the diplomatic world.

Will Rogers nailed it almost a hundred years ago: “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.” The Middle East peace process – with the countless failed agreements, accords, and initiatives – has given evidence that the Arabs have mastered that art. They even do that to other Arabs and Muslims.

We’ve either seen or experienced this too many times before. It’s the newer version of the art of the deal when the previous art of the deal doesn’t work. It is new and improved. And, Barnum, Mencken, Sagan and Rogers were pretty much right. Particularly in Israel, where there is an amnesia which seems to affect those so desperate to pretend that the past is no longer a lesson to be learned.

A great man once suggested that the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons to be drawn from history. One might interpret it somewhat differently – that those lessons cultivate the cognitive dissonance that impels us to ignore or deny anything that might upend the narrative to which we now subscribe.

Yes, yet another quote, from writer Jefferson Smith: “You can't believe everything people tell you - not even if those people are your own brain.”

But we are talking about the Middle East, where we know that the Muslim carpet merchant will never sell you his rug unless he was able to – how do we say it in Arabic – rip you off. Moreover – he will have you walking away euphoric after bargaining, having you think that you got a great deal after paying an absurdly exorbitant amount. Both parties are happy. Only one has reason to be. It is not the gullible one.

It happened again last week. This time – the one peddling the rug, to his own constituents, is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is the used car salesman who is trying to sell you a car that he had promised was the best ever, despite the undeniable fact that he knows it isn’t any good. Yes, he promises – it is exactly what you need.

If you want to applaud the new relations between Israel and an Arab state – celebrate away. If you think that it will lead to a sustained peace... it will not. Israel is simply the enemy of an enemy who is serving as a friend.
In search of a sale, he keeps pushing that car.

Then, when the potential buyer realizes that the car won’t start, Bibi – gifted with an articulate tongue – turns in mid-sentence, and continues his “sales pitch” – now trying to sell the buyer another car as if it were his plan all along.

“This car is shiny” – he reminds us – “and who doesn’t want a shiny car?”

When asked about his original promise, he tells the confused buyer that he needed to get clearance from his boss, the used car manager. Negative.

Of course. We all know the obvious illustration. The first car was Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” The second car is the new deal with the United Arab Emirates. Neither car was going to get us where we really needed to go. But, after such a long search, the buyer agrees, and the used car salesman gets to keep his job. As does his manager.

People, we have been scammed. Played. Or – just been given a false hope.

A necessary footnote: One minor correction to the inaccuracies that have been peddled as part of the euphoric marketing blitz. Netanyahu, President Trump, Jared Kushner, Ambassador David Friedman, and countless others involved in the formulation of this plan have been boasting about this being only the third time that there will exist the normalization of relations between Israel and an Arab nation.

Not true. It will be the fourth. Seemingly forgotten is the normalization of relations with the North African nation of Mauritania (officially, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania) in 1999. They too had an agreement, brokered also by the US. But, when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead as part of the first Gaza war, Mauritania recalled its ambassador and expelled the Israeli delegation in 2009. Well, they say that all good things must come to an end, or, they end when Israel rightly defends its nation against incoming rockets. The casualty: the common sense that was vacated and led the gullible optimists to believe that it would last.

Under normal circumstances – where nations make peace with others by offering peace in return – this deal should be celebrated. But that isn’t the case. There are indeed concessions that have been demanded of Israel. By the United States as well as the UAE. Where one might argue that those concessions are intangibles rather than tangibles, they are concessions nonetheless. And, to a country that was re-established in its historical homeland, the matter of heritage has meaning and purpose.

There is a reason that the modern State of Israel was established in the Land of Israel. It was not established – as some actually suggested in the late 19th Century – in Uganda or Argentina. It was established where King David had declared Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people 3020 years before Donald Trump moved the US embassy there.

And certainly, one must take umbrage that these “modern day merchants” of Jewish heritage would dare to name this deal the “Abraham Accord.” The eponym is an insult to our forefather – Abraham. Abraham and our patriarchs and our matriarchs inhabited this land. Getting Arab approval to tour Dubai seemed an insufficient a reason to suspend one’s claim to that homeland, even temporarily. Imagine, Israel surrendering to political expedience rather than disappointing or upsetting some nomad savages who became a wealthy nation only in 1971 – its landscape framed by tall skyscrapers adorned with gold-plated toilets – simply because their grandparents had the good fortune of parking their camels there a hundred years ago. It is not funny. It is the truth.

How cheap does the Israeli prime minister think Jewish heritage is? Never mind. Asked, and answered. Bibi – give up Tel Aviv instead. It was founded only 111 years ago, in 1909. And yet, how ironic – the Arabs have employed their historical revisionists to claim that too.

One does not buy your enemies’ love by surrendering your history. Because in doing so, you tell the world that it might not be yours after all. What was that story about King Solomon and the baby…? Ask any seven-year old.

Instead we see Bibi on his own Instagram site face-timing his UAE counterpart, gushing in an unbridled euphoria, while playfully inviting the sheikh to come to Israel and join Likud. The Arab carpet merchant would have been proud.

Former NY Times foreign correspondent David Shipler said: “Watching foreign affairs is sometimes like watching a magician; the eye is drawn to the hand performing the dramatic flourishes, leaving the other hand – the one doing the important job – unnoticed.” This past week, we better understood that very notion.

The whole US-driven “Israel-United Arab Emirates” peace deal isn’t about peace. Not really. It is about escaping the reality of a failed Trump “Deal of the Century: Peace to Prosperity.” It’s about taking the eye off the fact that Israel is not extending its sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria, as promised.

The obvious was expressed by US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien who said he would “not be surprised” if Donald Trump is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for getting the UAE to normalize ties with Israel: “Today’s work is an example of why he would be rightly considered and should be a front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Hey, Barack Obama and Yasir Arafat both collected one.

With a beautifully orchestrated marketing ‘reveal’ in both Washington and Jerusalem, the gullible were sold. But, as is usually the case with agreements like this – a good spin is necessary to get the skeptics to buy in. Therefore, Netanyahu repeatedly barked the boast at every opportunity that we had gotten “peace for peace.

Today, the occasion does not call for the truth – it calls for everyone to rally behind the message. Yes, J Street and AIPAC, the New Israel Fund and the Zionist Organization of America, the Union for Reform Judaism and the National Council of Young Israel, all applauded the impending deal – albeit sometimes for different reasons. There is no need to remind everyone that this, like the agreement with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, will be a de facto peace rather than a de jure peace – and yes, this is not insignificant. It is actually the very “land for peace” that Israel denies that it is.

And the gullible buy it.

Paraphrasing David Wong, gullibility is the knife at the throat of common sense. Devoid of any endeavor to engage in critical thinking, the proponents of this accord refuse to admit that Israel suspending its extension of sovereignty is indeed forfeiting something concrete. It was, we were (mis)led to believe, something substantial and inevitable. So Israel offered the spin; it was only a “temporarily” suspension – which you can bet your heritage – it will not be.

And then there is this quixotic nonsense that Israel will one day claim that sovereign right, but only with, and contingent on, American approval. Try to convince the gullible that they are naïve. Thomas Paine would have commented: “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Israel will not extend sovereignty. With Trump in office almost four years, the opportunity (“of a century” as some have said) has just been squandered. It is an argument that reasonable people cannot make, because those who sell us this used car as new will always continue to say: “soon… tomorrow, and if not… after tomorrow.” The temporary will become permanent. (Especially if Joe Biden should win).

Consider. While a majority of Israelis aren’t religious, and even among those who view themselves as “traditional,” most are willing to give up the Biblical claim by suspending the application of sovereignty to areas such as Gush Etzion. For real peace, one assumes. The numbers show that to be true. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the impending peace accord, polls indicated that 76% of the Israelis surveyed expressed their approval. Some of those indicated that they would still want sovereignty extended one day, and hoped (yawn) that it might come. But, it seems that the opportunity to vacation in Abu Dhabi or shop in Dubai supersedes that concern.

This reality leads us to the most important element of the Abraham Accord – the expectation that it will lead to peace. Remember, this is a “peace” between two nations who have never engaged in war. Yet, the geo-strategic conditions that would need to be addressed are ignored, virtually by everybody. Either because they are ignorant, or because… yes, because they are ignorant.

Those who do know, ignore it as well. Because it upsets twin narratives: the part demanding the end of “annexation” (annexation is the wrong word; it presupposes that Israel would acquire land not rightfully theirs; it is rather an extension of sovereignty); and, of greater significance, that bilateral relations needed to be driven by the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Arab Peace Initiative, known as the Saudi Initiative, was originally endorsed by the Arab League summit in 2002 and twice again in later years. It was a rather simple proposal calling for an for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict. It also suggested the normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for an unattainable quid pro quo – full withdrawal by Israel from the “occupied” territories, which would see Israel truncated to the de facto 1949 Armistice lines, cosmetically presented to be more palatable as the pre-1967 lines. The initiative further demands the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. And, a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee problem based on the 1948 UN Resolution 194. Translation: Palestinian Arab refugees going back three generations flooding the Israeli demography. That is the quid pro quo that was lost in the Israeli celebration.

And, because no one engages in critical thinking, no one talked about it – except those who matter.

The UAE’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, and Hend al-Otaiba, the director of strategic communications at the UAE’s Foreign Ministry, insisted that the UAE is fully committed to the establishment of Palestine based on the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative. And, oh yes, the end of “annexation.”

To counter the criticism from Israel’s nationalist camp, the political power-brokers in Israel and the US have taken their spin into overdrive. They have re-emphasized the point that the suspension of the application of sovereignty is only temporary. And they tell us – it will usher in a period where other Gulf states will follow suit and extend a normalization of relations with Israel. Which brings any reasonable person to ask: When Saudi Arabia, the most important of these nations, offers to establish formal relations with Israel – in exchange for the Israeli promise to never lay claim to that sovereignty – what will Israel do? It is a question that even the most sophisticated magician cannot properly answer, for fear that we might see that other hand.

If you want to applaud the new relations between Israel and an Arab state – celebrate away. If you think that it will lead to a sustained peace, and somehow hasten the solution to the Palestinian Arab issue, it will not. Israel is simply the enemy of an enemy who is serving as a friend. That is also temporary.

So please. Don’t play us, and don’t lie to us. As others have said: better a cruel truth than a comfortable illusion.

The final quote we have saved for Jeanette Winterson: “People will believe anything. Except, it seems, the truth.”

By the way – how many of you realize that the word “gullible” isn’t even in the English dictionary?

Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.