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Diplomacy: necessary facts



The Damascus Road. An apt illustration of how "Let's pretend" is a dangerous game to play in diplomacy in the region.

Political scientists fail to emphasize that whenever a democracy and a dictatorship negotiate publicly as equals, the dictatorship gains enormously.   Such negotiation places these two types of regimes on the same moral level. This moral equivalence corrupts public opinion in the democratic world, a world already mired in the university-bred doctrine of moral relativism.  Consider the case of Israel.

Negotiating as equals puts the democracy (or republic) at a disadvantage

It may sound quixotic, but Israeli politicians – Left and Right, secular and religious – degrade Israel by seeking the recognition of Arab regimes whose media, such as that of the Palestinian Authority, vilify Jews and the Jewish State.  To demand the cessation of this anti-Semitism as a precondition of negotiation would enhance Israel’s honor, a crucial element given the overweening pride of Arab-Islamic culture.

Diplomacy must proceed under different rules when dealing with terrorists--or authoritarians.

Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat at the White House, 13 September 1993. Photo: Vince Musi/The White House

Instead, Israeli spokesmen are forever seeking to meet with Arab leaders such a Mahmoud Abbas, even though Abbas supports Arab terrorism. Moreover, for Israelis to negotiate with their Arab adversaries is to convey the impression that Arabs are no less disposed to candor and peace than Israel, and that agreements reached with Arab autocrats will bind their successors despite the fact that the latter represent no one but their own cliques and have no scruples whatever about adhering to the agreements of their predecessors.

On the other hand, for Israeli politicians to be candid about the bellicose and devious character of Arab regimes is to preclude negotiation.  Arab rulers need not worry:  It’s against the law in Israel to tell the truth about the militant nature of Islam, hence of Israel’s Islamic enemies. To do so is to impugn Israel’s own Muslim citizens and expose oneself to the charge of racism, in Israel a felony. It matters not that these citizens have ever been exempt from military service for security reasons, indeed, that most openly supported Israel’s enemies.

Facts such as these demonstrate that the contradictions between democracy and Arab-Islamic culture are so many and so profound that negotiation between Israel and any Arab regime will not enhance Israel’s security, let alone her dignity, so long as such states remain Islamic!

A Primer on Diplomacy

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The question before us is this:  How can democracies, in general, and Israel in particular, negotiate effectively with dictatorships?

Suppose we were to write a handbook for democratic negotiators based on the current and simplistic assumption that dictators have an intrinsic antipathy to compromise. The manual might say something like this:

The nature of dictatorships makes it inherently difficult for rulers of such regimes to compromise. The autocrat himself is little used to political compromise and tends to view it, as he does all domestic opposition, as a challenge to his authority, perhaps to his very life. This personal hostility to compromise or meaningful give-and-take is reinforced by the inherent instability and vulnerability of all regimes resting on coercion rather than consent.  The democratic statesman must take this into account, tempering his expectations and standing ready to take the first step, going the extra mile, and perhaps giving more than he gets.

Suppose, however, our manual for democratic negotiators were based on very different but generally more realistic assumptions about dictators.  It might read like this:

The nature of autocratic political systems makes it inherently easy for rulers of such regimes to compromise.  Successful autocrats are above all things calculating, possessed of a shrewd grasp of facts operative in the negotiating arena.  They have no difficulty envisioning the kind of settlement that would be equitable or that would at least temporarily terminate disputes with other powers; and ruling over a society resting on coercion rather than consent, they have no difficulty in imposing such a settlement should they deem it necessary.Negotiating problems arise exactly because the autocrat understands the propensities of democratic statesmen and the political system they represent.  He knows that to the democratic mind compromise is often seen as a good in itself; that completed negotiations are frequently taken as successful negotiations serving to secure personal or domestic political advantage.  The also autocrat knows that democratic politicians are impatient for results, especially during election years, in consequence of which he need only bide his time, remain obdurate, or threaten to break off negotiations in order to elicit gratuitous concessions intended to hasten and conclude the negotiating process.

He is particularly well attuned to the fact that democratic governments are greatly influenced by public opinion, that opinion is usually divided on all issues, and that opinions in democracies can be manipulated to his own advantage.   He is also aware of the democratic antipathy to violence and therefore sees the threat of conflict working in his favor.  If his democratic counterparts regard him as irrational or ideologically disinclined to compromise, or if they view his system of government as one that by its nature is unable to make significant concessions, he will know this too and take manifest advantage of it.

The democratic statesman must in no way encourage the dictator on any of these points or negotiations will degenerate into a tedious, counterproductive exercise in making unilateral concessions. He must know from the very outset what he wants out of the negotiations. He must let the dictator take the first step toward compromise and under no circumstances be willing to give more than he gets or give the slightest indication that this might be the case.

It must never be forgotten that the autocrat will view all efforts to be “reasonable” – as this term is understood by democrats – as confirmation of his own understanding of democratic negotiating weakness, and he will press his claims unremittingly thereafter.

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