Chanuka present: Israel and Morocco agree to normalize relations

To my Jewish readers, happy Chanuka/Chanukah/Ḥanukah , or in Hebrew chag urim sameach [happy Festival of Lights].

I was not expecting to find out, just after lighting the first candle, that Israel and Morocco had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal. The Times of Israel has some background here.

There are of course the professional “Yevsektziya” apparatchiks (case in point) who have to downplay this foreign policy achievement since nothing good can ever be done by Orange Man Bad.

To be fair, this isn’t all Trump’s doing — like in the case of the UAE, he was just playing midwife. Morocco and Israel have had sub-rosa contacts going back to the 1970s — when King Hassan II would host back-channel talks between Israel and Egypt that ultimately led to Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem — and a surprising number of Israeli tourists fly (indirectly) to Morocco every year — many of them on ‘family roots trips’, as Israel has a fairly large number of Moroccan Jews. (Their ancestors resettled there from Spain, across the Straits of Gibraltar, following the 1492 Gerush Sepharad or Spanish Expulsion.) As Morocco’s moderate Muslim leadership got ever more nervous about Iranian-backed fundamentalists, the countries grew closer, but a 2017 plan to establish diplomatic relations was shelved when present king Mohammed VI got cold feet. Now, finally, Morocco signed on the dotted line — in exchange for US recognition of its claim to the Spanish Sahara. Direct Tel Aviv-Rabat airline flight by Royal Air Maroc and by El Al.

Yes, the “ignorant” “bull in a china shop” Trump keeps achieving what has eluded Brahmandarin “peace processors” like Dennis Ross, Madeline Albright, Warren Christopher et al. (not to mention pompous windbags like Jean-Fraud Kerry) for many decades. Why? Something is at work that I’ve observed numerous times in my day job: clinging to failed preconceptions out of a combination of argument from tradition (“that’s how it’s always been”) and sunken cost fallacy (“how can we throw away all we have invested in it!”). Then a newcomer comes in, who’s supposedly “ignorant” and has no vested interest in the ruling paradigm — and get results because he doesn’t have to unlearn it.

In my day job, I see interdisciplinary research projects in action. People who are established researcher in their own disciplines, but complete or comparative neophytes in that of their collaborators, may bring “stupid” and “ignorant” ideas to the table, 90% of which are plain silly or [unbeknownst to them] have been tried and found wanting in the past — but the remaining 10% may be game changers.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the “peace processors” were all dedicated, able professionals. But they were all, pretty much without exception, wedded to the konzeptziya (preconception, idée reçue) that the entire Middle East revolves around the “Palestinian” issue, and that “solving” it is the key to all problems.

Now if you’re an engineer, trying to build something that works (an airplane, a bridge,…), or you’re trying to keep a business afloat, if you cling to an approach that clearly isn’t working anymore, but persist that it will work if you just keep doubling down, Nature, or the market, will punish you mercilessly — “for Nature cannot be fooled” (in Richard P. Feynman’s words).

Successful engineers tend to be cautious about messing with tried-and-true approaches that work well enough — out of respect for “the law of unintended consequences”. But when the “received wisdom” approach clearly is broken, they tend to be quite unsentimental about discarding it and trying something new. They can’t afford to do otherwise. (During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a similar dynamic, where frontline doctors who saw patients dying on their wards were much more willing to apply unconventional approaches that the institutionalized medical bureaucracy was up in arms about. Some of these — treatment with hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin — are still controversial, but others, such as applying corticosteroid, prone positioning, or de-emphasizing intubation in favor of early noninvasive ventilation, have meanwhile become adopted mainstream practices.)

At any rate, this is a great day for peace, and a most fitting Chanukah present.

Peace will yet come upon us/And upon all…
`od yavo’ shalom aleinu ve`al kulam

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