Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Surprised? Not me

Israel and Syria were holding secret talks about the Golan Heights.

Was anyone surprised? Not me.

I would have been surprised if they hadn't been talking. I would be surprised if Israel isn't holding talks this minute with Iran, Saudi Arabia and particularly the Emirates.
You see, in the Middle East, nothing is on the surface. Nothing is as advertised.

Nobody walks into a shop, sees the price on an item he or she wants to buy, and pays the price. Nobody but Americans and Brits, that is.

I remember being in a shop on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, haggling over some item. The practice took more than an hour. I was having a good time and the owner was, too.

Then an American couple comes in, sees a menorah, plunks down the price, and walks out with their prize. The shop owner smiled. He had made triple his expected profit. In the Middle East, if you pay more than 30 to 40 percent of the asking price, you got hosed. Nobody expects any more. Some shopkeepers consider it an insult for someone not to take the time to haggle.

Haggling usually consists of two sides taking opposite positions. Israel offers too little, Syria asks too much. As long as both sides know they're haggling, it's fine.

When the Americans come in, don't understand what's going on and then insult both sides by issuing statements saying Israel and Syria are being unreasonable -- that's when the trouble starts.

So let them alone. They know what they're doing. They know the rules of the game, even if Candi Rice doesn't.

And don't be surprised if leaks develop every now and again, like the one about talks between Israel and Syria.

Another thing about the Middle East, especially in Israel: Nobody knows how to keep the mouth shut.

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