Missing the Point in the Middle East

23 10 2006

Yediot Aharonot (Israel)
23 October 2006

When anyone talks about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, every argument seems to revolve around two crucial questions – one dovish and one hawkish – that neither side ever really tries to answer.

Doves essentially ask the hawks, “How do you know that the best protection against Palestinian terrorism is incessant occupation, raids, imprisonment, and assassinations?” Meanwhile, hawks ask the doves, “How do you know that the terror will stop if we give up the West Bank, the Golan, and/or Shebaa Farms?”

If either side could give even a semi-adequate response to these questions, then the other would willingly change viewpoints. The two camps have far more common ground than most will acknowledge; they simply disagree about which methods work and which don’t.

Despite their polarization, the doves are not doves because they are against killing per se; if there was any evidence that Israel’s heavy-handed counterterrorism efforts could actually reduce the long-term threat to the State of Israel, the doves would naturally migrate in droves to the right.

Likewise, if there was any indication that Palestinian militants really would finally end their resistance in exchange for pre-1967 borders, a Palestinian state, compensated refugees, and a shared Jerusalem, there would be an equally dramatic shift to the left across the board.

But there is no logical reason for either the hawks or the doves to be persuaded by one another. Every argument is fundamentally circular – only capable of persuading the already-persuaded.

In fact, there is so little basis for the positions of each side that both the hawks and the doves rely on each other to exhaust every possible path to peaceful security, if only because nothing has worked, for anyone.

Israeli and other Western leaders are relying on arbitrary policies in the hopes that someone might stumble on to a solution. And yet, rather than instilling humility in these leaders, their incessant failure has only led them to baseless certainty, exacerbated by partisan politics. So, when one side’s tactics fail, the other seizes the partisan advantage, essentially screaming to the world, “See? I told you I was less stupid than those guys!”

In the end, being the lesser of two evils is the best that either side can hope for in this conflict. As the doves will (accurately) tell you, never in the history of Israel’s dealings with Palestinians has oppressive hostility gone unanswered. In the current cycle, the doves are hoping to get the upper hand very soon.

If and when the hawkish Israeli freeze on Palestinian aid and tax revenue pushes the untamed tiger over the edge, into a Mad Max free-for-all, supporters of Palestine across the globe will be on top of their soapboxes, reminding everyone that they knew it would happen.

And they will be right to criticize the hawks for their overreach. But pay close attention to what the doves say next: they will tell us again that the conflict will end as soon the West Bank’s settlers leave occupied Palestine, and move into Israeli hotels. And just like the hawks did during the Oslo process, the doves will defend their own plan without any evidence to support its prospects for success.

After all, can Abbas or even Haniya promise that no katyusha rockets will be fired at Ben Gurion Airport from a “converged” or traded West Bank? Despite the best intentions, the answer is a resounding no. Granted, Hamas as an organization has tremendous discipline (remember the year-long ceasefire in 2005?), but Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) doesn’t even pretend to care about politics. And understandably, Israelis don’t care who or where the rockets come from – only that they are coming.

In this scenario, Israelis would be willing to tolerate such a threat (much like every other country does) if Israel knew it could hold an official Palestinian government responsible for any and all attacks that originated in a State of Palestine.

Otherwise, Israel has no viable response to the very likely PIJ attack: either the IDF can go after PIJ, and guarantee collateral damage, or it can go after an official Palestinian government, and invite defenses like, “It wasn’t us, it was PIJ.”

It would be truly wonderful to think that Palestinian statehood is the necessary ingredient, that Palestinians will be able to make such a guarantee as soon as they are given statehood and minimal infrastructure. But Israel’s July war with Hizbullah should bring us back to reality.

Not even Lebanon – a fully autonomous state, infinitely farther ahead on every curve than Palestine – could be held accountable for Hizbullah’s actions. Lebanon’s government and military were simply too weak to be considered responsible. If Israel cannot rely on the power of standard deterrence (which every other country on the planet enjoys), then there is no basis for a land-for-peace arrangement.

Again, if we had good reason to believe that any recognized Palestinian government with pre-’67 borders could, in fact, quell any leftover resistance, then all of us would embrace such a deal. Sadly, there is no such evidence.

But the hawks are no different. They were warning everyone about the Oslo process in the 1990’s, and their criticisms were just as prescient as the doves’ during the last six years. But again, the thought processes behind potential solutions are never flushed out; we never think to inquire about their most basic assumptions.

Sharon, Bibi, Shamir, Halutz – these men simply cannot shake the notion that sufficient oppression and humiliation can guarantee peace. To them, the only question is how much oppression. Yet can these men think of one instance in world history where a democratic nation was able to snuff out (not just delay) an insurgency or rebellion with the sheer use of force? As usual, the answer is a resounding no.

Regarding this conflict, the collective pride and ego of Israeli and Western leaders needs to take a severe blast to the face. Nothing has worked. Their plans have failed again and again. There is no need to accuse hawks of being “heartless” or doves of being “gutless.” None of them have learned a thing.

There is no quick fix to this conflict. It is immensely complicated and deserves humility. We all have faith in humanity, in our abilities to move the heavens with our minds and hearts. Running out of ideas is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Just acknowledge it and move on.

[View this Op-Ed at Ynet]

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One response

18 02 2011
sara maimon

The solution is for everyone to marry everyone else and be done with it.

Problem is that Jews are matrilineal and Arabs are patrilineal. Which means that instead of fighting over the land they can now fight over the kids.

Guess not such a good idea after all.

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