How NOT to Solve a Problem – And Lessons for the Rest of Us
Why Comment on This Now?
Goodness knows, everyone has a column about the conflict in recent days, but I felt compelled to add my two cents worth for a number of reasons. This has major moral, political, and security implications for a lot of people, including us. And lessons to be learned, if we will.
I visited Israel and Lebanon some years ago. I came back more depressed and worried than when I arrived. What I saw, elements of which are discussed below, were foreboding. I went on this trip with an international group of military officers assigned to their respective UN missions in New York. This gave me a perspective and opportunities to observe dramatically different situations from what an American tourist is likely to see. I came out thinking the current leadership and choices being made were formulas for hopelessness for both sides. That is still the case today, perhaps even more so.
A Brief Review of Key Historical Elements
I will in no way try to summarize how things came to where they are, but a few benchmarks are worth noting:
- If one reads the Belfour Declaration and other documents of the time, it is striking how little thought was given to all those Palestinians living in what is now Israel. It was as though it was vacant land.
- The Brits and much of the rest of the world felt, correctly in my view, the need to establish a secure homeland for the world’s Jews that wished to live in such a state.
- For all its flaws, the process that created Israel did envision a two-state solution. The Arabs in general and Palestinian leaders in particular, rejected the offer. What a different world this might be had they made the other choice.
The Current Situation
A wobbly cease fire is in place. I would not count on its lasting. As usual, there is all sorts of finger pointing as to who started what. We do know that right wing settler groups were moving through parts of Jerusalem and elsewhere, threatening Arabs and loudly proclaiming the complete and universal rights of settlers. Fights broke out. Tensions spread. For the first time in a long time, there arose a sense of common purpose among Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza with those living in Israel proper.
We also know that Hamas launched thousands of rockets indiscriminately. Most were intercepted, but not all. People died. A lot more people lived in fear of randomly assigned death. Israel has retaliated massively. Hamas’s facilitates this by setting up operations in neighborhoods and Israel seemed more than ready to take the bait. Whole apartment buildings and office buildings have been destroyed by airpower, often on the rationale of getting some Hamas official or office. People died – a lot of them. Both sides have treated the lives of others cavalierly. Both perhaps could be credibly charged with war crimes.
Leadership as a Cancer
The Palestinians have long been cursed with terrible leadership. Arafat failed to prepare his people for the Camp David Accords. The Palestine Liberation Authority actually controls very little these days. Hamas is not by any stretch a real political movement or anything like a genuine government. Life in Gaza reflects this. Nothing better is in the wings. Hezbollah? Yeah, right.
I think history will show that hope for a bright future for Israel effectively died with the assassination of Rabin. How tragic and ironic that the two leaders prepared to change history, Sadat and Rabin, were murdered by extremists on their own sides. Netanyahu seems like a shark, living only to eat, in his case to remain in power. His rule has become increasingly extreme, catering to the worst in Israeli society.
Both Netanyahu and Hamas see this conflict as boosting themselves politically, so the fight is on. Neither offers their people or their neighbors any hope of anything better – ever.
The Long-Term Danger for the Palestinians
A primary risk for the long-suffering Palestinians is that what sliver of the two-state solution disappears, and no international coalition speaks up to support their priorities in anyway. Already 50 years into this, they are close to becoming a permanent problem with no solution and one not enough people care about to make any difference. I have seen up close, albeit briefly, what it is like to live as a Palestinian under occupation. It is a second-class life at best. How could one not be angry?
The Long-Term Danger for Israelis
Israel has had much support around the world since its inception. Much of that is eroding, as a result of Netanyahu’s policies for so many years. The attachment between he and Trump said all that needed to be said. In spite of the “Abraham Accords” of last year, Israel is increasingly isolated.
But the far great consequence for Israel is what it is becoming. To remain essentially a Jewish state under current conditions leads inevitably to apartheid. In the absence of a Palestinian state, Israel either finds itself comfortable with what can only be called apartheid, or it becomes a much more diverse, not largely Jewish, state. So far, it looks like apartheid is the choice. This is heart breaking, and in the end cannot stand. This most recent conflict involves individuals and mobs fighting in mixed communities throughout the country. This will only get worse.
The US Role and Changing Perceptions at Home
The US was long seen as a dedicated ally of Israel but nonetheless an honest broker. Trump gave that away for little of value. Now the US has no credibility with one side and the other side seems confident that it can ignore the US administration and can safely assume the $4 billion in defense assistance annually will be unaffected.
I would not make that bet. Public and political support in the US for Israel is eroding and it is doing so across a range of political and cultural spectrums. Given recent history, this is not a surprise. It would be difficult to gain back what has been lost. The Israeli political system, paralyzed by a bushel of small and extreme parties, seems unlikely to produce bold new leadership.
To criticize Israel is NOT antisemitism, and to call it such is intellectually and morally vacuous. But the current situation on the ground makes it easier for others to engage in antisemitism – we see that happening now. Another loss for us all.
And So Here We Are
I noted at the beginning of this article that I started this blog out of concern for what happens when conflict like this metastasizes. I am more concerned about this today than I was then. Without better leadership in the Middle East, the people will continue to suffer. As another commentator recently said, the Israelis will not have security, the Palestinians will not have justice, and neither will have peace.
The choices being made today damn endless generations of children to more of the same. If you are looking for a good side vs a bad side, good luck. So called leaders on both sides have failed everyone, miserably. And continue to do so.
For a thoughtful and informative reflection on all this, take a look at my friend Bill Jamieson’s blog yesterday on the same subject. It’s a heck of a good thought peace. Read it. https://hopeandstone.org/israel-palestine-peace-is-far-off/
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