Slate columnist William Saletan has a piece about a possible solution to the conflict in Gaza (How to Save Gaza). It is worth a read. It will probably seem overly liberal to many Israeli supporters and will seem totally unfair to many Palestinian supporters. And it does sound a little utopian. Well, a lot utopian. It seems unlikely that it could be attempted and very unlikely that it would work if attempted.
Anyway, it reminded me of a comment I wrote on Facebook. I am not optimistic…
This is a Greek tragedy. Both sides have lost many opportunities to compromise and they will surely manage to lose more in the days to come. When those in power in Israel clearly want to keep all or most of the occupied West Bank (building new settlements is hardly a signal they are leaving) and avoid every opportunity to make a deal, then they are not laying the foundation for durable peace. When those in power in Gaza seem to believe ALL Jewish presence in Palestine should be “reversed” (“Palestine will be free; from the river to sea”), they are not laying such a foundation either.
If Likudniks think Palestinians are incorrigible terrorists and barbarians who can never be trusted, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Hamas (and even more so, their millions of outside cheerleaders with nothing to lose) say the Israelis are worse than Nazis and are committing history’s greatest genocide, then what sane Israeli would consider them a negotiating partner that wants to make peace? Its a lose-lose situation.
I am not making some kind of moral judgement. And I am not making any claim about “both parties” being equally guilty (or unequally guilty). I am just saying: here we are, with millions of Israelis and Palestinians, and not enough middle ground. Whatever the moral standing of either group, the facts on the ground are that Israel is the stronger power, but appears unwilling to trade that stronger position to get a deal the other party can also live with…Likud’s minimum demands seem more than the Palestinians can reasonably concede. Meanwhile, Hamas is the weaker power, but (perhaps misled by periodic outbursts of vocal support from hundreds of millions of distant people with “no skin in the game”; or perhaps just mis-led) their strategy of defeating the stronger power really makes no sense …unless their plan is to accept another 30-40 years of suffering and dying in the belief that eventually Israel can be worn down to where its friends will abandon it, its best minds will emigrate, and the remaining “middle-eastern” level country will eventually be unable to sustain itself amidst a hostile Arab nation….this is not inconceivable, but I dont think it is as likely as many of my friends seem to think. …and if this is NOT likely, then the strategy of endless confrontation is mindless and self-defeating (though it is undoubtedly attractive to faraway supporters who want to admire heroes not compromisers).
It is probably not going to end well, no matter what. Too many factors are working against a good outcome. Israel is currently so much stronger that it is hard to imagine human beings resisting the impulse to “crush enemies” when said enemies seem so much weaker. Meanwhile, some Palestinians may have been beaten into a “reasonable” position but there are just enough fanatics and just enough “leaders” around to pursue dreams of the “mother of all battles” and other Arab fantasies…and to provide Israel with the excuses it needs to avoid peace…and last (and probably the least), the enchantment of wide public support in the Muslim world (and in the third world in general) is not helping the common Palestinian people, who have to play hero for this admiring audience and get beaten up on the head for their pains….
And I have not even touched the issues of 2000 year old promises from God, anti-Semitism, the holocaust, religious fanaticism or plain old land grabs..
It is hard to imagine human beings, left to their default settings, reaching some happy compromise in these circumstances. Very exceptional leadership would be needed, and very exceptional is exceptionally rare.
It is not going to end well.
When I am not this pessimistic, I follow the lead of the American Task Force on Palestine. I think Hussein Ibish and his friends are trying something truly heroic: they are trying to forge a compromise that is reachable within this world…and where almost everyone can live in peace, even if everyone does not get what they want. Their path is not easy. Hardliners on every side hate them and want them dead…and those outsiders who want the Palestinians to die glorious flaming deaths for their sacred honor probably call them pussies too…in spite of all that, they are trying real hard to be the shepherd…