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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Israel and Palestine

My memory of the modern Middle East begins with the 1967 Six-Day War. Ever since, there has been near-constant news of turmoil in Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

It's not as though people on both sides, as well as nations outside the region and the United Nations itself, haven't tried diplomacy. I suspect that more effort has been invested into diplomacy — Camp David, Oslo, the failed summit in 2000, etc — for that region than anywhere else on earth after World War II, the end of the Cold War and the control of weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding. Nevertheless, violence continues. Let me offer a few opinions.

  • At an individual level, wouldn't most Israelis and most Palestinians be satisfied with the same outcomes: a peaceful place in which they can live in freedom and enjoyment, have a say in a just government, raise children with the reasonable expectation of a better future, and carry on their respective traditions (Judaism, Arab Christianity, Islam, or even secularity)? But at present, neither side of the conflict can fully attain these outcomes.
  • No nation can be expected to absorb repeated violence passively without any reaction or attempt to prevent it. Asking Israel to ignore attacks upon itself is absurd.
  • History shows that the combination of deprivation, repression, and hopelessness will eventually induce violence in any people, e.g. the otherwise peaceful Irish 1916-1923. To expect Palestinians to content themselves with the status quo indefinitely is also absurd.
  • Emotions have driven a percentage of Israelis and a percentage of Palestinians beyond the reach of any diplomacy. Disregard the justifications they offer and whatever relative proportion they exist on either side of the conflict. We must not allow those who have forever abandoned diplomacy to define the situation in their own terms or to control the outcome.
  • Governments are composed of fallible people. Their policies, actions, and inactions are never exempt from examination or criticism. Those who absolutely reject every criticism of the Israeli government are unhelpful; so are those who absolutely reject every criticism of the Palestinian National Authority. Both governments must recognize that the end doesn't always justify the means. Most impartial people consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Respectable people say the Israeli government's present military campaign against Hamas is disproportionate.
  • Arguments about the propriety of Zionism or whether the western powers (the USA, the UK, and France) poorly handled the founding of the State of Israel are irrelevant. The State of Israel is permanent, as confirmed by the 1993 Israel–PLO letters of recognition. Observe, however, that the western nations' ability to promote peace in the Middle East is constrained by their stupifyingly consistent record of ineptitude throughout north Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia during the last 100 years.
  • Evangelical Christians in the USA who construe and manipulate affairs in the Middle East to effect what they consider to be eschatological prophecy are dangerously misguided. Their attitude is just the latest in a series of mistakes by western Christians whose hands have been dirtied by 1000 years of killing both Jews and Arabs in the millions.
Where do we go from here? This conflict could take a century or more to resolve. Working for comprehensive justice and peace through diplomacy, while making the occasional and restrained military move to contain overall violence, is the only way forward along an arduous and painful road.