Can the Ticking Middle East Conflict Be Defused?
By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers
February 16, 2010
I had a fascinating email conversation over the weekend on
the Middle East conflict, and it seems worthy of reproducing here. Not just
because of the issues raised but because they encapsulate the difficulty of
even agreeing on what the central questions are.
Americans seem so locked into hardened political positions -- not just
Republican vs. Democrats, conservative vs. liberal, religious vs. secular --
that it makes the traditional way of dealing with difficult issues, of
finding some room for compromise closer to the middle, virtually impossible.
But perhaps this online debate offers some hope in this regard.
My correspondent -- an intelligent, politically-savvy, passionate
writer/editor -- had sent me a tough anti-Israel article by British
journalist Alan Hart entitled
"Zionism Unmasked: A fairy tale thatıs become a terrifying nightmare".
I've read scores of similar articles over the years, but Hart's was quite
powerfully argued, and I decided to respond to it. Here's what kicked off
NO "DISAPPEARING" ACTS
To get the discussion started, let us suppose that everything (or nearly
everything) Hart says about the origins and early years of Zionism, and much
of today's brutal Zionist treatment of Palestinians, is true. What are the
policies you would advise to help ameliorate the situation, the
Should millions of Jewish Israelis be repatriated, forcibly or otherwise,
to...where? An uninhabited island in the Pacific? A country carved out
somewhere in Eastern Europe, with land donated by numerous nations? Where?
Similarly, many Israelis want the Palestinians to disappear and are hoping
that by treating them so cruelly, this will hasten their departure back
to...where? To Jordan? Egypt? Bantustans in the worst geographical
It ain't gonna happen. Both sides are engaged in delusional thinking. The
millions of Jewish Israelis will not disappear on their own and cannot be
made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted to the
task. The millions of Palestinians will not disappear on their own and
cannot be made to disappear by force, no matter how many decades are devoted
to the task.
You may ask why the Palestinian should compromise on anything, since you
feel their claim is more justified; Israelis might ask why they should
compromise, since they believe their claim is more just. But that reasoning
just keeps the destructive-loop in place and solves nothing. If my
assessment is a realistic depiction of where things stand today, how is it
possible to reach an accommodation that will permit both peoples to live
side-by-side, if not in peace (at first), then at least with some sort of
grudgingly-arranged toleration of the Other?
It seems to me that the art of political compromise dictates that each side
will have to give in order to get. The Israelis will have to end their
occupation of lands established for the Palestinian state, abandoning its
settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in order for a viable
Palestinian state to manifest itself. The Palestinians will have to
officially recognize Israel, which action would necessitate ceasing to send
missiles, rockets and suicide bombers into Israel. Israel might agree to
accept a limited number of "right-of-return" Palestinians back to their
ancestral homes but also would have to pay a fair real-estate price for
those hundreds of thousands of Palestinian who would not be welcomed back.
Jerusalem probably would become an international city, administered by the
U.N. or some other neutral body. Once Israel and the new Palestine were
established inside of secure borders, it would be easier to work out
treaties dealing with water-sharing, movement back and forth across the
borders for workers and others. Finally in this abbreviated list, since we
know there are Jewish Israeli and Palestinian factions who would be opposed
to any serious movement toward peace, both governments would criminally
prosecute those who use violence in opposition, and continue moving toward
peace despite whatever violence takes place.
I'm not pulling these potential solutions out of my hat -- or from any other
orifice in my body. By and large, all of these compromises, at least in
principle, have been accepted by both sides over the past decade or two, in
negotiations held in Oslo, Madrid, Camp David, etc.
The key to moving in the direction suggested by these already-agreed-to
compromises is for both sides to quit playing I'm-more-a-victim-than-you-are
game, to admit that the Other has some right on its side, and to not get
bogged down on who first committed which act of violence in the past.
History is valuable and never to be forgotten but when it comes to
diplomacy, it can also be a convenient trap to avoid doing anything
significant in moving the peace process forward.
Doing nothing, in my opinion, is to throw up one's hands and to accept the
ongoing sacrifice of yet more generations of children into the bubbling
cauldron of hate and despair that is today's Middle East.
That, in very brief summary, is my reaction to Hart's powerful piece of
writing. Let's see if we can achieve any solid resting spot both of us can
stand on in discussing this constantly volatile topic.
ZIONISTS ARE IN CHARGE
[My response] must be pretty
obvious by my newsletter postings and the facts of the numerous
international violations by Israel (in the hundreds), the
disproportionate amount of daily aggression against the Palestinians,
stealing land that doesn't belong to them, murdering and imprisoning
children. What are the Palestinians supposed to do: bend over and say
"thank you for killing my relatives and family? I'll never send another
crude rocket into Israel again? Thank you for taking what the
international community tells you does not belong to you? Thank you for
stealing not only our land, but our water as well? Thank you for bombing
our schools and hospitals? Thank you for cutting off crucial food and
medical supplies," and so on and so on. I cannot imagine anyone over
here in the U.S. allowing anyone to do a tenth of what the Israelis do
to the Palestinians without retaliating. There's not a scintilla of
equality going on in Israel, or here, since the Zionists now have
control over our country in not just foreign policy, media, education,
Wall Street, banking, every branch of government and military, you name
it, and why things are getting progressively worse, because of our
partnership and collusion with this mother of all monsters. Now ask me
how I really feel. It's the injustice of it all, and even worse, that no
one is doing a thing about it above lip service....
STOPPING GENERATIONS OF HATE
[Without responding to your over-the-top language about Zionist influence], I
share much of your (and Hart's) righteous anger. But, in a certain sense, it
doesn't matter any more who is more "right." These two peoples (who are
linked by their Semitic heritage and DNA) are locked, and have been locked
for more than 60 years, in a battle from which they cannot extricate
themselves, even if they wanted to. And neither side wants to; each thinks
that with a bit more violence, the Other will give up and slink off into the
byways of history.
So I come at this from a different perspective, trying to figure out a way
to stop the slaughter, to give future generations of kids and grandkids, on
both sides, something other than permanent war and permanent hatred.
Yes, I know that disproportionate violence has been meted out by Israel --
even to the point where an international commission determined that Israel
had committed gross war crimes in Gaza. That commission likewise determined
that the Palestinians had committed war crimes as well, but of a far less
deadly variety, by firing rockets into civilian towns in Israel. That
slaughter wheel keeps turning and the two parties seem incapable of stopping
it. Some outside agent, with some clout, will have to step in and help
shepherd the parties to the negotiating table.
...If I'm correct that no amount of violence/injustice from Israel directed
at the Palestinians will make the Palestinians give up the fight and vanish,
and that no amount of Palestinian retaliatory bombing and rockets will make
the Israelis call it quits and disappear, what options are there? Do those
of us who support the right of Palestinians to a nation-state all their own
say "just keep fighting, maybe 60 years from now you'll achieve your
victory?" That is an invitation to a continued regimen of slaughter, with
entire generations of young men lost on both sides, not to mention the
civilians who will die. What, in PRACTICAL terms, can and should be done?
There has got to be some way out of this horrific ongoing slaughter. Using
what both sides have agreed to in principle over the past decade or so, I've
proposed a scenario that seems to make sense. I'd love to hear, beyond the
anger and denunciations (valid though they may be), what your position is
about finding a way to peace in the region through that scenario or another
you might propose.
WRONG IS WRONG
My correspondent responded here point by
I share much of your and Hart's righteous anger. But, in a certain sense, it
doesn't matter any more who is more "right."
How can you say it doesn't matter
who is right? It does matter even if the lines seem to have blurred so
dramatically. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong.
These two peoples (who are linked by their
Semitic heritage and DNA) are locked, and have been locked for more than 60
years, in a battle from which they cannot extricate themselves, even if they
wanted to. and they do not want to; each thinks that with a bit more
violence, the other side will give up and slink off into the byways of
The Israeli OCCUPATION is the
problem, not the Palestinians. There would be no violence if the
Israelis would end their occupation of land that does not belong to
So I come at this from a different
perspective, trying to figure out way to stop the slaughter to give future
generations of kids and grandkids, on both sides, something other than
permanent war and permanent hatred.
The only thing to figure out is for
Israel to end the occupation and return the stolen land.
Yes, I know that there is disproportionate
violence meted out by Israel...And that there has been indiscriminate
violence in retaliation by the Palestinians. that tit-for-tat slaughter.
It's not tit for tat violence. The
Palestinians have nothing but crude rockets while Israel has the second
largest stockpile of nuclear and other weapons in the middle east. The
statistics tell the truth on which side massive lives have been taken.
...wheel keeps turning and the two parties
are incapable of stopping it.
What happened during the cease fire? The Palestinians kept and Israel broke
it. Israel wants to eliminate all Palestinians one way or the other,
preferably through violence.
Some outside agent, with some clout, will have to step in and help shepherd
the parties to the negotiating table.
Israel won't allow it. There is no
So, if this is the present, and the likely
future, for the Israelis and Palestinians, and if we want to stop the
bloodbath and give both sides' children hope and a peaceful future, what is
to be done? Just denouncing the other side, which both the Israelis and
Palestinians do regularly, doesn't contribute much to the healing process.
It just keeps the fires stoked.
I don't know -- the international
community. War crimes are still war crimes.
If I'm correct that no amount of
violence/injustice from Israel directed at the Palestinians will make the
Palestinians give up the fight and vanish, and that no amount of Palestinian
retaliatory bombing and rockets will make the Israelis call it quits and
disappear, what options are there?
What options were there with the
Nazis? Eventually Israel will pay for its crimes and so will we.
...Do those of us who support the right of
Palestinians to a nation-state all their own say "just keep fighting, maybe
sixty years from now you'll achieve your victory?"
David against Goliath. They're very
brave, braver than Americans.
That is an invitation to a continued
regimen of slaughter, with entire generations of young men (not to mention
the civilians who will die) lost. What, in PRACTICAL terms, can and should
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE:
End the occupation. ... Nothing
will be accomplished until Israel/U.S. ends their murderous, lawless
occupation, and returns the stolen land to its rightful owners. It isn't
complicated, it's the crux of the problem. If you don't believe it, ask
anyone in the Middle East who is not part of the problem. Right is right
and greed is and always will be wrong -- that is how I see it.
WHAT ARE THE BOUNDARIES?
Ending the occupation is indeed the crux of the problem and was one of the
central required planks in the scenario I outlined. But I want to make sure
we're talking about the same thing. If "return the stolen land to its
rightful owners" refers to the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank, East
Jerusalem), that seems to be eminently doable. Both sides in various
negotiations over the years have agreed to this in principle. But if "return
the stolen land to its rightful owners" refers to all of Israel, obviously
there is no hope for that scenario.
THE OUTRAGE IS BUILDING
I was referring to the '67 borders. Most agree this would be fair,
but it isn't going to happen unless the international community
intervenes. I don't see this happening either, since the U.S. is going
around deposing governments, installing U.S.-friendly leaders and (what
is it now?) 700 military bases and increasing in number? Who is going to
fight ours and Israel's superior weapons and military advantage? Maybe
down the line China and Russia with help from Latin America,
Chavez...Iran. The Israelis will never agree to give up the land they've
stolen. They'll hold on until the bitter, bottom, end, what and whenever
it comes. The outrage is building.
MAYBE CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
Thanks for clearing up the border question. The situation does seem
hopeless, but sometimes at the most hopeless-looking times, significant
changes are possible.
OR MAYBE NOT
Maybe in an individual, but for the collective whole, the wheel turns
slowly and sometimes not at all. Today it's in retrograde motion thanks
to Zionist United States of Israel.
And that's where we left the conversation. My correspondent, dedicated to
the proposition that Israel is wrong and must pay the penalty for being
wrong, seems resigned to a continuation of the conflict until Israel is
To my mind, to get to a true peace, each side is going to have to give
something to get something. But, since neither side is capable or desirous
of making a peace, the international community in some fashion must
intervene and move them to the negotiating table for final talks. My
correspondent said as much.
As you can read for yourself, whenever I tried to move the online discussion
to how the parties can move toward peace, my correspondent wanted to stay on
the war crimes of the Israelis and the need for them to be punished for
their brutal behavior. I've heard something similar from Israelis when I
argue with them about the need for them to withdraw from the Occupied
Territories: "The Palestinians are brutal terrorists and can't be trusted;
they must be taught a harsh lesson for their violent behavior." It's a
closed blaming-loop that gets us nowhere.
I take two positives out of this debate. The first is that, even given the
heat generated, my correspondent and I can talk in civil, respectful ways to
each other. And the second is that both of us agree that Israel will have to
withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, and that unrelenting international
pressure will be necessary to get to that stage. Those are good starting
points for a serious negotiation. Israel wants security and recognition,
Palestine wants a secure nation-state and an end to occupation. There is a
pathway to peace there, if the will is there to find it and walk it to a
peace treaty -- or, at the very least, to a long-lasting truce.
Who will take the first step? And who will help the warring parties take
that first step? Perhaps, you, dear reader, have creative solutions worth
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D in government & international relations, has
taught at universities in California and Washington, and has written
numerous articles on the Middle East conflict (www.crisispapers.org/weinerpubs.htm#essays).
A former writer/editor for two decades with the San Francisco Chronicle,
he now serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).