Mideast Mess

Two Palestinian children in the rubble after an Israeli strike in northern Gaza

My mantra:  You cannot be pro-Israel without being pro-Palestinian.  You can not be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Israel.   The two peoples’ destinies are linked, they’ll either keep killing each other or find a way to live together.    There is one feasible solution: a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel.

The frustrating thing about violence like this is that observers tend to join the combatants in forming two camps.   The pro-Israeli side condemns the Palestinians for engaging in terrorism, and dismisses concern about innocents by simply blaming Hamas.   In the US sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza is dismissed by pro-Israel hawks as “anti-Semitic,” or akin to support of the Nazis.    Never mind that a large number of Jews in Israel form the backbone of an Israeli peace movement even more radical, the pro-Israel side often paints the world in stark good vs. evil tones.

An Israeli woman worries for her children as air raid sirens sound in Tel Aviv

On the other side are the defenders of the Palestinians, pointing at the big bad Israeli military hurling massive weapons into Gaza, killing women, children and other defenseless folk.    They rationalize Hamas’ missile attacks into Israel by pointing out the horrid conditions in the occupied territories and how Israel’s grip limits economic opportunity and leaves millions with no real political and economic rights.   For them it’s good vs. evil as well, but the Palestinians are the victims, fighting out desperation for a better future against a ruthless foe.

Go on line and follow blogs and news sites for each side and you’ll find two self-contained narratives wherein it is absolutely clear that one side is right and the other wrong, with little ambiguity or uncertainty.   Of course, which one is right depends on the side you’re following.

The reality is that ambiguity and misunderstanding define this conflict, while the capacity to paint it in stark black and white terms makes it harder for each side to truly understand the other.    In turn, that makes it more difficult to solve the conflict.   But the Arabs won’t drive the Jews into the sea and the Jews won’t drive the Arabs into the desert.

The Gaza strip is small but densely populated (yellow area on the southern coast of Israel)

Consider this case.   Border clashes leave a Palestinian youth dead.   Mad at that and other IDF (Israeli Defense Force) actions Hamas shoots missiles into Israel.   In Hamas’ mind it’s a tit for tat, they’re retaliating.   For Israelis shooting missiles into residential areas is an escalation – the IDF was engaged simply in protecting Israel’s security.   So they retaliate hard against Gaza.   Hamas then retaliates back, upping the ante.

Emotions are ignited on both sides, the conflicts grows in intensity, and soon we have a full blown crisis that apparently neither side planned or wanted.   Protests world wide show sympathy to the residents of Gaza, while supporters of Israel grumble that the media is unfair and doesn’t understand that no country could tolerate missiles being launched across the border into residential areas.   Two legs good, four legs evil.   Or was it four legs good, two legs evil?

The reality is far more complex.   The Palestinians have suffered and often have been treated unfairly and denied dignity by the Israelis.   Hamas did send missiles into Israel in an action no state could ignore or just accept.   Hamas is a terror organization which could end this by renouncing its terror tactics and stopping the bombardment.   Israel does keep the Palestinians on the leash that naturally breed resentment and anger.     That’s why each side is so adept at seeing themselves as the good guys – each side has evidence to that effect.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly find concerns about Iran on the back burner as Gaza violence flares

At this point its foolish to try to say one side is “more to blame.”   That falls victim to that same capacity to choose evidence and make interpretations that will see one side as essentially good and the other as the cause of the violence.  The first step out of this is to see it as a problem to be solved, rather than enemies to be defeated.   Neither side can win unless they both win.   That can only happen if they solve the fundamental problems they face.

There is a reason why war maker Yitzak Rabin became a peacemaker, reaching agreements with the PLO in 1993.   There is a reason why ultra-hawk Ariel Sharon ultimately proposed unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories after running a much a different platform.   An objective look at Israel’s security interests makes clear that on going conflict is harmful to Israel, especially with the rise of non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah.   The Arab states never really could pose an existential threat to Israel.  The non-state actors?   That’s a different story.

So how to solve the problem?   First, the two sides need to agree to a cease fire.   Israel should not try for a ‘military solution.’   Invading Gaza will be no more effective than invading Lebanon in 2006. Even if they damage Hamas, the conflict will be intensified and Israel will be no more secure.

Partner for peace? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas

However, Israel should work to split the Palestinians.   There are two groups, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.   Israel should turn to the PA and work with it, trying to get Arabs around the region to throw their support to the PA as the voice of the Palestinian people.    As this is happening, the US needs to pressure Arab states to emphasize the role of the PA as opposed to Hamas, with Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad as the primary Palestinian negotiators.

This will create dilemmas for both the PA and Hamas.   The Palestinian Authority doesn’t want to be seen as abandoning Gaza.   The only way they can possibly break from Hamas is if Israeli military action in Gaza has ceased.   Israel would also have to renounce some of the new policies they have for settlements in the West Bank, as well taking a softer line on the Palestinian Authority’s efforts at the UN.

Some would see that as Israel giving into pressure, but it’s a clever “giving in.”  If done in a way that undercuts Hamas it would be a victory for Israel.  Hamas might respond by upping the ante with more attacks.   But a more likely response would be to communicate to the PA the need to be on the same page and try to influence the negotiations.

Much conspires against such a solution.   Can Israel really pivot to a political effort to isolate Hamas rather than a military effort to defeat it?   Will Israel and the Palestinian Authority be able to make enough progress on past roadblocks to negotiation to make real communication between the two feasible?   Will the PA be willing to risk “selling out” its rival Hamas, and will the Arab world side with the PA over Hamas?   Still, despite the mess, this could open up the chance for a real move forward.

The phrase may be over used but it’s true – in every crisis there is an opportunity.

  1. #1 by Lee on November 20, 2012 - 14:06

    This is an interesting analysis Scott. I was just talking w/ my eldest about this after church on Sunday. When I was in high school I had a number of Jewish friends and I worked for a Jewish family. I sort of absorbed the Jewish perspective and it was not until many years later that I looked at things in a more balanced view.

  2. #2 by dirtnrocksnomo on November 20, 2012 - 15:46

    Peace can happen in an instance but not until each side is willing to compromise.

  3. #3 by SShiell on November 21, 2012 - 00:29

    “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” (Golda Meir to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., 1957)

    • #4 by Scott Erb on November 21, 2012 - 15:09

      Well, that quote is a bit obsolete. That feeds into the temptation to just choose a side and assume it is completely right. I think heroes like Sadat, Rabin, and Begin to move to a better situation. We need a few more like that – leadership matters here too!

    • #7 by SShiell on November 22, 2012 - 08:41

      • #8 by Scott Erb on November 22, 2012 - 09:11

        The problem is you seem to be equating a Hamas extremist with all the Palestinians or Arabs. That’s the error of collectivization. You see people as collectives rather than individuals, and in this case the error is to apply the motives of the most extreme to others in a way to justify brutality. That’s been the error done by many who define themselves and enemies as collectives. Both sides do that (I can give you quotes and examples from the pro-Palestinian side that do the same thing your quotes do, but blaming the Israelis), and both sides are making the same error. That’s the essence of the problem. Come on, SShiell, rise from seeing things in collectivist terms, you’re better than that!

      • #9 by SShiell on November 22, 2012 - 14:33

        I can break it down by asking two very simple questions:

        1) What would happen if the Israelis were to lay down their arms?
        2) What wopuld happen if the the Paestinians were to do the same?

        The answer to the first is that Israel and the Jews would cease to exist, violently, within a very short period of time. The answer to the second is the conflict, at least between Israeli and Palestinian, would be over. That is not seeing things through “collectivist terms” but reality.

      • #10 by Scott Erb on November 22, 2012 - 14:37

        Well, we have had an example – the Palestinians were essentially defenseless for a long time after 1967. They were put in occupied territories, mistreated, had Jewish settlements pop up (often with swimming pools in their yards while the Palestinian settlements lacked water), and had economic and political rights denied.

        So you see, the Palestinians took up arms in response to a perception they had no other choice. It started with rocks being hurled in the Intifada. So we’ve seen what would happen if the Palestinians were essentially defenseless – and it wasn’t good for them.

        Now, there is another side, an Israeli side, to that same argument, but that’s my point. Any side that wants to make it seem like their side is clearly the good side and the other side clearly the bad can only do so if they take a very peculiar interpretation of history/reality.

      • #11 by SShiell on November 22, 2012 - 23:51

        Until the answer of the above posed question from the Palestinians perspective changes there WILL NOT be any peace in the region – regardless of what the Israelis do or do not do!

        Five (5) times the Palestinians have been given their own state and each time they have refused! Why? All they had to do was accept Israel’s right to exist. One example? Carter’s peace initiative, from which he won the Nobel, came as a result of a two state solution signed and sealed by Palestinian and Israeli leaders, brokered by Carter. It required two simple things from the Palestinians, recognition of Israels right to exist and elimination of the PLO’s chartered declaration of the violent destruction of the Jewish state and the Jews. Arafat reneged, probably to save his own skin, and initiated the Intifata you reference.

        Sorry, if that is an error of “collectivism”, I can live with it!

        Cheers & out!

      • #12 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2012 - 00:26

        No, you’re wrong, SShiell. First, the Palestinian Authority has accepted Israel’s right to exist, that was in the Oslo Accords. The PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist and renounced any claims for territory beyond what was taken in 1967. Hamas doesn’t accept Israel’s right to exist, but the PA does. I have no clue what you mean by five times they’ve been given their own state. Can you elaborate? Anyway, the PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist and abandoned any claim that Israel should be destroyed. I’m surprised you did not know this.

      • #13 by SShiell on November 23, 2012 - 13:17

        Then you need to tell the PLO this. Regarding the changes to the PLO Charter supposedly made by Arafat, an internal PLO document from the Research and Thought Department of Fatah stated that changing the Covenant would have been “suicide for the PLO” and continued:

        “The text of the Palestinian National Covenant remains as it was and no changes whatsoever were made to it. This has caused it to be frozen, not annulled. The drafting of the new National Covenant will take into account the extent of Israeli fulfillment of its previous and coming obligations… evil and corrupt acts are expected from the Israeli side… The fact that the PNC did not hold a special session to make changes and amendments in the text of the National Covenant at this stage… was done to defend the new Covenant from being influenced by the current Israeli dictatorship” (Internal PLO Document, 26 May 1998)

        In January 1998, before the second Gaza meeting, Faisal Hamdi Husseini, head of the legal committee appointed by the PNC, stated “There has been a decision to change the Covenant. The change has not yet been carried out”. (source: Yearbook of the United Nations, 1998 volumn 52)

        The PLO (Fatah) covenant has not been changed – publicly. Supposedly there is a version available but it has not been acknowledged publicly by Fatah.

        Lastly, I would question any negotiation made by Fatah, Hamas or Hezbulla – Why? Taqqiya (which means cunning/deceit) which is allowed for any agreement or negotiation with a non-muslim.

        I’m surprised you did not know this!

  4. #14 by Titfortat on November 21, 2012 - 06:07

    Most of us are unwilling to look at the backdrop of most of these conflicts and how we all are tied in. Religion. The divide really boils down to this one simple fact, as long as we associate who we are with what are religious backgrounds are, then there will be conflict. Even as a moderate in your faith, that belief still puts you as “different” than your fellow human. For many, in all religions, its not a huge step to believe that they are better or the chosen ones. As far as religions go I would say this is something they all have in common. Unfortunately I dont see this mess changing in my lifetime or my child’s for that matter. 😦

    • #15 by Scott Erb on November 21, 2012 - 07:41

      The problem with looking at religion is that religion only became a factor later in the conflict. Jews and Muslims lived peacefully (Muhammad in fact commanded respect for Jews and had many Jewish and Christian friends) for a long time. Only after the 1967 and 1973 wars did Arab anger lead to an extremist faction of Islam injecting religion into the conflict. It need not be that way, Islam is not necessarily an extreme religion and historically been a tolerant religion. Now extremism has been injected, but it isn’t the ‘natural’ form of Islam.

      • #16 by Titfortat on November 21, 2012 - 11:26


        Im not necessarily just looking at Islam, Im looking at religion in general. The truth is all religions have periods of peace and cooperation but inevitably at some point the extremism of faith rears its ugly head. This is definately one of those periods. Christianity in its most extreme form(Evangelicals) in the US, is a driving force for much of the ills in the mideast. The neocons are bent on preserving AND extending Israel’s borders so as to fulfill Biblical prophecy. That coupled with radical views in the Jewish community and the Muslim community has created a powderkeg that seems to be on the verge of exploding.

      • #17 by Scott Erb on November 21, 2012 - 15:07

        Yes, and once the conflict became less about land and colonialism and more about religion it became much more difficult to solve!

      • #18 by Titfortat on November 21, 2012 - 18:03

        Yep, land is at least rational. You have more than me. When you get into the invisible things get much more complicated.

  5. #19 by GiRRL_Earth on November 21, 2012 - 09:56

    Great post Scott. I’m so glad you blogged about this. I have been waiting for someone (of the bloggers I follow) to write about the conflict.

    As I was reading through your post, my mind couldn’t help but jump to the English Comedian: Eddie Izzard. During his “Dressed to Kill” tour in San Fran. Eddie spoke about how the Germans and the Japanese should be made the “Peace Keepers”. He said, [and I’m paraphrasing, quite poorly I might add] Whenever there is conflict and/or war, we should send in the Germans and the Japanese and they will tell everyone, “…look, chill out, just chill out. we’ve done this before, and it will end badly…”

    I was married to a Jewish man and like another poster commented, I “absorbed the Jewish perspective”. I take no sides in this matter; however, I do find it interesting that religion always seems to be the foundation (and justification) for war.

    When will humans learn? ARGH!

    • #20 by Scott Erb on November 21, 2012 - 15:03

      The thing is, the Germans and Japanese have actually become two of the most pacifistic cultures! Thanks for the response – it is a bit bizarre how people use religion to justify acts of barbarism.

      • #21 by GiRRL_Earth on November 21, 2012 - 15:38

        Really? Huh. I did not know that. But in any case, I couldn’t help but mention Eddie Izzard — the guy is a riot, he pokes fun at everything but not in a disrespectful way like, for example: Dennis Leary.

        Happy vegan Thanksgiving. 🙂

      • #22 by GiRRL_Earth on November 21, 2012 - 15:48

        Here’s the link to Eddie Izzard:

        If you don’t want to watch the entire bit, just fast forward to 6:14. It’s funny.

  6. #23 by SShiell on November 23, 2012 - 13:36

    “I have no clue what you mean by five times they’ve been given their own state. Can you elaborate?”

    To elaborate:

    The first offer was made by the Peel Commission. The Peel Commission of 1936-1937, formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission, was a British Royal Commission of Inquiry set out to propose changes to the British Mandate for Palestine following the outbreak of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. It was headed by Lord Peel. On 11 November, 1936, the commission arrived in Palestine to investigate the reasons behind the uprising. It returned to Britain on 18 January 1937. On 7 July, 1937, it published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition. Although initially endorsed by the government, it was condemned by the Arabs.

    In 1947, just before Israel as a modern day nation existed, the UN proposed a partition plan (UN Resolution 181). The Arabs would have 45% of the land, and the Jews would have 55%. Jerusalem would be an international city. The Jews accepted the UN’s plan. Every single Arab state rejected the plan. The following year when Israel became a nation, the government offered full citizenship to Arab residents. But Arab states responded by invading the one day old state, seeking to completely destroy it.

    In 2000, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time made an offer to the Palestinians. He offered Yasser Arafat 73% of the West Bank and all of the Gaza strip. But the Palestinian Authority Chairman turned the offer down.

    In 2001 US President Bill Clinton proposed a Palestinian state in 94% to 96% of The West Bank and all of Gaza. This would have effectively been a return to 1967 borders. Reluctant to give away so much land, but desperate for peace, the Israeli cabinet accepted the Clinton Proposal. The Palestinian leadership rejected it.

    Finally, in 2008 Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem. Once again, the Palestinians turned down the offer.

    I’m surprised you did not know this!

    • #24 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2012 - 13:57

      It was a requirement of Rabin that the PLO accept Israel’s right to exist and refrain from any demands beyond the 1967 war. I’ve always said that the Arabs should have accepted the UNSCOP proposal after WWII. The 2000-01 negotiations were just that – negotiations. It was a framework that could have led to a Palestinian state, but more needed to be worked out before it could have become a true state. Personally I think Arafat should have accepted the the Clinton/Barak deal (that’s why I didn’t put him up there with Sadat, Rabin and Begin – Arafat chickened out), but that doesn’t justify what Sharon did next (though Sharon learned that military victory was impossible and he changed his strategy dramatically after a few years). Olmert’s proposals never got to a true negotiation stage, so it wasn’t a true offer of a state. Plus without Gaza no agreement is possible. You’re mistaking negotiations for actual offers of a state!

      I don’t care if “convenants” have been changed or not, they are not really relevant. The treaty obligations and commitments are clear – there would have been no Oslo accords if the PLO hadn’t accepted Israel’s right to exist. The PLO (now PA) has renounced territory demands beyond that taken in 1967. Moreover, internal documents leaked to Wikileaks a while back also show that Hamas knows Israel isn’t going away. It’s a well known secret that despite the bluster for negotiating purposes the Arabs (and Iranians) understand that Israel is here to stay.

      And the bottom line remains the same – anyone who tries to blame just one side is looking at the issue through warped lenses. In any event, Israel can never have peace and security without coming to terms with the Palestinians, and Palestine can never have a viable state without being able to guarantee security to Israel.

      The good news: now that Mubarak is gone and the Arab Spring has brought new leadership, there’s a chance for true movement. Morsi’s deft diplomacy in this conflict has increased his standing and also showed that the Muslim Brotherhood can play a positive role. I think ultimately the Arab Spring will be remembered as an essential part of bringing a peace agreement to the region. Stay tuned!

    • #25 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2012 - 14:05

      By the way, if it isn’t clear in the wording – your claim the Palestinians were offered a state in 2000 and 2001 can only be true if you also claim that the Israelis were offered peace by the Palestinians at those times. That’s why you can’t call negotiations “offers” – either side can claim they offered the other side a solution. Neither side accepted the other side’s position, which is why it’s a negotiation. (Though in 1948 the Arabs are to blame for not accepting the UN settlement — I can see why they didn’t, to them the Jews were simply European colonizers taking Arab land — the holocaust was bad, but if they get land because they suffered, the Arabs reasoned, shouldn’t it be from Germany? While I understand the anti-colonial position they took, with the Arabs saying the Jews could stay but only as part of a larger democratic Palestine, practical politics should have trumped that idealism and led them to accept).

    • #26 by SShiell on November 23, 2012 - 18:53

      You seem to put a lot of store in what Arafat signed. His signature does not necessarily constitute PLO acceptance and there is no evidence beyond Arafat’s word of anything else having occurred. That is why I mention the covenants. Fatah to this day states the charter has not changed – and that was a critical point of the negotiations.

      Arafat spoke glowingly of peace to the world but then preached Intifata once he returned home. Many middle east experts of the day felt he had to or face violent overthrow – that means death to us westerners.

      Regardless of how you may question their legitimacy, the palestinians were offered their own state on five seperate occasions. The offer may have only been an initial framework, but from what I have been able to determine, the offers made at the time were legitimate. That fact does not alter the current situation but it adds perspective, especially why the Israelis are reluctant to trust the Palestinians current motives. (And personally I don’t blame them for their reluctance – evidence: current cease fire begins and 12 rockets are fired into Israel one hour later – yeah, the Palestinians are to be trusted. Heh.)

      • #27 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2012 - 19:42

        Yes, the Oslo Accords are legal, they are followed by the PA, they have quite often been reaffirmed by Abbas and others in the PA, and they matter a lot more than any old Covenants. They act in accord with the Oslo Accords, if they didn’t the very then Israel could declare the PA invalid and remove the rights to goverance they have in much of the occupied territories.

        That said I fully agree that Israel has legitimate concerns and suspicions. I have many friends who are very adamant about the Palestinian plight and they consider me pro-Israel because I make the same point to them as I make to you – both sides have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. I consider myself pro-Israel in that I believe Israel deserves security and its neighbors must accept its right to exist and defend itself. I consider myself pro-Palestinian because I believe the Palestinians deserve a viable state containing most of the territory occupied after 1967. I disagree with Hamas and the claims the Palestinians often make about right of return. I disagree with Israel putting in more Jewish settlements making it more difficult for a Palestinian state to be viable. I understand both sides on Jerusalem – I think Arafat should have accepted the 2001 plan, but I also think Barak should have agreed to some kind of internationalization of parts of East Jerusalem.

        So it’s tough. The Arabs can’t drive the Jews into the sea, and the Israelis can’t drive the Arabs into the desert.

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