On not following the Israel-Palestine conflict

When I was doing my MA at CTS, I took a Christian Ethics course in which I prepared a presentation on the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was at that point that I decided to stop following the news related to that conflict on an ongoing basis, because it seemed clear to me that the same thing was going to keep happening over and over. My basis for thinking that is a perception that the only long-term stable solutions are either the two-state solution or just plain getting rid of all the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Given that no country seems willing to take them, including the neighboring Arab countries that are supposedly so outraged at their plight, the only way to implement option two would probably be to round them all up and murder them — and I think we can all hope that the weight of historical irony would be unbearable enough to take that option “off the table.”

One would think, then, that Israel would obviously opt for the two-state solution as its only long-term option — but that ignores the fact that the medium-term can last a long, long time. An inherently unstable situation can stabilize into what one might call a shitty equilibrium. In this case: Israel continues to lock down Gaza while seizing more and more land in the West Bank, and occasionally some group of Palestinians will do something antagonistic that Israel will use as a pretext for using military force. People will die, lives will be ruined — but fundamentally nothing can change, because Israel can’t just “take over” the occupied territories outright without facing three unthinkable options: an officially-recognized apartheid state, the loss of Israel’s Jewish character, or the above-mentioned “option two.”

Israeli politicians get to look tough, and both sides get to kick the two-state can further down the road — rinse and repeat.

There are many parallels to the shitty equilibrium that Israel is perpetuating, but I think that perhaps the most illuminating (albeit perhaps inflammatory) is North Korea. Just like Israel, it’s in an inherently unstable situation where the only two long-term options are unfavorable: either conquer South Korea (which is utterly impossible) or be dissolved into South Korea (hence dissolving the North Korean elite class). So what does North Korea do to buy itself more time? It occasionally responds to trumped up “provocations” with a show of force, in order to look tough and thus buy itself some degree of legitimacy among the long-suffering North Korean people. Perpetuating the unstable shitty equilibrium as long as possible is the direct goal of everything they do.

Of course, I’m not saying that Israel is in all ways parallel to North Korea — just that their foreign policy seems broadly similar. (One could even say that China and the U.S. play parallel roles in the two cases.)

7 thoughts on “On not following the Israel-Palestine conflict

  1. thank you, Adam! i’ve been trying to get a bead on why so many people including academic friends and colleagues, seem no longer to care about Israel/Palestine. In terms of background and professional interest, I’m kind of stuck at this unhappy place. Glad to see that others are not. For what it’s worth, I think your analysis is pretty much right except insofar as it obscures a little the Hamas contribution to this mess. But you’ve got the Israeli side of the bargain spot on. I’ve been trying to post at “Jewish Philosophy Place” about Gaza. Am just about out of gas. Best, Zb

  2. I was trying to avoid the genre of “properly distributing blame,” which seems to preoccupy people to an astounding degree. In my view, Israel’s so much more powerful that I don’t really care to what extent the Palestinians are “to blame.” Israel could pull out of the Occupied Territories today and still be one of the richest and most militarily powerful countries in the world.

  3. Every so often one encounters a piece that expresses one’s own unenunciated sensibility in a somehow novel and deeply satisfying way. On I/P, this was it. Thank you.

  4. 1) Israel is “one of the richest and most militarily powerful countries in the world” not due to some inherent awesomeness and economic/political resources, but solely due to US sponsorship.

    2) Why can’t there be a “one-state” solution? Israelis and Palestinians living in one democratic state? The answer to that question will determine the answer to all of your other questions.

  5. ” and I think we can all hope that the weight of historical irony would be unbearable enough to take that option “off the table.” ”

    For most people the historical irony is already there in at least an ersatz form. The imprisonment of a million people inside a controlled space where food and materials are allocated dietetically is ugly enough on its face.

  6. It is true that the basic dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed in too many years, and may well remain stagnant for time to come. Yet we may also witnessing a crack in that encrusted beast. The election of Mursi in Egypt has shown signs of a shift in the geopolitical equation. Because of his closer ties to the Hamas and greater independence from U. S. policy, he has weighed in effectively in this most recent outburst of violence in and around the Gaza strip. In my view he has played a pivotal role in halting the Israeli ground invasion both by showing support for Hamas against Israel (in a sort of bluff Mubarak would never have played) and in persuading Hamas to halt (at least for the moment) its provocative shelling of Israel – the continual excuse (along with sporadic suicide attacks) Israel has had to exert disproportionate force and pressure on the Palestinians. Question is whether he can now sort out his own domestic problems with the Egyptian people to remain in power and use it to leverage a lift on the Gaza blockade. If he can do that, then there might be hope for a less militarized Gaza that could cooperate more with the PA to negotiate more vigorously with Israel. All this is still, however, only a part of the problem. As long as the Likud holds sway in Israel, nothing substantial will change. There is evidence, however, that Zippi Livni of Kadima (despite her conventional views on settlements) may yet emerge as a credible peace partner – if her party manages to outflank the Likud and Labor. That, at the moment at least, looks quite difficult.

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