I’m continually appalled, although no longer surprised, by what both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“the conflict” from now on) are willing to do. Islamic Jihad sends a suicide bomber and blows up a bus loaded with Israelis who’s only crime is being Israeli – Israel bulldozes the bomber’s family’s home. Israeli special forces assassinate a leader of Hamas – Hamas responds with Katyusha rockets launched willy-nilly at Israeli towns. Hezbollah kidnaps Israeli soldiers – Israel invades Lebanon and cluster bombs on entire Lebanese villages.
It’s been going on for so long now that we can’t even assign blame anymore. I got pull-off-the-road-and-calm-down furious on Monday when, in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered Monday afternoon, a Gaza politician claimed that either a) Israeli collaborators had launched the rockets into Israel as a pretext or b) there had been no launches at all and Israel was faking the whole thing. And I got just as furious this morning when I the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. refused to admit that Israeli commandos had been assassinating Hamas leaders during the cease fire in yet another NPR interview.
Hammurabi came up with the first written code of laws – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And the result of following that law is that Israelis and Palestinians have each become toothless, blind, deaf, mute, and stupid.
I’ve lost the hope for a negotiated peace I had when I was young and naive – there have just been too many cycles of violence and so-called ceasefires for me to believe that diplomacy is viable at this point. All that’s left is a final solution to the conflict – annihilation. Either the state of Israel will cease to exist or the Palestinians will.
Let’s be frank here: if the international community wanted the conflict to end, it would. Neither Israel nor its neighbors could resist the combined military and economic might of the rest of the world. So if Europe, the U.S., Russia, and the rest of the Middle East was willing to say “enough is enough,” then the conflict would be over within a year, two at the outside (the first year for both parties to realize we’re serious, and a year to negotiate the actual agreement). This means that the rest of the world wants the conflict to continue; other nations find it valuable or useful.
The autocratic governments around the Middle East are the ones whose motivations are easiest to divine. What they get out of the ongoing conflict is a convenient distraction for their own restless population, and especially for their angry youths. Young people who would otherwise be focused on their own government’s failings on human rights, their country’s lack of jobs and services, and so on spew their bile on, and occasionally detonate their bodies in, the state of Israel instead. And in the process the autocrats maintain their own power. So the governments of the Middle East have every reason to keep the conflict going forever – they need to keep Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah powerful enough to harass Israel, but weak enough that they can’t actually destroy Israel. And Egypt, Iran, Iraq under Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria, et al have become masters at it.
I’m hardly an expert, so I have to make an educated guess about what Europe in general gets out of this, but I think it’s very similar to what the Middle East nations get – a distraction. Europe has massive Arab and Muslim minority communities that are pretty much shat upon by their host nations – just look at the riots by Muslim immigrant youths in France in 2005, or how the Turkish minority claims to be treated in Germany, or the lack of integration of Muslims in Great Britain. All of these communities would be more likely to demand rights and services and integration from their host nations if the conflict didn’t exist. In other words, second-class citizens would start demanding the same rights that all other citizens get automatically, and that not only be economically expensive but would also create unrest throughout the rest of society. And as the gay marriage debate in the U.S. shows, large numbers of people irrationally believe that granting rights and privileges to others somehow denigrates their own rights and privileges.
I’m also not entirely sure what the United States gets out of the conflict, but I know what the U.S. gets out of the existence of Israel, and it’s entirely possible that U.S. politicians have historically viewed the conflict as an unfortunate but tolerable side effect. By supporting Israel, the U.S. gets a ally in a mostly friendly and democratic nation smack in the middle of a region that is vital to our national interest. We need the Middle East’s oil, and it’s possible that prior administrations have considered the oil supply so vital that no disruptions could be permitted. And I can understand the logic of how the devil you know (the al-Saud royal family, for example) may well be better than the devil you don’t (any government that rises up following a hypothetical overthrow of said royal family). So anything that keeps the Saudis stable and in power keeps the oil flowing to American automobiles and trucks, and if that means the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians, then at least it doesn’t mean the deaths of Americans. Or something along those lines, anyway.
So the world has an interest in keeping the conflict going. And that’s why diplomacy won’t work. Stopping the conflict is as simple as the U.S. stopping aid to Israel and the various Middle East governments stopping aid to the Palestinians until a final treaty was negotiated and signed. The economic and social disruption that would result would be so devastating that the two sides would have no choice but come to the table in good faith and with a willingness to compromise. But instead we’ll continue to have European governments bemoaning the carnage in Gaza while the U.S. defends Israel’s right to defend the citizens of Sederot from Katyusha, but since everyone has a vested interest in keeping the carnage going, it’ll never stop via diplomatic means. At least, not until the U.S.’ vested interest in keeping Israel going fades with our dependence on Middle Eastern oil….
Which brings us to the latest cycle of violence in the conflict, the bombing of Gaza and the launching of Katyusha rockets in to southern Israel.
Officially, Israel is seeking a military solution to the problem of the Katyusha rockets. No military solution exists. In the sphere of military conflict, when one side loses the ability to continue fighting, the other wins. The problem in Gaza is that the conflict is military vs. insurgent/terrorist, and the only way to destroy Hamas’ and the Palestinians’ ability to fight is to convince the people to turn against the insurgents and terrorists hiding among them and to stop producing more insurgents/terrorists. You can do that a number of ways – economic reconstruction, improved human rights and greater freedoms, bribry – but you can’t do it by bombing neighborhoods or destroying government buildings. Bombing neighborhoods injures so many innocent people (who’s only crime is to be Palestinian) that it creates more new Hamas members than it destroys and thus increases Hamas’ ability to fight. And destroying government buildings hurts Hamas’ command, control, or communications infrastructure not at bit.
Actually, I was wrong – there is a military solution to the conflict, but just one – ethnic cleansing via the forced relocation or mass murder of all 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and probably the million or so Israeli Arabs too. Israel almost certainly has the military might to do this, especially if the U.S. didn’t cut off military assistance in the process – the Gaza Strip, home to about 1.5 million Palestinians, is only 139 square miles, or about 1/11th the size of the state of Rhode Island. The other 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, in an area about 20% larger than Rhode Island. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) normally has only a couple hundred thousand active soldiers, and 200,000 soldiers against four million Palestinians means the Palestinians win. But the IDF is composed of conscripts – nearly every physically able man and woman enters the IDF at the age of 18, resulting in upwards of three million available soldiers. So when you’re putting three million Israeli soldiers against four million Palestinian civilians, the Israelis win. And with the overwhelming technological superiority of the IDF, the IDF wins against a guaranteed Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, etc. assault to protect their fellow Arabs too.
But let us assume that the state of Israel is unwilling to become like the very monster that nearly destroyed them during World War II. It’s a pretty good assumption, after all. Israel won’t be committing genocide against the Palestinians any time soon. As harsh as the Israeli governments tactics are, they’re not as bad as gas chambers. But Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and, to a lesser extent, Hezbollah have no such historical moral restrictions. In fact, they’ve called for the destruction of Israel and actively work toward it. And with Israel’s counterproductive military tactics of punishing families and entire communities backfiring and creating more terrorists, Hamas et al will ultimately gather enough force to existentially threaten Israel. Not this year or next, but given the demographic advantages the Palestinians have over Israelis, it’s only a matter of time. And if Israel thinks that they’re facing an existential threat today, imagine how bad it’ll be when they’re facing not 10,000 Palestinian terrorists hiding among four million civilians, but rather a million Palestinian terrorists hiding among 10 million civilians.
Three million IDF soldiers against 10 million Palestinian civilians and one million Palestinian terrorists isn’t a guaranteed win for Israel by any stretch.
Of course, the state of Israel could be destroyed by peaceful means instead of by Palestinian pogrom. It was created by international fiat, it could be dissolved and the citizens spread throughout the world in another diaspora by another international fiat backed by international military might. Not that this is likely, of course – it’s more likely that the international community would force a negotiated settlement, and you know how likely I think that is.
So what will be the final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? More conflict. More rockets and suicide bombings. More airstrikes and assassinations. And the conflict will last until the developed world no longer relies on dictators and monarchs who rely on oil wealth to fuel their economies instead of freedom and education.
When the world doesn’t need or can’t afford Middle Eastern oil any more, it won’t need or enable the Israeli-Palestinian conflict either.
All images from AFP