The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Made Super

View of the old city of Jaffa from Tel Aviv, February 28, 2008
View of the old city of Jaffa from Tel Aviv, February 28, 2008 (Matas Petrikas)

And here we go again.

Especially in the United States, Palestinian-Israeli violence always sucks up the headlines, siphoning valuable media and filling it with tried-and-true journalistic narratives that play to the myriad of biases that always come to the fore when discussing the Holy Land.

Evangelical Christians get their dose of Biblical chaos, hoping beyond hope that this time, the Rapture will follow this latest spasm of violence. Conservatives and neoconservatives find yet more ammunition against Islam, Islamism or, to the brute racists lurking among them, merely Arabs in general to fill the Facebook comments of every article that covers the attacks. Liberals dredge up well-worn tirades against colonization, colonialism, Western power and Israeli abuse.

Rather than sit this one out, I’ve decided to delve into the very basics of the conflict at risk, of course, of revealing my own bias (spoiler: I don’t care).

So let’s make this very popular-to-recycle conflict super. Read more

Why Israel Won’t Let the West Bank Go

Israeli soldiers patrol along the West Bank barrier near Hebron, June 17, 2014
Israeli soldiers patrol along the West Bank barrier near Hebron, June 17, 2014 (IDF)

Most of Israel’s critics argue that any Israeli claim to the moral high ground is compromised by the fact that the Israeli military has been dominating the West Bank since 1967, thereby denying the Palestinians the ability to ever form their own state. While of course there is truth to this argument, it nevertheless ignores a critical point: Israel believes it must control the West Bank, at least for now, in order to ensure its own continued safety over the long-term.

Even though religion is the key motivator for most of the Jews (and Christians) who have settled or support Jewish settlement within the West Bank, Israel’s desire to control the West Bank is not ultimately rooted in religion, but rather in physical geography and “strategic necessity.” Read more

Israel Retaliates After Gaza Strikes, Escalation Unlikely

An Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft, November 30, 2008
An Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft, November 30, 2008 (Nehemia Gershuni)

In November 2012, the last time the Israeli Defense Forces had to conduct a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip, the campaign against the militant group Hamas lasted eight long days. When all was said and done, over one hundred Palestinians were dead, Gaza’s already warscarred population was forced to again rebuild their lives while Israelis had been reminded that the horrors of indiscriminate terrorism were still lurking around the corner.

One and a half years later, Israel and Hamas are locked in another confrontation along the Gaza border, with hundreds of rockets flying out of the coastal enclave and hundreds of airstrikes conducted by the Israeli army in response. The shaky ceasefire that both sides signed in November 2012 has been shattered with a familiar cycle of rocket attacks and airstrikes that Israelis and Palestinians have grown to expect.

It is a pattern that has become all too familiar to citizens of Israel and Gaza who simply want to live their lives in a relative degree of peace. That is, an incident involving civilians from one side sparks a response from the other, only to escalate into a full-blown conflagration. After several days of intense fire, everyone involved begins to slow down, reassesses their assumptions and rethinks the direction they wish to go in, until finally exploring an end to hostilities. This is how Operation Cast Lead ended in 2009 and how Operation Pillar of Defense ended in 2012 — and it is how the latest flareup in violence is likely to stop. How long it will take to reach that point, however, is far from certain.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no doubt cognizant of the fact that sending troops into hostile and densely populated Gaza is a dangerous course of action. Although the Israeli security cabinet has authorized the deployment orders of an additional 40,000 reservists, the country has thus far chosen to use the full might of its air force to pound Hamas targets into the ground. Since Operation Protective Edge commenced on Monday, Israeli jets have hit more than two hundred Hamas targets. The number will probably go up over the next several days as the IDF expands its “operations against Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza,” as Netanyahu put it.

Unfortunately, some of those airstrikes will result in the deaths of Palestinian civilians — men, women and children who either reside in the same area as Palestinian militants firing rockets or who happen to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, Israel’s top military officer, was defiant as he addressed the press on Tuesday. “We will now activate all of our force and take all the time that is needed in various stages in order to reach victory,” he said. “We will accomplish goals against Hamas, hurt it badly, remove its capabilities, defend our civilians and our country and we will exact from Hamas the full price of the strategic mistake that it has made.”

Yet just as the two previous operations against Hamas in Gaza ended with a tenuous agreement to stop the violence, Prime Minister Netanyahu will try to accomplish much the same objective: leveling just enough pain on Hamas to convince its leadership that suing for a temporary peace is preferable to a war it cannot win.

Netanyahu and the Israeli people may want to extinguish Hamas entirely but doing so would require a heavy handed, long-term, bloody campaign in a piece of territory the country was happy to vacate nine years ago. For now, restoring quiet on the southern front is the next best thing.

Obama Talks Middle East Peace Amid Crimea Crisis

President Barack Obama welcomes Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 28, 2009
President Barack Obama welcomes Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 28, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

Washington’s attention may be focused on events in the Crimea but the rest of the world is not standing still. Indeed, on the very day Russian officials moved to formally annex the peninsula from Ukraine, President Barack Obama delved into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Monday, he hosted Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in Washington DC. As was the case when Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House earlier this month, Abbas was treated to a red carpet welcome and both leaders exchanged platitudes in front of reporters about the need for peace, the importance of the diplomatic process and why the conflict needs to end after festering for so many years. As President Abbas said, “We don’t have any time to waste. Time is not on our side.”

As usual, President Obama was cautiously upbeat about the situation, despite the fact that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators remain far apart on the very issues that have ruined previous talks: settlements, borders, security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem.

“This is obviously an elusive goal and there’s a reason why it’s taken decades for us to even get to the point where we are now,” the president said. “But we remain convinced that there is an opportunity.” He added, “I believe that now is the time for not just the leaders of both sides but also the peoples of both sides to embrace this opportunity for peace.”

The question now, as it has always been, is whether Israel and the Palestinian Authority feel the same sense of urgency.

Judging from Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic efforts in recent months, it does not appear that either side is willing or able to come to the difficult political decisions that the Americans say are needed for diplomacy to succeed. Where Kerry was once optimistic about concluding a final peace agreement by April of next year, he has dialed those expectations down, pushing instead for a framework agreement that would stretch out the process further into the year. Despite the fact that the parameters of a peace agreement have been well known since the Clinton Parameters of 2000, Abbas and Netanyahu are constrained by multiple factors — some of which, like the holdout of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, are outside of their control.

Over the long-term, Obama’s discussions with Abbas are unlikely to produce more than his talks with Netanyahu; that is, without any progress on moving the process forward. At best, the administration, with Secretary Kerry in the lead, will keep Israeli-Palestinian talks going for the remainder of the year and hope that a framework will find enough common ground for Abbas and Netanyahu to latch onto.

The dispute is difficult and challenging, as Obama and Kerry have constantly said. But if there is one positive, it is that the Israelis and Palestinians continue to negotiate, if for the simple reason that neither side wants to be blamed for spoiling an effort that John Kerry has invested so much of his own credibility in.

Kerry Tries to Rescue Stalled Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, January 20, 2012
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, January 20, 2012 (DoD/D. Myles Cullen)

America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, has a lot on his plate, from the upcoming round of nuclear negotiations with Iran to the global effort in Syria to verify and destroy Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons. Yet on Wednesday, he added another item to his “to do” list — spending a full day traveling between Israel and the West Bank to resurrect a peace process that both parties believe is on the brink of collapsing. Read more

Kerry Persuades Israel, Palestinians to Enter Peace Talks

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas addresses a press conference in Whitehall, London, January 16, 2012
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas addresses a press conference in Whitehall, London, January 16, 2012 (Cabinet Office)

America’s secretary of state John Kerry concluded his meetings with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas on Friday with a last-minute commitment to return to peace talks with the Israelis. The agreement, which came after four days of intense shuttle diplomacy by Kerry, could lead to proper negotiations in Washington DC next week, the first in five years. Read more

Despite Coalition Support, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal Unlikely

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, September 2, 2009
Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, September 2, 2009 (Itzik Edri)

Despite support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two centrist coalition parties for a peace deal, Israel is unlikely to reach an accord with the Palestinians during his government. Read more