"Vengeance is mine...."
Stephen Eric Bronner*
Full disclosure: I was born a German-Jew, but I have never identified with Israel, nor have I shied away from criticizing Israeli policies. I feel the deepest sorrow for the Palestinian people, but I am also sharply critical of their leadership and its political choices. Forty thousand Palestinians have just turned into "internally displaced persons" (IDPs) in their own land and Israeli settlements have invaded their territory, but I do not view a one-state solution as realistic. Fashionable talk about it being the "only" solution seems to always avoid specifying the institutions it will require, plausible policies focusing on complex problems like "the right of return," and ideas for dealing with majorities on both sides who understandably distrust each other and harbor deep historical resentments. That is why formal negotiations must take place between organizations of civil society in Israel and Palestine, perhaps using the Geneva Initiative of 2003 as a model, if only so that politicians on both sides can see what the people really want.
Israelis and Palestinians are two nations with two cultures and two very different histories: that of the colonizer and that of the colonized. In a world averse to explaining the logic of events, the great Tunisian-Jewish thinker Albert Memmi has much to teach. His use of the "Nero complex" explains how colonizers take over a land, proud of exporting the benefits of civilization, while the colonized resist such beneficence. In quelling the resistance, however, the "civilized" colonizer feels an unconscious guilt as well as resentment against the ingratitude of the colonized. With each uprising, therefore, the colonizer's repression will intensify leading to more intense resistance by the colonized - and so on.
That is what we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pogroms and concentration camps from the Jewish past, as Karl Marx would have put it, "weigh like nightmares on the brains of the living." They feel themselves victims and enough Israelis are still amazed at the Palestinians' refusal to acknowledge the modern advances that Jewish settlers brought to supposedly nomadic tribes. So, the old slogan: "a land without a people for a people without a land." The mixture of guilt and resentment expresses itself in the blending of Israel's occasional humanitarian actions with the inhuman brutality of acts of its military attacks. In any event, through this cycle of violence, which is buttressed by $4 billion in yearly aid from the United States, Israel has turned into the hegemonic power in the region. Its participation in the Nero complex has completely destroyed its moral capital. No longer is it the band of heroes memorialized in tendentious works like Leon Uris's novel, Exodus, and its film application. Just as Israel possesses overwhelming military power, while ostracized by the world community, Palestinian sovereignty has been recognized diplomatically, even while its people have been reduced to supplicants.
In keeping with this contradictory situation, Palestinian policy has recently assumed that pressure by the world community would somehow change the outlook of Israeli politicians. But this mistaken view ignores Israel's self-perceptions as the historical victims of global indifference and anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the "Abraham Accords," introduced by President Donald Trump, mistakenly assumed that the Palestinians were no longer relevant and that they had given up the cause. Yet, history shows that conflicts don't simply fade away. Trump's overwhelmingly pro-Israel policy, and his blindness toward the Palestinians' plight, while negotiating with other Arab states, showed a remarkable lack of intelligence and foresight.
That the Arab world has become sick of the Palestinian struggle, and its cynically incompetent leadership was already clear to me in 2007 when, while engaging in civic diplomacy in Sudan and Darfur with Conscience International, two ranking Sudanese politicians asked what I thought about their country (then under Sharia law) improving its ties with Israel. Their frustration with Palestinian politics was obvious, and I don't believe that was an anomaly. Under pressure from below in the face of the Israeli war machine, however, Arab states must show their public support for the Palestinian rebellion. Nevertheless, what this means in terms of their long-term foreign policy interests is unclear, and whether their outrage will remain six months from now is highly doubtful - at least to me.
Shattering the impact of ideology means beginning from the bottom up rather than the top down. Like some school-yard brawl, only with more drastic consequences, it doesn't matter who started the fight. What does matter is that provocations from one side draws in the other. Hamas has now fired 3,000 missiles, mostly supplied by Iran, almost all of which are intercepted by an "iron dome" anti-missile system supplied by the United States. Meanwhile, Israeli missiles destroy the dense cities of Gaza. The radical imbalance of destruction and death heightens sympathy for Israel at home and Palestine abroad.
Negotiations between these two powers that focus solely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are obviously necessary. Calling for this, however, does not sell newspapers or lift ratings. The mainstream media always insist that this rebellion will prove decisive. That this one is different. Of course, it never is, but the audience forgets. Uprising after uprising, intifada after intifada, has produced roughly the same disparate result: hundreds of Palestinians and about a dozen Israelis killed, Israeli cities threatened, its borderline settlements bombed, while large-scale buildings and Palestinian infrastructure is wrecked, later to be rebuilt, before it is wrecked again. 250,000 Palestinians might well lack drinking water due to an Israeli bombing of a desalination plant. This time the battle between Arabs and Jews has struck Israeli cities like Lod and Haifa, which were once considered happily integrated. A third intifada is in the making, but the end result will undoubtedly prove the same: unequal costs paid by innocent Palestinians, reaffirmation of imbalances of power that favor Israel, and legitimation of perhaps the most short-sighted, self-serving, and corrupt political leaderships in the global community.
Einstein was surely right when he noted that insanity comes down to doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is desperate to win yet another election, if only to avoid jail-time for bribery and other acts, in a deeply fractured country. It is meanwhile common knowledge that Khaled Meshal and Hamas along with their rivals, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, are robbing their people blind. Still, it's a basic rule of politics that the nation rallies around its leaders in a time of war.
If the violence continues, domestic disagreements will probably make way for "Jewish" unity against the nation's Arab citizens and the Palestinians. As for Meshal and Abbas, however, unity between their organizations seems much more elusive: each would need to compromise his power and both have seemingly been in power forever. Hamas enjoys the spotlight while leading the fight - whatever the collateral damage to its own people - and who cares if it takes the opportunity to crackdown on dissidents. The activism of Hamas stands in contrast to the paralysis displayed by the Palestinian Authority, which can neither negotiate, since it does not speak for its rival in Gaza, nor fight since it has been given administrative authority and receives financial support from Israel.
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