Sunday, August 8, 2010

Walter Reich on why Israelis despair of peace

"The Despair of Zion," Walter Reich.  The Wilson Quarterly. Summer 2010.

Walter Reich sheds some light on Israelis' profound doubts about the prospects for peace after the failure of the Oslo process,  the fallout from recent attempts to withdraw from territories, and the rise of Hamas.  "Any effort to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he writes, "must reckon with the fact that bitter experience has taught many Israelis to doubt that their foes want a lasting concord."

He offers a list of ten beliefs and fears contributing to Israelis' despair over the prospects for peace.

Here are two that I think many self-proclaimed "students of The Conflict" are completely blind to, even as they insist that Americans are always "beaten over the head with the Israeli narrative." Somehow, despite this much-hyped control of the media, Israelis' views about the challenges to peace are not at all on their radar. The two concerns below are at least as relevant to questions of "justice" and "peace" in the  Levant as any other purported fact mustered to implicate Jewish wrongdoing: the systematic indoctrination to hatred of Jews and Israelis and delegitimization of the modern state of Israel throughout the Palestinian territories (and beyond), and the growing exploitation of the language and laws of human rights--by those in no position to call out others, who even mock Israelis' own respect for human life--but invoke them in order turn those who respect human rights against the one nation in the Middle East that also respects and systematically protects human rights.

The Palestinians will never accept the existence of Israel, and systematically teach their children that they must never do so, either.

It’s this belief, probably more than any other, that causes Israeli despair.

Israelis have grown accustomed to being pilloried in the most crude and violent terms in Palestinian mosques. And they’ve grown accustomed to media controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank that regularly undermine the readiness to accept Israel alongside a future Palestinian state—that glorify suicide bombers, quote Muhammad as saying that Jews must be killed, accuse Israelis of poisoning and spreading AIDS among Palestinians, deny that the Holocaust happened, claim that Jews never had a history in the land and that there was never any Temple in Jerusalem, and insist that Jews should leave the area and go back to their “original” homelands—Europe and Ethiopia.

Israelis might feel reassured that peace is possible if it were promoted in the Palestinian Authority’s education system; even if the current Palestinian generation isn’t ready to accept the Jewish state, maybe a future one will. But they know that Palestinian students study maps in their textbooks on which Israel doesn’t exist and watch television programs aimed at young people that identify cities in Israel as being part of Palestine.

Moreover, the other Palestinian territory—Gaza—is governed by a group, Hamas, that is forthright in declaring that it will fight until Israel is gone, and that promotes this ideology in every way it can in its own media and education system. Even if the Palestinian Authority were to foster the ideal of coexistence among its students, what about the students in Gaza?

Palestinians attack Israel from behind civilian human shields, but any response by Israel, however careful, that harms those civilians is condemned, while the tactic itself, which is a crime of war, is ignored.

Israelis have concluded that this new form of warfare has undercut the effectiveness of the military strength on which they long relied. They know they have a powerful army—the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF—that faces, in the cases of the Palestinians and Hezbollah in Lebanon, adversaries that lack tanks or planes. But Israelis have discovered that their military superiority is blunted, even useless, when their adversaries are willing to use the very people whose cause they claim to champion as shields behind which to fire rockets. That’s what happened during Israel’s three-week incursion into Gaza in the winter of 2008–09, which it launched after being bombarded by thousands of rockets. And that’s what happened during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the Palestinians’ ally on Israel’s northern border, which hid its rockets in schools, mosques, and hospitals, so that Israel couldn’t target the rockets without also destroying those schools, mosques, and hospitals—and killing civilians. Like the United States and other countries fighting in the Middle East, Israel doesn’t know how to fight such a war. And when it tries, it’s accused of war crimes. Israelis worry that the military they built to defend their country can’t do it without bringing upon Israel international condemnation.