Inflaming the Middle East

The Israeli-Palæstinian conflict is now more than sixty years old. It’s clear to all, but the most extreme nationalists (of both involved nations) or naïve idealists (globally) that the only viable solution, at least for the coming decades, would be a two-state division of what is currently Israel and its occupied territories. That is the plan. It would have been pretty straightforward to implement. But it doesn’t happen. Extremists on both sides make sure it doesn’t. Israel invokes the right to self-defence when attacking large parts of the Palæstinian (and now Lebanese) population and arab militants find excuses to launch their small and medium sized rockets to Israeli cities. Yet Israel and the arab extremists are not the sole parties to blame for their excessive actions over the past twenty years. It’s largely the fault of the U.N. and the international community that stands by while countless resolutions condemning both Israel’s actions get torpedoed by the U.S., generations of children on both sides grow among dead relatives and destruction, terrorist attacks continue in Israel fuelling religious extremism and nationalism. And there we go again.

Yet the events these past few days seem like breaking the trend of the past two decades. Israel’s reaction to the kidnapping of a couple of soldiers by Hesbollah and Palestinians is not just unwarranted, it’s not just excessive — it’s a joke. It’s hypocritical. A show of force, Olmert’s great chance to show his teeth and prove his worth to his people and the world.
Friends wrote [in Hellenic] of how lopsided the coverage of the recent crisis has been by mainstream media in the U.S. these past few days: two Israeli casualties get emotionally charged paragraphs while 60 Lebanese casualties are presented as a footnote: faceless, worthless beings lost for a good reason, perhaps. A rocket attack on Haifa by Hesbollah is a terrorist attack, yet a bombardment of Beirut killing dozens, destroying vital infrastructure is a honourable ‘precision-bombing’ done in self-defence to weed out terrorists.
The current attack by Israel is not merely provoking in its imbalance, it is also hypocritical. Sharon, once labelled a ‘butcher’ extremist, responsible for hundreds of deaths of innocents (Sabra, Shatila, Qibya, Unit 101), had little left to prove when he became prime minister of Israel. His late shift in policy, culminating in the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli presence in the Gaza strip, indicates his understanding of the need for concessions and respect between the two nations if peace is to be achieved, as opposed to constant destruction and retaliation. Olmert hasn’t. Despite his participation in Kadima, not as extreme a party as Netanyahu’s Likud, Olmert is keen to convince his colleagues (and the arabs) of his intention to be firm in protecting Israel, no matter what the cost to innocent people on the other side.
I feel that Israel and Palæstine cannot resolve their differences as it stands: nationalism, religious extremism, chronic hatred and humiliation, asymmetry of force, asymmetry of diplomatic and financial support. It has been a huge mistake, by the U.N., to allow Israel to attain complete control over Palæstine before the delimitation of two states was even conceived. It has been a much bigger mistake to allow Israel to acquire nuclear weapons and significant military capability — however justified that might have been considering the intentions of its neighbours. Had the U.N. divided up Palæstine, instigated a two-state division process with a buffer zone and a considerable resident U.N. force that would protect Israel and the Palæstinians from each other as well as third parties, had the international community (see a U.S. led UN) treated Palæstinians with the dignity it has treated the Israelis, there’d probably be much less blood, hatred and destruction in the Middle East. Instead it chose to ‘repay’ Jews with Palæstine and forget about what happened next. Olmert will need to come to his senses (or be forced to do so) faster than Sharon for the peace process to continue. Hesbollah would need to disarm. Internal politics, economic interests, and an increasingly inflamed situation will undoubtedly prohibit peace between all involved anytime soon. Until the international community steps in for real.