Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Pox On Both Their Houses?

I don't write much on Israel-Palestine.  Never have.  I have one piece in an edited volume--and it is the conclusion.  I have had a few PhD students who work on that part of the world.  Otherwise, I avoid the topic like a plague despite having worked on ethnic conflict all my career (and religion is included in my definition of ethnicity by the way).  Why?  Is it because a brief speculation about how my stuff applied blew up in my face at my second job talk?  Probably not.

Is it because some impossible problems are so frustrating that it hurts to think about them?  Maybe. 

All I know is that the status quo sure as hell seems unsustainable for Israel and probably for the Palestinians.  The old mantra that Israel can be democratic or Jewish but not both seems to becoming true.  The leadership of both sides have not covered themselves in glory for the couple of decades. 

And now the politics is getting more self-destructive.  The more people settled in the West Bank means that there are more voters in the West Bank, which then creates more political heft for those who want more settlements.  This creates a built in lobby for ... irredentism.  Yes, enlarging the state of Israel to include more and more of the West Bank is irredentism.  And the problem for Israel is what happens when you include all of this territory in the political system--with the Palestinians who reside in these areas? 

I have not followed the situation so closely to understand what is going on with Hamas, but I would imagine that an inability to deliver the goods of governance might lead to a greater dependence on symbolic politics and on provoking Israel. 

I am confused about much stuff.  For instance, the initial story that has now exploded into renewed conflict was about a few Jewish kids being kidnapped and then killed.  The coverage makes it sound like this was Hamas strategy.  But was it?  Does Hamas control all violence aimed at the Israelis?  Probably not.  Just as the initial violence responding to the teens' deaths was not state-sponsored either.  Indeed, the loss of control over the process is an inevitable part of this, as the prolonged nature of the conflict leaves many on all sides dissatisfied with how their leaders are handling it. 

What is the U.S. to do?  Not sure.  The Obama Administration has entered these waters a couple of times, and have had little gained from it.  Netanyahu has done his best to crap all over Obama, so the U.S. has little ability to shape Israel's responses.  This would be a bad time to cut the flow of dollars to Israel, but I wish Obama had taken a stronger stand earlier when Netanyahu kept building more settlements.  But, again, Netanyahu has his own political games at home that trump outside pressure or the long term costs.

And this is why I don't write about this conflict--too depressing, too frustrating, and too unlikely to get resolved anytime soon.


Blair King said...

Normally, I enjoy your writing, but as you suggested on twitter, this one is a bit confused? You write: "Does Hamas control all violence aimed at the Israelis? Probably not" and ignore the fact that the current situation has little or nothing to do with the kidnappings and everything to do with Hamas lobbing 300 rockets a day at Israeli civilians. The launching of rockets is entirely under the control of Hamas since they are the ones firing the rockets. If they stopped firing rockets, the Israelis would stop shooting back. How hard is that?

Steve Saideman said...

I was (perhaps too implicitly) focusing on the kidnapping/murder of the teens.

The rockets are something else. Of course, given that the Israelis' attacks create far more fatalities than the rockets, the same question can be asked of the Israelis--why continue what they are doing?

Unknown said...

The renewed rocket attacks came AFTER the crackdown in the West Bank. It's been shown that the Israeli government knew immediately that the teens were dead (the phone call was relatively unambiguous), yet they raided thousands of homes and arrested hundreds of Palestinians. Hamas, having been quiescent up until that point, took that as a belligerent act in need of response.

Lashing out at whatever their pathetic armaments could reach is obviously not a sensible, or in any way right response, but entirely understandable in context. As for why the Israelis seek to pummel Gaza and ensure the enduring hatred of the Palestinians living there, despite zero deaths throughout the whole charade, is equally insensible yet all too understandable: those in power have so bought into a mentality of victimhood and self-righteousness that even the meager Palestinian attacks deserve massive, disproportionate force in response.

Rob Chasen said...

I'd be interested in an expansion (at your leisure, in a separate post if appropriate) on your comment that "religion is included in my definition of ethnicity". Certainly as a secular Jew, I agree in my own case that this is largely true, and so I have no problem agreeing that this is sometimes the case, but I want to think more about whether I agree that it's the general case. Possible counter-example: Catholic/Protestant Europe over hundreds of years, with a chicken-and-the-egg kind of thing going on (national/ethnic being formed from religion as much as vice versa)?

Blair King said...

I am further confused by your comments. You write: The rockets are something else...given that the Israelis' attacks create far more fatalities than the rockets, the same question can be asked of the Israelis--why continue what they are doing?

Isn't the simple answer, because when someone attacks you with a rock and you own a gun you don't drop the gun and pick up a rock? The death toll is higher but that is because Hamas uses human shields to protect them. Israel has two choices with Hamas: hit back or don't hit back. They have shown themselves to be completely uninterested in negotiation. While not hitting back has its proponents, I'm of the opinion you don't pay the Dane his Danegeld and governments should not sit idly by while terrorists terrorize their citizens.

Steve Saideman said...

This is why I don't write about Isr/Pal. Too much stupidity by both/all sides. Killing Palestinians is only going to create more terrorists and more sympathy for the extremists.

The classic definition of insanity seems to apply here: doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome?

I sympathize with the Israeli plight--what to do when the other side attaacks? But killing your way to victory? Not sure that makes sense to me.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Come now, Blair. As evidenced by the lack of Israeli deaths thus far (albeit a dozen or so unfortunate injuries), Israel in your metaphor has full plate armor and a tower shield to protect itself from the stones blindly lobbed in its direction. Something needs to be done for sure, but shooting at Hamas despite the human shields makes Israel just as negligent of human life as Hamas.

(Plus, it's important to look at things from the other's point of view. The confinement, blockade, and manslaughter Israel visits upon the Gazan populace is exactly why Hamas still finds support.)

Deleted above as I misattributed the metaphor.

Blair King said...

Steve, I tend to agree that the answer is not easy but from the Israeli side, not responding is simply not something you can do. They failed to respond to the first couple hundred rockets and the result was a couple hundred more. I cannot envision ANY serious government that would stand by and watch while enemies shot rockets at their people for days on end, disrupting lives and making life unbearable. The primary role of a government is to protect its people and when the rockets start dropping it is time for government to do what we put them in place to do.

As for your response Sean, just because the rockets are poorly aimed doesn't make them any less deadly should they hit a target.
Please, satisfy my curiosity, what would you suggest Israel should do while rockets pour over their borders and into their communities? You say "something must be done" but then end it there? Israel tried offering land for peace and were turned down. Put simply the Palestinians are incredibly poorly lead and as the expression goes never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. What the rest of the world have to recognize is that the worst enemy the Palestinians have at this time are not the Israelis but the nearby Arab states. The fact the "refugees" two generations later are still unable to get citizenship, work or lead productive lives in other Arab countries is the real crime against humanity. I lived in the Middle East in my youth and was taught by the children and grand-children of the original refugees. There are thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of well-educated stateless people living all over the middle-east. They serve as a kind of indentured class of citizens with no real rights and no opportunity to advance.

Back to Gaza, ultimately, Israel can only succeed if they can weaken Hamas enough that it can be replaced. Eventually the human shields will figure out that they are damned if they do and damned if they don't and will take affairs into their own hands.