Wanted: Grownups Running in Israel and Palestine

The Thinker by Rodin

The grownups need to get back in charge of the planet, but in Israel and Palestine in particular. This week’s assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel is just more proof.

Yes, I know what Israeli leaders said about the assassination: that they are crushing terrorism and no one who takes arms against Israel is safe from their swift and terrible retribution. Yada yada yada.

Of course being a grownup you know what is going to happen. Is this going to stop terrorism? Is Hamas going to go lick its wounds somewhere and foreswear terrorism forever? Not a chance. Pretty much the whole Gaza Strip turned out for the funeral of Sheikh Yassin. As if there weren’t enough impoverished, angry and desperate Palestinians willing to give their lives before this act now there will be hundreds or thousands more. Rather than striking a blow against terrorism, all it did was provide the fuel for more terrorism.

Israel of course will do its best to prevent the terrorists from penetrating their defenses. But it is just a matter of time before another incident (and scores more like it) kill more Israelis. Each incident, of course, will inflame the Israeli public and put pressure on their leaders to do more to combat terrorism. So of course there will be more raids, more missiles launched at crowds from Apache helicopters (provided courtesy of the United States taxpayer), more targeted assassination and of course more blockades, checkpoints, home demolitions of innocent relatives and general harassment.

Israel’s approach to peacemaking first requires all Palestinians to completely give up all forms of terrorism and violence against Israel. This goal of course cannot happen in the current political environment. It has as much chance of happening as Israeli settlers have of cheerfully and unilaterally withdrawing inside the Green Line because they feel sorry for the poor oppressed Palestinians whose land they occupy.

All this sort of naive attitude does is ensure the conflict continues indefinitely with the level of the conflict slowly ratcheting up over time.

Neither side in this conflict is thinking with the left (logical) side of their brains. Rather they are reacting out of hurt, anger, stubbornness and pomposity. In short the right sides of their national brains are fully in charge.

Of course there are ways out of this conflict. But it requires engaging the left side of the brain and putting the grownups in charge. First of all it requires a frank admission that the root of the problem is a political one. Everyone knows what it will take to get real peace in the Palestine. But no one wants to actually start the process to make it happen. Israel has to move behind the Green Line. Its settlers must give up forever their notion of a greater Israel. Eastern Jerusalem will become part of the state of Palestine. Perhaps Jerusalem itself will become an international city overseen by the United Nations. For the Palestinians, those who were forced off their ancestral lands will have to give up their right to return.

Will it stop the terrorism? No, at least not right away. But it will put in place a climate in which terrorism can finally ebb. Palestinians will have a hopeful future. There will be international aid, increased prosperity, and the ability to trade goods and services with Israel again.

We can see what is likely to work by examining the dicey situation in Northern Ireland over the last forty years. Both sides have had to become engaged in the political process. Both had to have mutual stakes in the outcome. Even today there are still scattered incidents of Protestant or Catholic terrorism in Northern Ireland. But these incidents are fading and are nearly gone. Engagement and negotiation have been a slow process but it shows every sign of working.

Does anyone think that if the British had hunted down IRA terrorists like dogs in Northern Ireland and lobbed missiles from Apache helicopters at crowds that they would have defeated terrorism? Soldiers did their best to keep warring factions apart while a political process continued to engage both sides of the conflict. It’s a model that should work over time in Israel too.

We need are grownups on both sides of the conflict to emerge and to act pragmatically. We do not need more of this hopelessly naive, idealistic and anger driven approach to diplomacy. Until we get grownups on both sides of this issue in charge the region will doubtlessly continue to spire ever slowly into lower levels of Hell.

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