Last month, a reader commented on my post, "Pitched in Judah," and I responded. Succeeding comments developed into a debate that aired some of the history and grievances of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It would be impossible to encompass the whole of the issue in one blog post and a handful of comments. But I think I could have expressed my frustration at the seeming impossibility of a resolution to the conflict somewhat better.
Firstly, my view of the conflict is that it is internecine - an internal conflict roughly comparable to the struggle in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. Catholics maintain that the six counties of the North that were retained by the United Kingdom when Ireland was granted independence in 1948 belong historically (if not ethnically) to the Irish Republic. When emigrated Jews fought for and won independence for the state of Israel in the same year, the non-Jewish people who were inadvertently living there when the Jews showed up were instantly transformed from a people subject to British occupation to a people subject to Israeli occupation - with the substantial difference that the 2nd occupying power claimed the territory as their ancestral home and have no intention of relinquishing it ever again.
Jews living outside Israel finally had the choice of staying where they were or moving to Israel. The legitimacy of Israel is a moot problem for people - like me - who have no stake in it. It's a root problem for the non-Jewish, Arab people who still think of it as home. Because the struggle of these two people for one piece of ground has produced a much wider regional struggle that now involves my country, I feel that I, too, now have a stake in it. But after watching the struggle for decades, I refuse to choose sides. It isn't that I don't believe that one side has more legitimacy than the other. It's because choosing a side will never help to resolve the problems.
As an Irish-American, I have watched the Troubles in Northern Ireland with sometimes partisan interest. I saw how many fellow Irish-Americans contributed money to organizations that led straight to the IRA. They believed the propaganda that the IRA was spreading - that the British Army in Northern Ireland was an army of occupation, rather than a force to keep the two opposing sides from open fighting. Without the British Army, there was every indication that the country would've collapsed into civil war. In many respects, the IRA misrepresented the interests of the Catholics. Their tactics were terribly wrong. But that didn't compromise the legitimacy of the interests of the people for whom they fought.
I recently watched Alan Dershowitz plugging his latest book, Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel's Just War Against Hamas. Dershowitz decided a long time ago that he had the authority to defend Israel's actions in the conflict.(1) While admitting that Israel has suffered a blow to its image because of its response to recent Hamas rocket attacks, Dershowitz insists that Israel's killing of civilians is defensible because Hamas is employing the "dead baby strategy," i.e., deliberately provoking retaliation from Israel that unavoidably kills civilians and showing Western media the bodies of innocents as proof of Israel's murderous intentions.
Dershowitz also defends Israel's record by using a "terrorists to civilians" ratio. The ratio of Hamas rocket attackers killed to civilians who just happen to get in the way is, Dershowitz claims, better than NATO's in its own attacks on terrorists. He says the ratio is about one to one - one identifiable Hamas terrorist for every one woman or child bystander. This represents, I think, a change in Israel's former official policy of avoiding civilian casualties as much as possible and replaces it with the policy of targeting Hamas improvised rocket sites whatever they may be adjacent to and letting the chips fall where they may.(2) The incessant use of the term "human shields" during the most recent war didn't distract anyone from the fact that the humans failed to shield anyone from Israel's counterattacks. If a criminal had taken a family hostage and the police response by bombing the house, killing everyone inside it, the police chief would have at least as much explaining to do as Netanyahu's government.
The problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen from the outside is obvious--it's a landlord and his tenants struggling over control of an ancient apartment building undergoing expensive renovation. Many of the tenants have been forcibly evicted, but many more aren't budging. Trying to determine which side's claims are more legitimate is pointless by now. Successive Israeli governments shift between crackdowns and conciliations, neither of which seem to get anywhere. Apparently, coexistence is no longer an option. But the two state solution isn't likely, either, as long as a conservative government runs the apartment block.
I suggested (humbly) that a third power should be the arbiter of a settlement, probably the United Nations. But I can't see the Israelis standing for such interference in what they ridiculously regard as their problem. By now, it's everyone's problem, thanks to the harsh awakening of Arab nationalism and Islamism.
(1) As a self-appointed defender of Israel, Dershowitz torpedoed Norman Finkelstein tenure at DePaul University when Finkelstein accused him of plagiarism in another of his copiously-referenced books.
(2) They haven't exactly abided by the policy in the past.