Tom Segev: Conflict Management not Peace in The Middle East

Tom Segev, Israeli jouranlist (and author of the actually good book on the 67 War) with an insightful if nearly totally depressing op-ed in the Washington Post.


I belong to a generation of Israelis who grew up believing in peace. At the end of the Six-Day War of 1967, I was 23, and I had no doubt that 40 years later, the Israeli-Arab war would be over. Today, my son, who is 28, no longer believes in peace. Most Israelis don’t. They know that Israel may not survive without peace, but from war to war, they have lost their optimism. So have I.


Apart from the conflict’s cruelty — particularly toward civilians, including numerous children — the present eruption is most likely to be remembered as yet another step in a long march of folly that began in 1967.

Following the Six-Day War, the Israeli government contemplated moving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and resettling them in the West Bank. That could have made the present situation infinitely less convoluted. But the plans remained on paper because some of the most powerful members of the Israeli government, including the right-wing leader Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, believed that the West Bank should be reserved exclusively for Jewish settlement.

This was probably the worst mistake in Israel’s history. With nearly 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank today and an additional 200,000 living in the formerly Arab part of Jerusalem, it is almost impossible to draw sensible borders and achieve peace.

Undoubtedly the post 67 euphoria (partly nationalist, partly religious, which are always mixed in Israeli-Zionist history…even the secular there has a kind of religious fervor), the decision to settle into the West Bank (which as Gorenberg pointed out was really accidental and certainly not thought through) has sealed the region into a forever stalemate.  There is no Palestinian state I’m sad to say anywhere on the horizon.  I think frankly one should just be created on paper, since it is never going to happen otherwise in real life, and then possibly the fact that it exists will make it come to exist.

But this sadly seems to me to the truth all around:

This conflict is not merely about land and water and mutual recognition. It is about national identity. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians define themselves by the Holy Land — all of it. Any territorial compromise would compel both sides to relinquish part of their identity.

Segev says Israel should return to what it was created for, being a Jewish democracy (not as in Gorenberg an Accidental Empire).  It would require a complete withdraw from The West Bank but I just can’t see that happening.  They are too enmeshed, too embedded, the occupation as a cancer on the Israeli political body strikes me as too deep.  Such a radical operation and political chemotheraphy seems beyond any politician in a fractured electoral environment.

The result of which:

I no longer believe in solving the conflict. What I do believe in is better conflict management — including talks with Hamas, which is a taboo that must be broken. The need for U.S. engagement has led me, along with many other Israelis, to harbor high hopes for the administration of Barack Obama. The Bush administration was mainly concerned with keeping alive a diplomatic fiction called “The Peace Process.” But there really was no such “process.” Instead, the oppression of the Palestinians continued and intensified, even after Israel had evacuated several thousand settlers from Gaza in 2005. More settlements were put up in the West Bank.

Agreed.  Again either declare the state or don’t and manage the conflict (or maybe do both).  Don’t have a process towards a Palestinian state because that is all it will ever be–a process towards some unachievable goal.  To change Lennon:  Don’t Give Peace a Chance.  Here Yoda holds true: Do or Do not, there is no try.

Published in: on January 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Spiral in Palestine

Now in the street there is violence
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washin’
And, and I can’t blame all on the sun

Oh no, we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher
Oh, we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher

–Electric Avenue

Below is a video of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East’s Build Palestine Project. The speaker Nafiz al Rifaie a leader in the third generation of Fatah. In this talk you hear him outline (via Don Beck’s influence) a third way for Palestine.

The one way comprising the US and Israeli left as well as the old guard of Fatah is still built around the Peace Plan (the latest effort of which is the Road Map signed on to by the Arab Countries in 2002). The old guard of Fatah however exists via an external pipeline of Western donors allowing them ultimately not to be particularly responsible to their own people (hence they lost the elections in 2006 to Hamas), build their villas in France, and come now closer to a Palestinian State.

In this model the Palestinian State is handed to the Palestinians from top-down and is predicated almost entirely on control of security by Fatah.

The other route is the weirdly shared by both Hamas and the American and Israeli hardline right. i..e That the peace process is a sham and unending war is the only way forward. From the Hamas side, however, this model still assumes that there is a Palestinian state (or one to be had at least) once the violence is over, that is once Hamas achieves victory.

But in this talk with the theoretical aid of Spiral Dynamics, the creative alternative becomes clear. There is no Palestine state to be recognized internationally nor jerry-rigged by outside players like the Quartet. The issue is to build the Palestinian state (Rifaie with resonant language calls this the real resistance), forcing the outside world then to have to recognize what is in fact already built at the same time as creating momentum and hope within the Palestinian people themselves (as well as others) that concrete positive steps are being taken in the direction of a goal. An outside aid has to go to people doing such work as opposed to the crony power structure of the higher echelons of Fatah.

iow, The people themselves must gain the capacity to hold a state (and the institutions needed to buttress such an operation which is a whole lot more than a bunch of armed dudes on the street).

Minus this third way, the Peace Processes will continue to fail which can only in the next term strengthen the pro-war parties on both sides. On the Israeli side this will lead them to what Jimmy Carter has called apartheid (listen in the talk for specific reference to South Africa as a parallel)–falling birth rates for the Israelis and rising ones for the Palestinians leads to an even more brutal crackdown/occupation in the West Bank leading inevitably to even more violence volleyed from the Palestinian side, leading of course to more crackdowns….and the negative feedback cycle intensifies.

Palestinian Civil Society Building

Strong piece by Natan Sharansky and Bassem Eid in the WSJ op-ed pages today.  The title (unfortunately) is “No Peace without Democracy”, when Democracy really means rule of law and government that exists to support people not people exist to support militias/warlords/cronies/gangs that use government to extract wealth from the people.  But democracy is one word so that’s easier.  But in the context of the Palestinian issue, democracy (i.e. pure rule by ballot) gave us Hamas and illiberal (in many regards) organization.

That said, the central argument of the piece is spot on:

Last November’s Annapolis “peace” conference continued this misguided approach. Once again the focus is primarily on who is ruling and not on how they rule. Mr. Abbas has replaced Arafat as the recipient of international largess, but the emphasis remains on empowering a particular leader, rather than empowering Palestinian civil society and creating democratic institutions.

That is, since even Oslo and PM Rabin the Israelis have always hand picked who they would negotiate with.  One of the central failures of Oslo was a number of other Palestinian political groups who were shut out by of the process by the combination of Arafat’s desire to be a dictator and the Israeli’s lack of trust and negative interference in the Territories (and still seeing them as Israeli territory and not say illegally occupied land with its own sovereign voice/integrity).

They call for shifting aid going to Fatah but rather to civil society build up.  As Thomas Barnett likes to say, foreign aid dependency is like oil/diamonds, the countries that get it have no reason to be responsible to its citizenry, can buy off security forces (mostly to control internal affairs), and control the people.  It also creates a dependency on the outside source of income which forestalls native human efforts to better one’s life and one’s family life.

Their conclusion:

It is high time that Palestinian civil society be fully recognized by the international community as a prerequisite to peace, not as an obstacle to it. If Palestinian civil society is not empowered, the Fatah-controlled West Bank may soon be ruled by Hamas, and Fatah leaders there may find themselves one day having to rely on Israel’s Supreme Court to save them.

Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Daniel Levy on Israel’s 60th B-Day

Writing in The American Prospect.

This really encapsulates it:

For anyone steeped in the narrative of contemporary Jewish history, or any neutral observer for that matter, Israel’s achievements are rather remarkable. It is a new nation forged from the remnants of European Jewry and immigrants from across the Middle East, a biblical language dusted-off and modernized, and it possesses that most precious resource — gifted human capital. Israel today is at the cutting edge of contemporary creativity, not only in the high-tech fields that keep the economy buzzing along impressively, but also in the arts — witness the latest batch of award-winning Israeli movies. Israel’s premier basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, is a permanent fixture in Europe’s Final Four. Tel Aviv itself is a gloriously hip and hedonist bubble of escapism.

And yet that same escapism is also frustrating, even infuriating. Not 20 kilometers from liberal Tel Aviv is a reality that is unforgiveably ignored. In the West Bank, Israel imposes one of the longest, last remaining and most dehumanizing of occupations in the world on Palestinian population. Worse, the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel are not part of this nation-building exercise, subjected to ongoing and structurally-embedded discrimination.

The reason for that disturbing juxtaposition is for Levy a siege, fear-based mentality:

The disconnect, I would argue, is that Israel has locked itself into a box of fear that is not only substantially self-generated and all-embracing, but has also become a danger in itself, preventing Israel from taking urgently needed steps. Explaining that fear is easy — remember the Holocaust, look at how Israel is targeted. But it does not alter the fact that it has become utterly unhealthy and paralyzing, and ironically a reason to actually be concerned.

Post-9/11 America knows a thing or two about the dangers of a policy and popular discourse that is driven by nurturing and abusing people’s fears. Now imagine living in a country whose self-understanding is that it is 3 a.m. all the time and that bloody red phone never stops ringing. Welcome to Israel — not the reality of Israel but the sense of self that has been formed. Every enemy is a potential Hitler, every threat an existential one, there is a fatalism and almost a desire to retreat into a ghetto and build a big wall (in fact there is a wall, it’s called the separation barrier).

Levy comes from the Israeli-left and believes that it is long past time for Israel to end the occupation and that Israel stands at a moment of actually being able to achieve permanent security and stability.  Obviously those on the Israeli right will disagree (as well as the American right).  It is certainly worth pointing out that occupation continues to erode Israeli security.  The alternative may be the Second Shoah, who knows.  Or the loss of Israel, I don’t know frankly.  Or at the very least, what seems more likely to me, a series of convulsions and violence in the wake of draw down that on the far side leads to more peace and stability but a very dangerous middle term prospects.  But the argument that to prevent terror and violence and occupation we must employ terror and violence and occupation ultimately does not work.

Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 1:05 pm  Comments (9)  
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Bush’s trip to Israel

Very revelatory piece from Haaretz on Bush’s upcoming trip and what Olmert seeks to get from the US President.

It begins:

Israel is seeking to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration that would safeguard Israel’s security interests in a future final-status agreement with the Palestinians and during current negotiations, government sources have said.

Those pieces of understanding involve the following:

At the heart of Israel’s demands is that it remain free to act against terror in the West Bank for as long as negotiations last, and that demilitarization arrangements place limitations on the future Palestinian state. 

They hope to get these agreements from Bush prior to the next round of discussions.  The West Bank piece is obvious:  the ability of Israelis to intervene/occupy the West Bank whenever they feel it is in their national interest.

The demilitarization piece is even more controversial I would imagine.  The Israelis are going to argue that the security forces of PLO/Fatah are infiltrated with terrorist elements.  (I don’t know if that’s true or not).


Israel would like the U.S. to agree to a number of limitations on the future Palestinian state’s sovereignty. Israel wants Palestine to be completely demilitarized, and for Israel to be able to fly over Palestinian air space. Border crossings would be monitored by Israel in such a way that the symbols of Palestinian sovereignty would not be compromised, but Israel would know who was coming and going. 

This does not sound like a good start for negotiations towards two states.  The Kadima party-gov’t also wants a trip-wire force in the Jordan Valley, something even then Prime Minister Barak (now Def. Minister) in 1999 didn’t push for.

Published in: on January 2, 2008 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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