When I first started learning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I thought that I’d found the key to making the Middle East and the wider Muslim world peaceful and enabling the end of America’s Global War on Terror. Since the beginning of this current cycle of fighting in Gaza and Israel, there have been many articles published and widely shared asking the question, why does this conflict get so much attention when there are so many other cut-and-dried wars with much higher body counts throughout the region.
Some explain it by highlighting Antisemitism around the world. Undoubtedly, many blatant anti-Semites have been protesting on behalf of Hamas and threatening or attacking Diaspora Jews in Europe, America and elsewhere. It’s not worth anyone’s time asking why anti-Semites or other racists give this conflict so much attention, but it is important to consider why so many good-willed Westerners suddenly come alive regarding the Middle East now after we’ve been witnessing the industrial-scale slaughter in Syria for the past three-and-a-half years and the rapid march of the world’s most radical terrorist organization across the region.
Many Westerners seem to be making observations and miscalculations similar to the ones I made. “Why do they hate us? Why does Al Qaeda want to kill us? Because we support Israel, and Israel oppresses the Palestinians.” There are a lot of Hamas supporters who would tell you you’re right if you said that. It’s partly true—seemingly unconditional US support for Israel is among the main grievances many Muslims have with America, but that ranks pretty low among the reasons Bin Laden declared war on America, and Al Qaeda is already very hated throughout the Muslim world.
Resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be great for the region; resolving any conflict is great in and of itself. But I don’t think terrorist organizations would suddenly melt their weapons down for re-bar to build hospitals and dictators and monarchs would then free their political prisoners and cede power to whoever wins free and fair elections the next year. I think the best thing the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would do for the rest of the region is expose the breathless hypocrisy of most regional dictators and terrorists—the ones who rely on the threat of an eternal enemy to justify absolute power and oppression of their own people.
In my experience, I’ve noticed that the people who try hardest to push the idea that resolving this conflict will help get terrorists to stop hating us will also go out of their way to justify targeting civilians, and that they want to “resolve” this conflict not by the historically preferred and most achievable Two State Solution, but by getting rid of Israel all together. (As this round of peace talks falters, Palestinians have been less supportive of a Two State Solution and more in favor of claiming all of historic Palestine as their own.) Conversely, there are many Westerners who want to “resolve” this conflict by letting Israel have all of the land it currently occupies and encourage Palestinians to make their state in Jordan. The last thing that will resolve this conflict is forcing more people out of their homes.
The Two State Solution is preferable because both Palestinians and Israelis want an independent state where they are a comfortable majority. The ones who lobby for a One State Solution also want to make the other a minority, either unable to welcome refugees home or unable to guarantee their own security after a long history of persecution and oppression. The fastest and most just way to resolve this long conflict is by helping Palestinians have their own independent, secure state that is at peace with Israel. There are many Palestinian and Israeli leaders and groups to support for this goal, and there are many Palestinian and Israeli leaders and groups that are openly against this goal.
Hamas’ Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad has said in media interviews that Hamas is prepared to accept a final status agreement along the pre-1967 war borders. But if that’s the case, they should send a formal letter to Israel stating so and agree to amend their charter to say they accept the existence of the State of Israel. Some people will argue that charters aren’t really important, but they are because they act as a group’s constitution and a formal declaration of their goals. It wasn’t until the Palestinian Liberation Organization committed to amended their charter to accept Israel’s right to exist that PM Yitzhak Rabin would directly negotiate with them for a final status agreement.
A lot of good-hearted Westerners are quick to protest Israel but say nothing about Hamas’ tactics or strategy that gets Palestinians killed while they try to kill and terrorize Israeli civilians. Palestinians in Gaza will be labeled Israeli collaborators and executed if they speak out against Hamas, so their silence is justified to protect their lives, but when Westerners with no family under Hamas will not speak out against this organization that kills critics among its own people, it’s not to save their lives but to guard their personal reputations and pro-Palestine credentials.
As hard as it is for some people to admit, Israel is pretty rational. There is an easily deduced reason for the extreme disparities in living conditions and safety in the three Israeli-occupied territories. In one, the primary resistance is rockets and attack tunnels; in another, people commonly resist the occupation by throwing stones or petrol bombs; and in the other, most resistance is entirely nonviolent. Hamas rockets do two things—they help Palestinians feel less humiliated after generations of occupation and refugee status, and they provoke Israel into war which boosts support for Hamas.
Hamas’ popularity among Palestinians sinks when things are relatively peaceful, and when Israel returns fire and war breaks out, Hamas’ popularity rises. In tandem, Palestinian civilians get killed and the world condemns Israel. There is no military value to shooting rockets at Israeli civilian population centers, except provoking Israel into war where Hamas can fight the Israeli army on their own ground and many Palestinians die while Gaza is destroyed.
If Hamas would really recognize Israel’s right to exist and pursue a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders diplomatically instead of with empty words and volleys of rockets, there would be no blockade and no war in Gaza. Many people will try to justify Hamas’ resistance by citing racism, discrimination and use of excessive force by Israelis, but if you really care about the safety of Palestinians and want to pursue a just resolution of this conflict, which we all should, then in this round of fighting, you should be condemning Hamas much more than Israel.
This cycle of fighting cannot end in status quo or else it will be repeated every two or three years, and no reasonable people expect Israelis to agree to lift the blockade while Hamas is still shooting at them. Israel should make concessions too, like allowing more exports and freedom of travel from Gaza to show good faith, but she does not want to do anything that might benefit Hamas while Hamas tries to murder Israeli civilians.
Middle East politics consists of many tightly woven, deeply layered, interconnected relationships, and for the casual Western observer, it’s often difficult to discern who is lobbying for what or the implications of what they’re advocating. As a general rule, though, I suggest regarding anyone who simplifies this and advocates taking the side of Palestinians against Israelis or Israelis against Palestinians with suspicion, as they’re likely trying to get uninitiated Westerners to unwittingly support a nefarious agenda.