I’m opposed to the idea that because Israel is “the stronger party” today in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is somehow more responsible for the conflict’s perpetuation.
Although some progressive Zionist thinkers might say this phrase as a ‘concession’ in dialogue, attempting to create good-will and common ground, Israel’s strength today is actually irrelevant to the continuation of the conflict. Here’s why:
For one, Israel acquired strength over decades from defensive wars with its Arab neighbors. These defensive wars and the subsequent miraculous victories unfolded out of the desperate necessity to preserve Israel and the Jewish people’s very existence post-genocide: 1947-48, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006, etc., until the present. While Israel has grown over time in many sectors (in GDP per capita, state infrastructure, private enterprises) it still centers unwavering attention on security for the same reasons.
This strength is also limited to primarily military and administrative power. In terms of the “numbers game”, Palestinians have the ‘population capital’ along with affinities with the wider region’s Arab and Muslim majority, amounting to a hegemonic ethno-religious power dynamic. We know they aren’t going anywhere. They think we will. That shapes what decisions the Jewish State can afford to make with strenuous resources and a sensitive reputation in the region.
Nor is Israel driven by an interest to willfully jeopardize its own legitimacy. The Jewish State not so subtly invests in as many allies as it can get on the world stage, with expansive initiatives in humanitarian assistance, cooperation in medicine, environmental conservation, counter-terrorism and more. Do legitimate disputes exist regarding Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories? Certainly, as they do in many areas of Israeli governance. However, specific issues between Israelis and Palestinians are symptoms of the conflict’s overall foundation of Palestinian implacability for Jewish disempowerment.
While the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) infamously resorted to terrorism to coerce global attention and political gains from around the 1960s on, the State of Israel took action to appeal to the world as it rightfully defended civilian life, bringing Jews kilometers over back home to safety. The Palestinian Authority (PA) — the PLO’s post-Oslo successor — has more outwardly maneuvered, incited, obstructed, or negotiated as it envisioned its future, with scarce accountability or limitations from other states. This structure of the PA’s behavior doesn’t just have to do with its physical capabilities, but also its intentions — backed by Pan-Arabist clout and Western support. What has resulted from this until now?
Economically, Palestinian government corruption has resulted in the squandering of more money per capita than any other national group in the world: around $70 billion of aid over the past seven decades: whether to war, terror, estates in Ramallah or Qatar — not to the people. Furthermore, this corrupt history is irrefutably an indicator of power and potential for significant capabilities, yet severely abused at the expense of ordinary Palestinian civilians. Averting your eyes to this fact is a choice; turning away will only preserve the cycle of conflict and Palestinian disenfranchisement.
The accusation of “Israeli culpability” predicated on “Israel’s [necessary] power” erases the two-sided reality that makes any conflict what it is. It also ignores the stake that Israel still has in countering threats on multiple fronts. As innocent and well-intentioned as some may make it seem, claiming that “Israel equals the stronger party, and therefore, it must take broader action to change the status quo” denies or downplays Palestinian agency, humanity, and ongoing intransigence toward any peace (you can read more about the toxic oppression binary here). It’s a misguided, lazy, or dishonest calculation, which also denies that Israel never has a break from threats, i.e. Iran and its closely-funded proxies Hamas and Hezbollah.
Independent strength doesn’t alone define one’s agency in the oppressor-oppressed relationship (binary). It’s what one does with their strength that determines their ownership, aggression, or victimhood.
In fact, we know that if the Palestinians were the stronger party, Israel would be destroyed. This is evidenced by actions taken when they had more or even less power, in tandem with Israel’s immediate neighbor states. It has been a repeatedly stated intention of Palestinian leaders and ordinary Palestinian citizens, tried countless times and defeated countless times. So, there’s zero determination to be made to demand that Israel make unilateral concessions that put its own basic national security and civilian safety at risk, i.e. Gaza Strip withdrawal (2005).
If we want change, it needs to come obviously with moves from both peoples and leadership, but the onus of this conflict rests primarily with those who’ve been rightfully chastised for clearly promoting absolutist visions and violence nonstop – the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Fanning the flames, throwing cash at a system literally weaned by the region over decades to perpetuate conflict, and blaming the other side for not yielding to irredentist aspirations is ineffective. Recognizing who has more cards to play and holding them responsible for hindrance is effective.
The PA has long held more cards, though they will routinely project blame for lack of progress onto Israel and the Jewish people, demand conflict and unlimited charity for misuse, masochistically mandate civilian suffering and resentment in the name of “honor” — capitalizing on lucrative victimhood and the status quo. Astoundingly, today, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and an increasing number of pundits, clerics, and activists, know this to be true. That’s why so many are finally shifting to accommodate a gradual peace framework in the region, to improve the situation on the ground, amid other challenges.
The major struggle in Palestine today is learning how to unlearn generations of entitlement and supremacy from their Arab brethren and local leadership and come to terms with Jewish equality in sovereignty (for which Oslo only held us back).
— Justin Feldman יצחק איש שדה (@eishsadehy) October 18, 2020
The major struggle in Palestine today is learning how to unlearn generations of entitlement and supremacy from their Arab brethren and local leadership and catch up. This simply means coming to terms with Jewish equality in sovereignty. Regarding this reality, the Oslo process only held us back by securing radical de facto Palestinian echo-chambers with a freely corrupt pre-state apparatus, funded with little oversight by the international community.
Certainly, if Palestinian civilians over thirty years ago were able to organize waves of violence against the IDF and other Arab and Jewish civilians (during the First Intifada), they must be capable now of vocally demanding that the PA hold free and fair elections after 15 years, provide employment and wages commensurate with the millions in aid being sent in, and eliminate indoctrination in schools, incitement, and stipends supporting ethnic violence.
However, we can also hasten peace across the globe, with a civil and international investment in the diplomatic breakthroughs and treaties being advanced today, a political withdrawal of support for rejectionist and belligerent Palestinian institutions and extremism on both sides from London to Riyadh, and a promotion of the welfare of all peoples in the Holy Land. Indeed, it may be the only way forward, with or without leaders who latch onto the status quo.