Why a lasting peace is impossible

Those calling for a ceasefire, a negotiated settlement, a Palestinian state, and a new government in Gaza are delusional. This is a facile and misguided understanding of the war between Israel and Hamas. The current conflict between Israel, Hamas, Hamas proxies, and the Arab world, have been festering for a century. World bodies, American or UN troops in Israel, or third party negotiators will not and cannot be able to address the issues that have inflamed the region for so many decades. Israel is at war with the Palestinian ideology and the Arab world that buys into it. The potential for a wider regional confrontation is very real. Neither UN resolutions nor editorial pronouncements will end the fighting and the killing. This conflict can only be resolved if the parties directly involved engage in appropriate and honest dialogue, which at the moment doesn’t seem likely.

I am not a savant, political theorist, talking head or editorialist. I am but a humble student of history. I have taught history for many decades. I have learned a few things that are not in dispute by any honest observer of middle eastern politics. Western-style diplomacy does not work in the Middle East. Unless negotiators understand and utilize the Arab mindset, any discussions will be futile. Further complicating matters is the simple fact that what is essentially a brutal street fight without rules cannot be fought or even contemplated in the context of Marquis of Queensberry conditions. Still another impediment to peace is the unbalanced standard of morality, decency, and integrity that only Israel is expected to maintain in the face of unspeakable horror, butchery, and amorality.

This is a conflict that can only end when the involved parties themselves really want it to end. The underlying dynamics of conflict resolution dialogue offer an approach. This analysis works for feuding nations, or others engaged in conflict resolution.

There are four types of dialogue. The first is called Negation Dialogue. In this type of dialogue, the parties view each other as a threat. Therefore they negate the “other” via stereotype, dehumanization, and even demonization. We see this in the antisemitic rantings of certain Muslim clerics, and calls for jihad. It is present in media coverage of “the occupying forces” and other incendiary and unbalanced reportage. We see it in the calls for “transfer” of all Arabs, the razing of Arab homes, and in non-recognition of legitimate Palestinian aspirations. Clearly this form of dialogue is not productive.

The second type of dialogue is called Domination Dialogue. It is based on a fundamental non-acceptance of the “other.” Both sides neither recognize nor validate each other. However, they enter into dialogue with the avowed purpose of phony relationship-building in order to convert the “other” to their point of view. Arab propaganda has been especially successful with this format. Palestinian representatives negotiate while teenagers blow themselves up at public malls. Abbas says one thing in English to appease the world press, and quite another in his speeches in Arabic to his Arab audience. The insignia worn by the PLO, and which appears in every textbook and on every terrorist group’s patch, is the outline not of Gaza and the West Bank but of the entire State of Israel. Israeli security chiefs carry on dialogues with their Palestinian counterparts while curfews, bombings, and evictions continue. Humiliation and torment of Palestinians is rationalized. Arab reconstruction and fictionalization of Jewish history is apparent on every talking-head television interview. Many failed negotiations attest to the weakness of this approach. Domination Dialogue will not yield positive results.

The third form of dialogue is Compartmentalization. This exchange involves keeping one’s distance, while jockeying for position. The parties display respect for one another at arm’s length. This dialogue maintains the conflict and does not yield any synthesis. The various peace plans, road maps, and the various US Secretary of States’ attempts at triage represent compartmentalization. Sound bites from Israel, Hamas, and the PLO about the need for peace or pleas to just get along from various leaders are examples of compartmentalization. Calls for new leadership and more summits are only delay tactics. Mainly, it represents just empty words without any real commitment to do anything concrete.

The fourth form of dialogue is Civil Discourse. These exchanges are normative, not descriptive. Civil Discourse offers an opportunity for growth and progress, since each side confers dignity, respect, and validity on the other. It is a dialogue between equals. If the PLO, Hamas, and the Arab nations were to really recognize the legitimacy of Israeli sovereignty as a Jewish state, and if Israel were to accept Palestinian self-determination, then peace might become a possibility. If the parties directly involved in the dispute were to validate each other’s point of view, strife might be converted to positive energy. If there were a true recognition of realistic security measures, if terrorists would turn in their weapons, if Jewish settlements in Arab communities could live safely, if Israel had a partner it could trust, if Palestinians were treated with respect, etc.

These ideals are quite lofty, and perhaps unrealistic, given the history and pathos of these battles.

Everyone has a passionate point of view about the Mideast conflict. What is also clear is that no long-term solution is in sight. American intervention will not resolve the core issues of trust and sovereignty. Issues of relative right and wrong are irrelevant. Historical accuracy is also irrelevant. Neither side in the struggle will be swayed by words, bombs, or tanks.

There is no verifiable truth in the face of facts on the ground. Western modes of thinking and negotiating do not work in this scenario. Deeply felt cultural issues of displacement, saving face, honor, and dignity, on the one side, and security, survival, age-old yearnings, and the maintenance of a certain image of strength on the other, must be dealt with by the two sides. Perhaps Abbas and Netanyahu are not the ones who can pull this off.

Real, gut wrenching concessions to reality must be made by both sides. Without Civil Discourse and the conferring of legitimacy and status on the other, the conflict will continue to destroy the land and the people in it.

If is such a small but powerful word.

Does this scenario have a foundation in reality? Can/Will Palestinians stop teaching their children to hate and to glory in killing Jews? Can/Will Palestinians and their ilk give up the hope of eliminating Israel from the map? Will Israelis ever trust Palestinians? Can/Will Israel acknowledge Palestinian aspirations? Can the children of Abraham live together in peace?

We cannot wish the conflict away. Jews have their truth and the Palestinians have theirs. All the arguments about why Israel should retain all the land, and the historical fact that the Palestinians and the Arab world have created this mess are correct. However, people are getting killed on a daily basis. The world cannot intervene and solve this problem. If objective truth gets in the way of reality, then peace is a long, long way off. Editorial pundits, politicians, and advocacy groups should know this.

Crisis intervention and conflict resolution require Civil Discourse, or else the crisis and the conflict will continue.

About the Author
Wallace Greene earned his Ph.D. in Jewish history from Yeshiva University. He taught Jewish history at Yeshiva University, Queens College and Upsala College.
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