Thursday, May 26, 2011

Peace In Palestine? Nope : Let's Try Détente

Can't We Just All Get Along

If you want to stop spinning your wheels over the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, forget about truth and justice. Forget about right and wrong. Forget about whose historical claims and grievances are more worthy. Accept the fact that intractable foes will remain intractable. Surrender the fantasy of a negotiated solution, two-state or otherwise. Do this as a mental exercise even if you hate amorality.

Now, what is the best we can hope for in the Middle East? What bona fide common interests might the Israelis and Palestinians have, (despite their being bitter enmities), that can be rationally advanced even under the condition that a sometimes violent minority remains determined to sabotage any progress toward peace?

These are the questions statesmen should be asking. That’s because these questions actually have practical answers. We know this because the world faced and solved a much larger problem of the same nature before.

It wasn’t long ago that two nuclear armed superpowers with diametrically opposed political and economic systems faced off in a decades-long war that sometimes blew hot and sometimes blew cold. Despite being intractable foes both had a common interest in avoiding Mutually Assured Destruction, something that came perilously close when the Soviets installed missiles in Cuba and grade school kids like me practiced hiding under desks to increase the odds of surviving the blast from a nuclear strike.

Détente, or learning to live with reality without surrendering our fantasies, arrived in the 1970s at the midpoint of the cold war. Whether you were a freedom loving capitalist or a motherland loving communist, détente was an amoral solution to a problem that could not be solved through negotiation. Détente allowed a shaky peace-of-the-status-quo to hold long enough for the inherent differences in the two systems to manifest themselves. Two decades later, when the Soviet Union lost legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, the problem went away. In the aftermath many new problems arose, one of the most noticable problems to arise was freedom, but they pale in comparison to a nuclear holocaust.

Suppose we try a similar approach in the Levant? Nothing else has worked. Not land for peace. Not Intifada. Not Gaza self rule. Not intermediation by great powers. Not resolutions by the UN. No agreement between any parties has ever trumped the facts on the ground.

Without defending or even discussing Israel’s right to exist, who doubts that they will violently defend that right to their last breath? Without defending or even discussing the Palestinians’ right of return, who is surprised when they violently assert that right down unto the nth generation?

So be it. Let’s do the world a favor and stop pretending that if A does this and B does that and C agrees to some other thing peace will blossom. It Ain’t Gonna Happen. Instead, let’s figure out how to optimally manage a permanent state of hostilities under a policy of détente.

What might this look like?

First, we would be spared the spectacle of third party peacemakers making fools of themselves. This includes current and past U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners or otherwise. The UN would be wise to buzz off too since there has hardly ever been a problem they haven’t made worse. The Israelis could stop obsessing about whether they have the right negotiating partner as there would be an official end to all negotiations. Hamas and Fatah could work together or not, whichever they please.

Wouldn’t it be a relief to drop the pretenses? Could honesty perhaps free up some energy either side could use to unilaterally improve their own situation knowing that the others side has officially stopped talking?

For example, take Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that the Israeli’s should agree to returning to their 1967 borders because this is better than having the UN unilaterally recognize an independent Palestinian state. Says who? Rather than wasting time discussing how unworkable this formulation is, designed as it was for U.S. domestic consumption, how about just shaking your head and moving on?

Yes, Iran would keep supplying money and weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah and the U.S. would do the same to Israel. Get over it, no amount of jawboning is going to change that. Relations between the Israelis and Palestinians would be governed by Biblical law – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Hamas hurls a rocket at an Israeli village; they get a bombs dropped on their heads in return. Let Hamas explain to their own people how such a policy is going help them regain possession of the holy land when no negotiations exist that the promise to stop this behavior can influence.

Everyone else goes about their business. The Israelis decide for themselves whether building all those provocative “settlements” is worth the bother. The Palestinians decide for themselves whether they want to build a functioning society or prefer to choke on their own hatred as they remain wards of the international community.

Meanwhile the Arab world figures out what it wants to be when it grows up. Will the Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Syrians, Bahrainis and others end up creating peaceful secular democracies or virulent jihadist states? Will the Saudis come apart at the seams? Will Iran build the bomb? Who knows. But what is the point of trying to solve the far less significant Israeli-Palestinian problem before we find out what kind of world ends up surrounding them?

I welcome your input.

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