To Achieve Peace in the Middle East: Forget the Conflict, Solve the Problem

The real problem facing Israelis and Palestinians is not what we call 'conflict,’ but rather the reality.


The conflict’s symmetrical language problem can be condensed into the following statement: “If they give, they’ll get; if they don’t give, they won’t get.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped this symmetrical slogan on an asymmetrical situation in 1998, and it was met with thunderous applause. Netanyahu, a marketing exec who became prime minister, already understood that the safest way to preserve a distorted reality is by demanding balance – in language, and later in deed. He knew full well that semantic symmetry would distort the situation; he put words of equality on a warped, imbalanced reality, and smirked. He knew he’d won.

Using symmetrical language to describe an asymmetric situation is both immoral and ineffective. Netanyahu, who considers himself a strategist in “managing the conflict,” does everything he can to describe the inequality in terms of equality (not only in the realm of diplomacy, but also in economics and taking away from the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox). Netanyahu was elected time and again so that he could continue this rhetoric, which is nothing more than a means for one people to rule over another, while causing pain and suffering.

The remains of “give – get” can be found everywhere we go. Every time the “peace process” gets started up again, the language of balance comes into effect. One of this language’s most common terms is the word “gesture.” Sacred balance is always preserved through gestures: Netanyahu will be willing to make a gesture (releasing prisoners) if Mahmoud Abbas is willing to make a gesture of his own (continuing negotiations). Israel will make a gesture (allowing Palestinian laborers to work in Israeli territory) if the Palestinians make a gesture in return (refrain from unilateral moves at the United Nations). The word “gesture,” which by nature requires reciprocity (reciprocal gestures), is yet another form of semantic balance, meant to hide the imbalance in reality.

Netanyahu’s demands during the negotiations with Palestinians always promulgate this holy notion of balance. Israel won’t put forward a map with redrawn borders as long as the Palestinians refuse to recognize it as a Jewish state; Israel refuses to talk about Jerusalem until the Palestinians unquestioningly relinquish the right of return.

The pattern is clear: Israel won’t agree as long as they disagree; Israel won’t act as long as they don’t act; Israel won’t commit as long as they refuse to. Yet again, this is the sacred balance – the real purpose of which is not to solve the conflict, but rather portray reality in symmetrical terms. In other words, it is meant to distort the problem, to distort reality.

The greatest victory for the language of symmetry, however, lies in the “conflict” itself. This word, which seemingly describes the situation between Israelis and Palestinians, is the crux of the semantic distortion at play. Conflict implies a lack of agreement between two parties. When we speak of conflict, we speak of a symmetrical discrepancy. When someone wants to build a porch but his neighbor fears it will block the view from his window, they’re in conflict. Can a situation in which a strong country crushes millions of people under its boots for decades be described as “a conflict”? Can a situation in which one side completely rules another while denying it basic rights really be described as “a conflict”?

The answer is, of course, no, but it’s not by chance that the word “conflict” was chosen to describe the situation. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the base for the current unjust reality, the reason for the imbalance. But when the base or the reason (conflict) are substituted for the reality (occupation, suffering, pain), the reality itself becomes distorted, and gets covered up by the weight of history and circumstance.

The choice of the word “conflict” is a dramatic one: instead of granting significance to the tragedy constantly befalling millions of people just a few miles away, Netanyahu and his semantics conspirators cover up the suffering with a map from history class, demanding that the students focus on nothing else. Thus, every time someone says the word “conflict” in their history book and starts to engage in theoretic debates, a Palestinian Bedouin stands under the scorching sun near a gate in the Jordan Valley, waiting for an Israeli soldier to come open it for him.

Every time an Israeli focuses on the historic circumstances, on questions of blame and responsibility – on David Ben-Gurion’s real intentions, or the fact that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, cooperated with the Nazis – a real man, with a furrowed brow and green tractor towing heaps of straw, hopes that an Israeli soldier will deign to let him pass from Area B to Area C. In other words, one man hopes that another will allow him to pass, to move, to live.

Therefore, we must solve the problem, and not the conflict. The real problem is not conflict, but rather the reality. It’s not rooted in history but in reality. The Israelis didn’t build a wall because of the conflict; they built it because of the terrorist attacks. Not because of history, because of the pain. Pain is reality, suffering is reality. The fact that millions of people are living in a reality of suffering, of pain, distortion, imbalance and occupation – that is the story, not the “conflict.” When someone checks into a hospital in critical condition, the doctor doesn’t ask him what he did in 1948.

The articles that appear in this section have also been published in Hebrew and Arabic