Why can't we, the intelligent, resourceful and historically knowledgeable peoples of Israel and Palestine, manage to resolve our excruciating conflict, a struggle now much older than any Israeli or Palestinian alive?
To begin to address the question, let's look at just one theater of war, the area of Gaza and the Western Negev.
We know that a catastrophe of untold consequence is taking place there. An unaddressed humanitarian disaster rages in Gaza, the water undrinkable, the electricity supply largely unavailable, sewage open and seeping, housing inadequate, unemployment astronomical.
We know, also, that an ecological calamity has ensued in Israeli areas bordering the Strip.
It was a catastrophe entirely foretold. But it was, indeed, preventable. Early this year, Israel and Hamas could have held back-channel talks, leveraging ties with Washington, Gulf States, the EU and others to initiate a program of economic development for the Strip, whatever Hamas' rival the Palestinian Authority might have said in opposition.
- Abbas rejects Trump's plan for Gaza: An attempt to divide Palestinians
- Trump's peace envoys meet Jordanian king day after he hosted Netanyahu
- Only a reconciliation delegation will bring about a cease-fire
And yet, to the monstrously mutual benefit of both Gaza's Hamas rulers and the hardliners of the Netanyahu government – both of whom exploit high Palestinian casualty counts to inflame their base – the crisis steamed right ahead.
In Gaza, Hamas hijacked what grass-roots activists had initially planned as a campaign of non-violent protest. Coupled with Israel's longtime failure to prepare for border unrest with engineering works and non-lethal means, Hamas's actions triggered a response by Israeli troops firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters.
Vast areas of nature reserves, animal habitat, and farmland across the border in Israel have since been incinerated into smoking ash by Gazan helium balloons and kites bearing incendiary materials and devices.
Once again, the prospect of open war is in the air. Children on both sides are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their parents as well. Many have trouble sleeping, concentrating, staying calm. All too often, their lives are a waking nightmare of war's terrors, running at bare seconds' notice to escape missiles, finding overnight that areas they played in and loved, had been destroyed.
So what are the people in charge are doing about it?
In Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government is holding a discussion on the structure of two television channels and the future of the Eurovision song contest. In Gaza, encouraged by Hamas, kite and balloon flyers are working on ways to increase range and boost destructive potential.
Okay, so what can this tell us about the reasons the Israel-Palestine morass can't find a solution? Here are nine:
1. BOTH SIDES SUCK. Both sides swallow whole the same lies about the other. And the lies don't change. The following is a list from a dozen years ago. Since then there have been four major wars and untold political upheavals. The lies remain unchanged. They include:
We were here first. The Holy Land belongs to us. All of it. Who says? God says.
They are as bad as the Nazis.
The only language they understand is force.
We are the true victims. Our retaliatory revenge is wholly justified. Theirs is not. Theirs is terrorism.
Our will is stronger than theirs. We will make them suffer like we suffer. We will achieve ultimate and eternal victory.
2. BOTH SIDES SUCK. Pretending to be tough, our leaders loudly, proudly refuse to negotiate. Until, that is, the refusal turns into a war. Then, after the war that could have been forestalled, and the tragedy of the killings on both sides which could have been avoided, a truce is signed.
3. BOTH SIDES SUCK. As soon as a truce is signed, extremists on both sides go to work, finding new and effective ways to erode the truce and prod the sides into fresh cycles of escalation, mistrust, and cries for vengeance.
4. BOTH SIDES SUCK. The armchair activists of social media have a telling impact in making sure that contacts between the sides are obscenely counter-productive. The narratives presented, no less than the schoolyard-level expletives, personal insults, and threats, help assure that anyone who brings civil and sincerely well—meaning discourse to the online table will swiftly, even permanently, regret it.
5. BOTH SIDES SUCK. As a corollary to the previous, the destructive intent of social media warriors increases in direct proportion to their distance from the Holy Land. That is, expect the worst from online fanatics in places like Brooklyn, Detroit, Boca Raton.
6. BOTH SIDES SUCK. Rampant, institutionalized official corruption on both sides makes it all too attractive for leaders to divert the attention of the people away from the workings of government, and squarely on the perceived crimes, villainy, and irredeemable moral bankruptcy of the Enemy. Racism – as expressed as anti-Semitism on the part of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and as anti-Arab bigotry by Netanyahu and his colleagues – has become an increasingly helpful tool in this regard.
7. BOTH SIDES SUCK – In Israel, Gaza and in the West Bank, leaders and officials are doing everything they can to cement the positions of the current leadership into as permanent a condition as possible. They hope to benefit, as well, from the perceived rightward bent of young people.
8. BOTH SIDES SUCK – Leaders of both sides exploit the same one-sided UN decisions to inflame their base – the Palestinians as proof that the whole world agrees with them, and the Israelis as proof that the whole world is against them – so Israel might as well do as it damn pleases.
9. BOTH SIDES SUCK – Leaders of both sides take advantage of the statements and actions of the Trump administration in a slightly different way. Netanyahu and those farther to the right see Trump's support as releasing Israel from any constraints. Oddly, Palestinians see Trump's support of Netanyahu as, yes, releasing them from any constraints as well.