Breaking The Israeli-Palestinian Cycle Of Violence


Achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a critical issue of human rights, justice, and global security. But it is also an issue that Winning Progressive rarely writes about because there are few issues that we find more frustrating. Rarely do we find an issue where the solution is so obvious yet the parties involved on all sides are so unwilling to work in good faith towards such solution. Instead, Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in an accelerating cycle of violence, and even discussions of the issue rapidly devolve into finger pointing and recriminations.

The ongoing Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense and Hamas rocket attacks are just the latest example of this cycle of violence. As Roger Cohen explains in his column in today’s New York Times:

As usual, the prelude was messy — a rocket fired from Gaza hitting southern Israel on Nov. 3; a Palestinian killed near the border on Nov. 4; three Israeli soldiers wounded in a blast at the border on Nov. 6; a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli machine-gun fire on Nov. 8; four Israelis soldiers wounded by an anti-tank missile on Nov. 10; four Palestinian teenagers killed when Israel fires back; steadily increasing rocket fire from Gaza. (That is just a rough summary, and of course each side has a different version.)

Over the past week, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes in Gaza, killing more than 100 people. Over the same time period, the Hamas-run government of Gaza has launched approximately 900 missile attacks on Israel, killing three Israelis.

It is not clear what Hamas hopes to achieve with its launching of rockets at Israel, as there is absolutely no chance that Hamas could militarily defeat Israel. As for Operation Pillar of Defense, there can be no reasonable dispute that Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas’ attacks. But Israel also cannot defeat Hamas militarily (at least without a massive level of destruction and loss of life that is unacceptable), and there is a legitimate argument that the attacks on Gaza represent, in the words of Israeli negotiator Gershon Baskin, a “grave and irresponsible strategic error.”

What is clear is that these developments have not brought the overall situation any closer to a peaceful resolution. Instead, we are again trapped in the ever-spiraling cycle of violence that has plagued Israelis and Palestinians for decades. The core problem here is that radicals on both sides feed off each other. Each time a radical militant on the Palestinian side commits an act of violence or Hamas launches a rocket, it hardens Israel’s resolve to expand settlements and overrun the opposition. And each time a radical militant in the Israeli government rebukes an effort at peace, approves a new settlement, or launches a military strike that kills innocent Palestinians, it weakens the Palestinian moderates and gives the Palestinian radicals more grievances to feed off of.

To break out of this cycle, we all need to acknowledge three things.

First, both sides have valid claims at stake. The nation of Israel has the right to exist, and is entitled to a level of security in which its citizens are free from the threat of rockets, suicide bombers, etc. At the same time, Palestinians have the right to a country of their own, free from economic and travel blockades, and with access to clean water, medical care, and education.

Second, the blame game is pointless because there is more than enough blame to go around. Both sides have engaged in far too much violence. Too many Palestinian leaders have refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist and have directly or tacitly supported terrorism against Israel. For its part, the Israeli government continues to build illegal settlements, and too often sees ratcheting up military pressure against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, etc. as a way to increase political strength at home. Living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are inexcusable, due both to Israeli blockades and military strikes and corruption by Palestinian leaders.

Third, the solution is clear. Palestinians must acknowledge the right of Israel to exist and give up the right to return, in exchange for a state established on the 1967 borders with shared access to Jerusalem; the international community helping to provide security to both countries; and significant aid provided to Palestine to allow for the creation of infrastructure, a functioning civil sector, and economic development.

Given the death grip of violence that the Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in, a third party must break the cycle. And the only third party with the wherewithal to do so is the US. As such, it is critical that the US evenhandedly and objectively work to reign in the radicals on both sides, build up the moderates, and push both sides towards peace. Such an approach would truly be “pro-Israeli” and “pro-Palestinian” by being pro-peace. The alternative – an endless future of war, terror, and fear – is no future at all.

To help get Middle East peace talks back on track, call your Congresspeople and write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of the three points laid out above (both sides have valid claims, the blame game is pointless as both sides are at fault, and a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders is the clearest path to peace). And consider supporting one of the following organizations that is committed to peace and non-violent change for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.

Jewish Voices for Peace

J Street

Americans for Peace Now

Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy