Saturday, August 09, 2014

The exploding Middle East & the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In case you haven't noticed, the Middle East and its periphery are burning! In Iraq, Sunni ISIS militants have taken over large expanses of the country and are perpetrating horrific violence on non-Muslim minorities as well as other Muslim sects. In Syria, the nominal Shia/secular regime of Bashar-al-Assad, with the help of Iran and Hezbollah, has bombed and destroyed large parts of the country, mercilessly killing civilians in its fight against vicious Saudi-backed Sunni militants. Libya is more or less in a state of anarchy. Egyptian military, with full Saudi and Western support, has brutally killed civilians and extinguished all opposition. A fragile peace prevails in Lebanon but the entire Middle East is on tenterhooks as the reactionary Wahhabi regime of al-Saud fights a fratricidal war with Shia Iran with the primary purpose of hanging on to perpetual power.

The byzantine complexities of middle eastern power politics, the intractable historic nature of many conflicts and the difficulty of assigning simple "good" and "bad" labels make resignation and withdrawal an increasingly common reaction of those not directly caught up in the wars. " A pox on all their houses". Most people can, at best, muster periodic expressions of outrage at the loss of innocent human lives, condemn perpetrators of violence or bemoan the ill-considered Western interventions that have released the genie of instability in fragile and unformed post-colonial nation states.

And then in the midst of all this is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; an issue so divisive that even the simplest expression of your views is likely to be seen as propaganda for one side or the other. My social media feeds have been inundated by "evidence" of the treachery of the other side.

I have not waded into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on social media or elsewhere. Beyond unequivocal condemnation of loss of innocent lives and expressing the wish for a peaceful long-term solution, I have not written much. The issue is too complex for sound bites and generates considerably more heat than light. A large part of the problem is that there is a set narrative on both sides and every inevitable conflagration every few years brings out the supporters on both sides with exactly the same set of talking points. What is needed is an empathetic understanding of the historical perspective of both sides and a rational approach and commitment to solving the problem. Palestinians and Arabs have a history of missed opportunities but Israel as the dominant and occupying power, with unquestioning US support, has the greater onus of breaking the logjam. It is also clearly in Israel's own long term interest to find a way out of occupation and give Palestinians a just peace and their own homeland. On the current path of perpetual occupation and settlement expansion, Israel will eventually either lose any pretense of being a democracy or the demand for a one state solution incorporating the West Bank and Gaza will pick up steam, much to the detriment of Israel and its supporters.

Here are a few recent interviews and articles that I have found most helpful in getting a diverse perspective, even when I disagree with some of the viewpoints. They provide a wide diversity of educated opinion from very pro-Israeli to pro-Palestinian and have aided my understanding of facts and the search for solutions to this intractable conflict.

1) Interview of Yuval Diskin - Former Head of Israeli Security / Shin Bet (Der Spiegel)

3) Collective Punishment in Gaza - Rashid Khalidi (The New Yorker)

The Liberal Zionists - Jonathan Freedland (New York Review of Books)

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