the tide turning in the Holy Land
The balance shifting between Israel and Palestine
In the last few years, I have been predicting a change of fortunes for Israel. This was detailed in my article Why I sympathise with Israelis (July 2006). Quite a few people have put me in the 'daft', 'idealistic' or 'anti-Semitic' category for that. Well, I'm persevering because I now believe, after a pause for reflection after the Lebanon war, that the signs of this change of fortunes are even more apparent. Perhaps people and governments need to start looking at this.
We’re talking here about the 'law of paradoxes', not about logic or the facts and behaviour of the past. This is known more fashionably as 'the law of unintended consequences'. Or perhaps it's just the prevailing winds of the emergent 21st Century - the future asserting an increasing effect on the present.
The overriding factor determining this sea-change is wider world conditions. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on so long, and positions have become so fixed – delaying tactics and no-budge positions have become habitual - that it risks being swamped and overtaken by events and trends in the wider world.
Not least the risk of widespread civil war across the Middle East, as warned about by Abdullah, king of Jordan on 26th Nov 2006. Currently, things could not look bleaker in the Middle East, with rising heat in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. This is a definite risk, but I do not believe it will happen. There are elements definitely trying to ignite it, and plenty of trip-wires, but this is partially to settle old scores and block reconciliation, and partially because conflict has become an addiction - and some fear going through cold turkey.
But the Big One comes from a variety of sources:
a globalising imperative arising from planetary environmental and resource issues;
a re-balancing of world power away from the West and toward the 'majority world'; and,
an underlying shift of world values away from conflict, exploitation and insensitivity toward peace and increasing cooperation.
The stakes are so high, globally, that our priorities must shift, for pragmatic reasons. We're all in the same boat, and people who rock it risk being sacrificed for the survival of the majority.
It comes from more local factors too. They are outlined in previous blog-postings. On the Israeli side, weaknesses in its position, dating back to the nation’s founding and more recent behaviour, are coming home to roost. These include Israel's dependence on American support and on military might, its weak social cohesion (glued together mainly by shared Jewish victimhood in the past), rampant individualism and social militarisation, its inattention to the social welfare of its own people and to environmental issues, its geopolitical exceptionalism (flouting of international law and values) and its inherent confusion between democracy and control, liberalism and racism.
On the Palestinian side, prolonged hardship and loss has pushed the Palestinians through social and psychological experiences that have toughened their resistance, making them bizarrely stronger in the longterm. This is currently demonstrated in the new non-violent social resistance taking place right now in Gaza - to some extent a spontaneous revolt even against existing paramilitary groups. Living for decades without effective government, the social glue that governments customarily weaken or destroy has grown strong. Palestinian population growth, outstripping that of the Israelis and outstripping population loss as a result of emigration, lends an inevitable numbers formula to the longterm game. In a strange way, the Palestinians are coming out stronger at present - precisely when they never seemed so weak.
There is something else too. Potentially, it leads toward eventual peace. It's the greatest peacemaking force of all: weariness. There's a deep tiredness in both and all communities - in Lebanon and Iraq too. This brought de facto peace to Northern Ireland, regardless of what politicians and paramilitaries thought - and Northern Ireland is an uncanny model for what is unfolding in Israel and Palestine.
Then there’s that 'law of paradox'. It has a levelling effect. Things always, always, turn around, sooner or later. It happened for the British empire, and now it is visibly happening for USA - the price of greatness, especially when injustices, violence and dominance are involved, is the building up of forces which brings down that power. This is happening worldwide, but it is very apparent in Israel and Palestine. Here, many would disagree - and they might be right. But they might also be wrong, and in places riddled with certainties, right and wrong have strange ways of reversing. Especially when God is called upon on a regular basis.
We're not talking about a victory of Palestinians (or Arabs) over Israelis. We're talking of a levelling of differences which put both sides on a par, bringing about a necessary restitution of imbalances and a dawning of peace and realism. The idea of driving Israelis into the sea undoubtedly strengthens the hearts of some Arabs, but it is neither likely nor advisable for Arabs themselves. The Israelis have already demonstrated, tragically, that the sins brought to bear on them during the Nazi period and before, have become internalised and applied to Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
The same would happen if Arabs landed up as Israelis' oppressors - they would start oppressing one another too, in ways which could make today’s civil strife in Iraq look small. The only factor which would drive Israelis into the sea would be a mass disaffection and emigration amongst Israelis themselves, deeply disappointed in the capacity of their own state to provide safe haven for the Jewish people.
So, the tanks and shellings have now stopped on Israel's part (well, in truth, not quite). On the part of the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas have committed to hudna or ceasefire - which Hamas have proposed all along - but the decisive factor will be their capacity to rein in their militants. This highlights a factor which holds for both sides: their societies are deeply damaged and hurt, and it’s difficult to let go of the pain of the past. It's a perverse comfort-zone, a known evil which looks easier than peace.
This is why hudna is currently so necessary - to give a chance for heated feelings to subside, and for normal life to take hold. When I was in the West Bank in 2005, I could sense a buildup of a relaxation amongst Palestinians, which now has been buried. But it’s still there - a deep desire for a normal, reasonable life.
The ceasefire might or might not hold, but this does not detract from the underlying trend currently emerging. It's to do with 'asymmetric warfare'. That is, all Palestinians need to do to achieve their objectives is simply to survive. Meanwhile, Israelis need outright victory to succeed. Some extreme Israelis regard that as possible only through a 'final solution' involving the 'transfer' of Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank, by force if necessary. In other words, the Palestinians can achieve their objectives easier than the Israelis. The conflict thus turns against the Israelis, because Israel has a case of 'mission impossible' - and a sinking capacity to achieve it. As was the case in its conflict with Hezbollah in summer 2006.
In this dark hour, I believe peace is potentially looming. This could be challenging. It means that Israelis must cultivate a new national attitude and make friends with their neighbours – only this will guarantee security. It means that Palestinians must drop the past, push for reasonable objectives to make their lives more liveable and workable, and drop some past objectives such as the repossession of the whole of the former Palestine and the right of all Palestinian refugees and exiles to return. Morally, return might be justified, by practically it is unlikely.
This means forgiveness - that teaching which Christians have advocated so long yet so often failed themselves to demonstrate. It means reconciliation - a reconciliation mainly with current hard facts.
I believe we shall see a big sea-change in Israel and Palestine in coming years. It will take time. It might or might not involve further conflict. But it is coming - and, to some extent, no one can stop it. It won’t be idealism that does it, but realism. Backed up by a new realism that the wider world, the 'international community', needs also to develop and apply. Since it is the international community which has permitted this conflict to go on for so long.