• A world aflame
    July 11,2014

    Everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong. So the killing just goes on.

    It is erroneous to wash one’s hands in the waters of moral equivalency and to see equal degrees of perfidy among the parties to the wars in the Middle East. But the latest, dangerous battle between Israel and the Palestinians, who are lobbing rockets and shells at each other across the border of Gaza, is a frustrating and dispiriting exercise in futility.

    Israel is right when it says it has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza. Palestinians are right when they say they are suffering unjustly under the brutality of the Israeli occupation. Israel is right when it says it must exercise authority over Palestinian territories to protect itself from terrorists. Palestinians are right when they say occupation foments terrorism.

    Palestinians have suffered because of their own failed leaders, who have rejected previous peace deals and who maintain an intransigent, racist, hostile, aggressive stance toward Israel. And yet Israel has used its advantages as an occupying power to worsen the situation by establishing more and more settlements in the West Bank and encouraging an extremist settler movement hostile to peace with Palestine.

    Neither side has peace as its top priority. Security or ideological imperatives come first. For Israel, the two-state solution, which has been the professed goal of Israel and its friends for decades, has become ever more elusive; rejection of the two-state solution has become more common among Israelis who hold the unalterable view that they have the right to control all of the occupied territories.

    The Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has tried to show that Palestinians are capable of governing themselves responsibly. But the organization’s recent rapprochement with Hamas, which governs Gaza, put Israel in a difficult position. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and in the Israeli view, the Palestinian Authority destroyed its own credibility by making peace with Hamas.

    The murder of three Israeli teens, followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen, heightened tensions, which were heightened further by Hamas rocket attacks. The fierce Israeli response was foreordained.

    It was just a few months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was shuttling around the Middle East looking for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. There were many interests who stood to lose from such an agreement — those with a stake in hostility or who are beholden to ideological fanatics. It was perhaps not surprising that Kerry’s effort failed, but it is sad that it failed so swiftly and so profoundly.

    The region is aflame. Syria is a catastrophe. Iraq has been drawn into the Syrian catastrophe with the incursion of Sunni terrorists who have seized vast territories in Iraq. For Israel to be drawn into war with the Palestinians is to open up one more front in a wide-ranging battle. The Palestinians ought to know better. Then again, it’s hard to know what shadowy forces are pulling strings to provoke events. Iran, the region’s Shiite power, is propping up both the U.S.-backed government of Iraq and the despised dictatorship of Syria. Has Iran had a role in provoking Hamas’s foolish actions? Who knows?

    Many friends of Israel despair of the hard line taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues to thumb his nose at the United States and the Palestinians by authorizing new settlements in the West Bank and prolonging the occupation. But he is captive of constituent groups among Israelis who take a hard line on settlements. Democracy, it turns out, is not good for itself when the people themselves become demagogic.

    Meanwhile, on the sidelines, the United States continues negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, a circumstance with the potential of transforming the Middle East. If Iran were to see the advantages of peace over war, if the United States were to help Iran see those advantages, the two nations together could possibly take the energy out of some of the most dangerous conflicts in the region. In the meantime, the region burns.

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