A Middle East Conflict No Longer About Land
Along with destroying much of Hamas’ infrastructure, the fighting in Gaza has laid waste to any semblance of a foreign policy from the Obama Administration. The latest bout between Israel and the Palestinians was preceded by the Administration’s lame-duck peace push that, while predictably ineffective, publicly lent moral weight to Hamas’s tactics. Morality may be the most precious commodity in the region now – more valuable than water, oil, or land – because it is the one issue on which the Palestinians believe they can win.
For years the Middle East conflict has been defined by asymmetries. Israel has a modern-day functioning society with robust markets, industrial infrastructure, and a world-class military. It is also governed by the rule of law. In fact, one of Israel’s less flattering features is just how progressive certain aspects of its legal system are. Its military, for instance, must often seek judicial approval prior to making combat decisions, something we would find unthinkable in the U.S.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have struggled to implement the fundamentals of a 21st century society. Yet one thing they have been shockingly successful at doing is fighting for moral currency. The Hamas leadership, which formed a unified Palestinian government with Fatah earlier this year, deliberately embeds its military operations within the civilian population, often conducting operations from schools and hospitals. When it goes to battle, it intends to kill both Israelis and Palestinians, because while dead Israelis may boost Palestinian morale, dead Palestinians equate to moral points in the eyes of the international community.
That has become the true prize for the Palestinians, whose culture is pathologically about victimhood. Their leadership’s approach, like any oppressive society’s, is designed to maximize internal suffering. Totalitarianism needs a scapegoat to survive and grow, just like a virus-carrying cell needs oxygen, and Israel, with its superior military and prosperity, is a convenient one.
And that is why the whole notion of the peace process is so utterly absurd. Even the term itself – “process” – is revealing. Process for what end and to what result? It certainly has ceased to be about statehood for the Palestinians. That could have been a reality long ago, going back to 1947, in fact, and many days since. The reason there is no Palestinian state is remarkably simple. The Palestinians refuse to recognize a Jewish State of Israel. They are less interested in their own homeland than they there are in disowning somebody else’s.
In the nearly 70 years since the United Nation’s partition plan, the Palestinians have not moved past that same basic problem. Literally zero progress.
Instead, the Palestinian leadership knows that it can exploit the sensitivities of democracies around the world to gain moral ground on the Israelis. It uses institutions like the International Criminal Court and the United Nations, which are the foolhardy product of good intentions, to wage a different kind of war, a war in which the West has failed in its responsibility to be unequivocally partial. This is a battle not about land, over which you can negotiate, but about the ethos of civilizations, which cannot be subject to negotiation and which certainly shouldn’t invite evenhandedness.
The Palestinian leadership has long ago recognized that suffering and oppression among its own people equate to power and longevity. Freedom, on the other hand, depends on choices. We choose to be prosperous; we choose to be productive; and we choose to vote from office those who fail us. The residents of Gaza should take an inventory of their burned-out landscape and their shattered dreams and ask themselves whether their leaders have succeeded or failed. The answer is obvious. Unfortunately for the Palestinians and apparently most of the international community, the question remains elusive.