All Jewish prayers end with a prayer for peace. The rabbis thus kept God’s chief blessing—peace—before us at all times. It is one thing to pray for peace, another to talk of it, and still another to achieve it. The Jewish world is adept at the first two, but the actual goal, achieving peace, eludes us. Israel and its Palestinian neighbors continue to be in conflict and there seems to be no end in sight. But if we hope to transform words into reality, it would be good to reflect on just how peace materializes in situations of prolonged and intractable conflict.
The most recent skirmish on the Israeli-Gaza border has left some 62 Palestinians dead. The tragedy unfolded on May 14, 2018, a day that should otherwise have been one of celebration, the moving of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. But the move was no joy fest for Palestinians, who understood the move as the United States eliminating Jerusalem from the agenda of any future negotiations. And so an otherwise happy day turned tragic as Palestinian rage clashed with Israeli military resolve.
In truth, there had been relatively quiet demonstrations at the Gaza-Israeli border for weeks. This demonstration turned deadly when demonstrators attempted to cross the border and support the border violations with throwing of rocks, makeshift bombs, and sending kites loaded with explosives over to the Israeli soldiers. This was not a peaceful protest. There were sufficient militants present intent on deliberately provoking the military, and the military responded. Among the dead, 52 were Hamas operatives and three were jihadits—none friends of Israel or the USA.
Was the Israeli response proportional to the apparent threat? That is a question worth pursuing, but as anyone reading much of the media will know, even before the smoke had cleared and any dispassionate investigation begun, Israel was already condemned in the court of world opinion. And that is because the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been cast as an oppressive regime versus an underdog, and the underdog, in all such stories, is always an innocent victim. The preordained narrative insists that Israel opened fire for no justifiable reason; that the force used must have been disproportionate; and without any examination, it was clear who must be condemned and who championed. The narrative requires no further inquiry, which makes the narrative, and all such narratives, the very opposite of justice.
Much of the western world is sick of this conflict. Why can’t it be brought to a close? Why can’t people of good faith sit down, work out borders, and finally resolve this chronic pathology? I actually believe that the Palestinians hold the answer to these questions. The answer is that in order for resolution to take place, one party to the conflict must fold. It will only be the loser who is prepared to make the concessions necessary in order for peace to be achieved. That is how peace was achieved with the South after the Civil War, and with Germany and Japan after World War II. War ends only with winners and losers. The only problem with this theory is that the Palestinians believe that Israel must come to the table as the loser. And that, at least in the near future, is unlikely.
Given its neighbors’ stated goals, Israel’s response to Gaza is almost always restrained. Its periodic infiltrations into Gaza are characterized by limited strategic goals—taking out rocket launchers, Hamas offices, collapsing caves used for armament transfers, etc.—which result in far fewer deaths than an actual all-out war. After each such operation, Israel walks away satisfied at having achieved its limited goals, and the Palestinians walk away without having been crushed, which in their estimation constitutes a victory. And perhaps it is. But as long as there is no defeat, there is no reason to show up at a negotiating table. Ironically, Israeli military strategy may be the most effective generator of hope for a Palestine free of Jews. Were Israel to fight the Palestinians the way, for example, Churchill battled another hostile regime, the Third Reich, the entire Israeli Knesset would be sanctioned for war crimes. And yet, we know how World War II ended. Most importantly, it ended. And then there was peace. And then America invested billions of dollars into Europe and rebuilt it under the Marshall Plan.
But here’s the good news: World War II blood-shed would not be necessary in the case of Israel versus Palestine. The international community, out of its compassion, pours Euros and dollars into the West Bank and Gaza which support some humanitarian projects but also allows for the acquisition of munitions and the exercise of military-type of activities. In addition, though much has been written about how Israel limits access to electricity and water in Gaza, it is never so much as to force Palestinians to the negotiating table. No one allows the Palestinians to taste failure, not even the Israelis. Western compassion serves as life support for a Palestinian dictatorship that lost militarily, financially and morally, long ago. Western and Israeli compassion keep this pointless conflict hot and unending.
I garner no joy in forcing anyone to do anything. Coercion is not how God meant us to live on this beautiful earth. Nor did God want us to live in a constant state of war. But praying for peace and talking about peace is not going to achieve peace. This is an intransigent war and wars like this don’t end until one side loses. We should never stop praying for peace, but we may just start hoping more for defeat. It may be the only path to peace in realpolitik.