To write about the Middle East is always difficult, but to write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more so. Emotions, religious fanaticism and global geopolitical interests make this region the trap of many commentators, journalists and academics whom wish to propose ‘the best solution’. Analysis seems to be the only refuge.In the past I have tried to understand the conflict starting from the analysis of a few events (see for instance Gaza and the ethos of death,Does Israel fear peace and normalization? and Gaza: bad politics needs blood). Today I wish to discuss the more in depth the reasons for why I have little hope that the conflict may be resolved or reduced in the future.
Next Friday, the Palestinian Authority will present a bid to become a full member state at the United Nations, where it is likely that the US will veto the request. The chances of success are very slim, and the Palestinians may opt for other solutions, such as the so called ‘Vatican option’. In any case, the attempt to ‘force’ a recognized state through legitimate, but more symbolic than resolutive means, has its perils, not only for the Palestinians but also for the Israelis. Let us observe some important points.
First of all, Palestine is far from being a viable state. This is not only the result of the Israeli occupation, Israeli settlements that are fragmenting and stealing the Palestinian territory together with the infamous wall, the lack of water resources, which are mainly controlled by Israel, and endemic poverty.
Sure, I can add other damaging effects of the Israeli social-political strangulation of Palestine, yet, although maybe over optimistically, these kinds of issues may be resolved with a real peace treaty, since many are caused by Israeli policies. There is another aspect that damages the Palestinian hope for recognized statehood: a divisive and sectarian political life and society – the internal, rarely discussed, tensions (may I say wars?) between secularists and those, including Hamas, who dream of the Islamic state of Palestine where violence to impose shari’a may easily take root.
Lack of space prevents me from discussing the particular internal issues that in reality are a major threat to the Palestinians’ hope for statehood. The reasons for which these internal problems pose a significant threat is that they will not disappear the day Israel accepts a full Palestinian state; actually they may possibly worsen to a level of open conflict.
Another obstacle is the simple fact that even the state of Israel is an anomalous one. It is a country forced to be in a never ending state of self-defense as well as in conflict with international resolutions, a state that has remained politically and democratically underdeveloped for the last forty-two years, where the politicians and prime minister are relics of a history that can no longer understand the new Israeli Jewish and Arab generations, a state that risks, no less than Palestine, to become what I call a theo-polis marked by a restricted idea of “Jewishness” of the nation, increasingly controlled by un-censurable religious delirium.
Israel without the fear of Palestinians, Muslims and Islam, would have to face its own dark side, its own intra-Jewish racism, its own class struggles and injustices. Israel, post-conflict, may look much more like its Middle Eastern neighbors than the ‘European state’ it appears to aim to be. I leave aside, again for lack of space, the issue of an increasing criminality, including a stronger than ever local Israeli Mafia.
I am not surprised that while speaking to an American diplomat about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was told that Israel prefers a status-quo of the conflict for internal reasons: a kind of frozen reality where the ‘fear’ of the ‘evil’ Palestinian, the occasional skirmish and the annoying Flotilla may hide from the Israeli public the increasing social-political, and even religious, crises.
There exists a degree of similarity between the Palestinian authorities and the Israeli government which can be observed in the use of what I call the “ideology of dystopia”. To understand this, we need to start from ‘ideology’. I wish to quote Robert Higgs to define ideological expressions:
The persuasive power of ideological expression arises for the most part from neither logic nor facts [...] Ideological rhetoric usually takes a highly figurative, quasi- poetic form. Metaphor, analogy, irony, sarcasm, satire, hyperbole, and overdrawn antithesis are its common devices. Ideological thought is expresses in intricate symbolic webs as vaguely defined as they are emotionally charged.
We exaggerate only a little if we say that in ideological expression imagery is everything [...] Ideologues, hoping to attract those who lack the time or capacity for extended reflection, encapsulate their messages in pithy slogans, mottoes, and self-ennobling descriptions. When these terse war cries produce the desired effect they mobilize large numbers of diverse people. The secret of their success lies partly in their evocative moral appeal and partly in their ambiguity and vagueness, which allow each person to hear them as lyrics suited to his own music.” (Higgs, 1987, p. 48)
It is within this ‘ambiguity and vagueness, which allows each person to hear them as lyrics suited to his own music’ that both the Palestinian authorities and the Israeli government introduce the ‘dystopia’, which allows them to maintain the desired status-quo, the immutable reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Raising hopes, denying hope that has been granted before, and providing solutions with no real content are all methodologies of that ‘ideology of dystopia’ so loved by both political sides.
Hence we can now make sense of the Palestinian authorities impossible bid for statehood. It is not just a desperate attempt to force Israel into a peace process as this attempt, as some have noticed, may even make real negotiations more difficult because it can easily provoke violence (from the frustrated Palestinians if the bid fails, from the Israeli settlers and then Israeli military if for any reason it succeeds). Moreover, UN recognition would not change a single comma in the everyday life of Palestinians: it will not remove the wall, nor will it move a single settlement or even military check point.
Yet the bid will allow the ideology of dystopia to continue and to maintain that conflict so vital for a political world increasingly surviving on the grounds of an ethos of death.