If there is one thing that Israelis and Palestinians agree on and religiously adhere to, it’s Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Israelis have long believed that overwhelming force, collective punishment, denial of rights, rejection of identity, humiliation, and a devastating Egyptian-supported 15-year-long blockade of the Gaza Strip would persuade Palestinians to surrender their national aspirations, accept a rewriting of history, and settle for Israeli control in exchange for economic opportunity.
Israeli officials hailed the decision by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, not to become militarily involved in this month’s fight with Islamic Jihad even though it provided moral, political, and logistical support to the group as evidence that the government’s strategy was working.
However, there is little reason to assume that Hamas has suddenly changed its leopard spots and suddenly surrendered the principle of armed struggle. On the contrary, more likely is that Hamas wants to decide on timing rather than let Islamic Jihad or Israel drag into a conflict at a moment that fits their agenda.
The Israeli military said this week that it had sealed an attack tunnel that Hamas dug from northern Gaza into Israel. It said the tunnel had been blocked by an underground defensive barrier that Israel completed in December.
Even so, Defense Minister Benny Gantz asserted after the attacks on Gaza that “for the past year Israel has had a clear policy. On the one hand, a heavy hand against all violations of sovereignty, and offensive and defensive efforts to prevent (attacks) on all fronts. On the other hand, a responsible civil and humanitarian policy strengthening moderate forces over terrorist organizations.”
Fact of that matter is that Mr. Gantz’s policy, a variation on Israel’s longstanding approach to Palestinians hasn’t worked. More than seven decades since the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinians continue to cling to their national identity and aspirations.
The result is that Israel’s future as Jewish state and democracy may today be as threatened as it was in the early years when Arab armies were determined to wipe it off the map.
Today’s decreasing options for a solution of the century-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians constitute the most serious existential threat facing Israel rather than Palestinian violence, despite the wounding earlier this week of eight people when a Palestinian gunman attacked a bus in East Jerusalem.
To be sure, Israeli officials have linked the Gaza operation to stepped up Israeli countering of Iran, widely viewed as the foremost threat to the existence of a Jewish state.
Israel’s increased focus on Iran comes at a time that the revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program hangs in the balance. Islamic Jihad maintains close ties to the Islamic republic.
Ziad al-Nakhalah, the group’s top leader, was in Tehran meeting Iranian officials when Israel began its three-day operation in Gaza on August 5.
“Islamic Jihad has an open tab in Iran… Islamic Jihad in Gaza is a violent Iranian proxy,” Mr. Gantz. He asserted that Islamic Jihad received tens of millions of dollars a year from Iran.
With or without Iranian support, Palestinians have fared no better than Israelis by adhering to Einstein’s principle.
Palestinian violence in the 1970s and 1970s served its purpose by putting the Palestinian issue on the world’s agenda. It has since contributed to taking it off the agenda of some Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that in recent years established diplomatic relations with Israel and downgrading the issue’s importance to others like Saudi Arabia.
Add to that a United States that has all but given up on pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis with no one willing to seriously replace America as a mediator, albeit a flawed one.
Palestinian Islamists continue to cling to the principle of armed resistance that primarily targets civilians in the illusion that its success in previous decades can be repeated while moderates, despite making concessions that recognize Israel’s existence and abandon the notion of armed struggle, have failed a halt Israeli settlement and achieve a modicum of independence.
Meanwhile, Israeli public opinion has hardened while the dovish Israeli left has been all but marginalised.
Israel’s attack this month on Gaza in a bid to deal a fatal blow to Islamic Jihad, a group that rejects a negotiated resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a coalition of armed groups on the West Bank, serves as the latest affirmation of Einstein’s definition of insanity.
The attack and the Palestinian response have done nothing but widen the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, and entrench self-serving positions at a time of Israeli election maneuvering and mounting Palestinian frustration and lack of confidence in leadership.
The international community as does the Palestinian Authority that administers parts of the West Bank cling to the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in areas conquered by the Israelis during the 1967 Middle East war even if the presence of 670,000 Israeli settlers in 152 settlements in the territory as well as East Jerusalem makes partition extremely difficult, if not impossible.
In the final analysis, the on-the-ground removal of the two-state option turns solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by opting for one state for both Palestinians and Jews into an existential threat to Israeli democracy if both groups do not enjoy equal rights or to the Jewish nature of the state if they do.
In theory, the only other option left would be a three-way solution involving some sort of federation that would include Israeli, Palestinians, and Jordanians. But that may not go down well with Jordanians and could potentially aggravate the demographic threat to Israel.
In sum, failure to grab the bull by the horns when a two-state solution was possible may have made a solution to the conflict more intractable and perpetuate cycles of violence that undermine the social fabric and democracy of Israel.
“If there is one thing completely missing from the public agenda in Israel, it is the long-term view. Israel does not look ahead, not even by half a generation… There is not a single Israeli, not one, who knows where his country is headed,” noted controversial Israeli columnist
The same is true for Palestinians who know what they want, have no idea how to get there, and stick to strategies that, at best are unproductive, and, at worst, counterproductive.