Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Muddling forward in the Middle East

When then-President George W. Bush hosted then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch in April 2005, Sharon told Bush that he doubted Arabs would ever acknowledge the "birthright of the Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in their historic cradle" (Benn, 2005, p. 44).

This unmitigated arrogance is exactly why Israel and Palestine cannot resolve their problems. The founding of the state of Israel was done violently, by conquest, and only a bit more than 60 years ago. Living people remember it.

In my field, Peace and Conflict Studies, we engage conflict forensics to dissect, deconstruct, contextualize and attempt to understand conflict. Sharon, his Israeli heirs, and his natural Palestinian counterparts (those who join him in what is known as dissensual conflict, or conflict over worldviews and values, not merely a share of the pie) hold all their people hostage. Solutions cannot be based on mere problem-solving and dividing up resources or even land. We saw how that worked out with the failed Oslo Accords. Solutions need to address the emotional core of the problem.

What emotional blocks exist? The short list:
  • Atrocities have been committed by both sides.
  • Labeling and objectification mean that many members of both sides regard the other people as the problem.
  • Collective memory defaults to the worst case assumed scenarios at every turn.
  • Every family on both sides has a personal loss to account for, to satisfy, and to remind them of the inhumanity of the other side.
  • Many on both sides are certain that the other side is existentially threatening, i.e., would like to commit complete genocide on them.

Of course, all this is compounded by the legacies of Europe and the Middle East, by the Crusades, by the northern conquests of Muslims during what Europeans call the Dark Ages, by the modern European invasions and colonial conquests of sections of the Middle East, by the European Holocaust, and by the Cold War. That ocean of negative stew is pressurized into a cauldron of land with scant resources and a burgeoning population who already consume more water than they have, more oil than they have, and more food than they can grow.

This adds up to what Edward Azar (Lebanese American conflict resolution theorist) called protracted social conflict. PSC is the toughest conflict nut to crack. It needs to go way past negotiations that have occurred to date. Just a couple of suggestions based upon our basic principles in Peace and Conflict Studies:

Engage in a thoroughgoing Truth and Reconciliation process that fully hears the people on basic traumatic issues, including all topics back to and preceding the 1948 creation of the nation-state of Israel. This is hard and messy. So is the ongoing conflict, which shows zero sign of abating.

Begin negotiations that include all parties who say they are stakeholders, no matter how radical and offensive, from the jihadis on the Palestinian side to the Greater Zionists (like Sharon was) on the Israeli side. Decide and abide by the decision on whether to include those in diaspora because those people affect the conflict (almost always destructively on all sides). My personal thought would be to argue to exclude them, because, for the most part, people in diaspora will listen to those 'back home' and those who are in Palestine Israel are the ones who should process and decide matters. Of course, it gets complicated when Palestinian refugees still in vast camps bordering Israel are considered. They certainly have more rights in this conflict than do Jews living in America who have never lived in Israel.

End US involvement. We are the largest supplier of arms to the region, pouring gasoline on the peat bog fire daily. We can never be an honest broker of peace there. We are literally representing AAI Corporation, Alliant Techsystems, BAE Systems Inc., Boeing, Bushmaster Firearms International, Colt's Manufacturing Company, General Atomics, General Electric (primarily through GEAE), General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon Corporation, THOR Global Defense Group, United Technologies (primarily through Pratt and Whitney, Smith and Wesson Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation) and all the other war contractors who profit from bloodshed and who lose money to successful peace processes. The US must not be a part of this as they are owned by the lobbyists from the war system.

Is any of this easy? No, of course not. If it were easy, all the certified smart people on both sides would have wrapped this up long ago. But at the least we need to move past the superficials.

Benn, A. (2005). Israel and Arab Democracy. National Interest, (80), 44-48. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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