Much has been said about renewed peace talks in Israel and the Palestinian territories (I-P). Hopes of peace summits, timing, and a deteriorating situation in Gaza and the West Bank are points of conversation and hope. While I long to see peace in the region I am dubious about its fruition. Why? Power.
In the early 16th century Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his seminal work The Prince. This work was the first modern treatise of political philosophy and has been central to political philosophy over the centuries. What is relevant to our discussion is the understanding of human nature and politics that Machiavelli gives. Machiavelli argued that men are “ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous”. I would submit that states, ruled by men, exhibit similar characteristics. Too often politicians, academics, and intellectuals argue for an idealistic position of what should be, rather than what can be. It is unfortunate the situation the Palestinians find themselves in. To be sure there is plenty of blame to go around: The Arab republics like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon who continue to ignore the Palestinians, Israel for its constant bombardment of Gaza, the United States for vetoing virtually every Security Counsel resolution on the I-P conflict. Unfortunately States do not act in a virtuous manner.
Michael Walzer, continuing the philosophical trend of Machiavelli, argues that States must act against moral norms in order to achieve a more prosperous and sustainable State. It must be noted, however, that Machiavelli and Walzer were not arguing in favor of a Hitlerian system or in favor of someone like Stalin. Rather, without disregarding some moral norms men like Hitler and Stalin would be able to rule and conquer. The meek do not inherit the earth. (See Walzer’s “Dirty Hands” essay)
How does this relate to I-P? Israel is a State like any other. The government is responsible for protecting its citizens, offering a judicial system, participating in the economy, and so forth. We must remember that States, like individuals, are self-interested. The Israeli government is not responsible for Palestinians living in Gaza or the West Bank. Further, what incentive does Israel have to make peace? Israel has continued to expand its borders, take control of vital water interests, all the while developing a superb military and sustainable economy. What motivation is there for peace?
It has been said that developing a sustainable peace would hinder terrorism and attacks on Israel. I strongly disagree with this analysis. However, this is a moot point. Israel uses the threat of terror and violence as propaganda to continue to its expansionist policies. In this sense, Israel is content with dealing with groups like Hamas. Why? More military aid from the U.S., rhetorical points for expansion, justification in the International Community… need I go on.
Human Rights groups, the Arab league, and the U.N. continue to condemn certain tactics used by the Israeli military. While I agree on some counts that certain tactics are inhumane, understanding why they use them would be of some value. Remember, Machiavelli and Walzer both suggested that brutal tactics and the sidelining of morals is sometimes necessary to remain in power and prosperous. The fact is, no amount of condemnation will stop these tactics. Until Israel is faced with a legitimate threat, peace is not possible. Do I hear a certain Persian State flexing its muscles?
Commentators, politicians, and academics need to shift their rhetoric from what should be the case (pre-1967 borders, a free and democratic Palestine, etc) to what is an attainable case. Unfortunately, at this point Palestinians will continue to suffer, be humiliated, and die. This is a daunting statement and I don’t say it with any joy. But because the U.S. continues to support Israel without reservation, Arab republics continue to build barriers for the Palestinians, and groups like Hamas and the IDF keep tension high peace is unattainable. As it stands, without serious punishment from the U.S., Israel will continue its current expansionist policies.