Tag Archives: International Relations

Israeli Offensive Paves Road to Peace

7 Jan

The Israeli offensive that steamrolled into the Gaza strip on December 27th is a real step toward ending Middle East violence.   It is also a real step toward ending the Middle East.  And that is one sorry way to halt the seemingly never-ending conflict.      

In a March 2008 post, The Hangover deconstructed Israeli-Palestinian violence in sociological terms.  Conflict theory and historical perspectives were applied to understand what could bring an end to the conflict:  Creation of a Palestinian state and the conceding of occupied land.  However, Israel has once again chosen another path.  In response to Hamas rockets constantly being shot into their country, the Israelis have (ironically) launched a blitzkrieg into Gaza, an area populated by 1.1 million Palestinians, 50% of whom are children.   To date, over 600 Palestinians have been killed, a quarter of whom are confirmed civilians.  Six Israeli soldiers have also died.  One million Palestinians are without electricity, 700, 000 without water.   Yesterday, Israeli mortars took out a school being used as a shelter, killing 30.  To say that Israel has its boot on Gaza’s throat is an understatement.

The strategic objective of this attack is to end Hamas’  firing of rockets into Israel.   It’s proven effective.  Only fifteen were fired yesterday.  Apparently, progress is being made.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated:  

“We hope this fighting will be a swift episode.  We have no interest to endlessly drag it on, but only if two basic principles are reached we will be in a position to end it: The complete cessation of the (arms) smuggling and Hamas losing its ability to fire rockets. I have sworn not to allow our great nation to withstand any situation that will require the mercy of those who fire out the rockets.”

Once again, this is a short-sighted, brawn-over-brains policy.  To end the rocket fire under current conditions, the Israelis will need to occupy Gaza.  And there’s nothing in the history of Israel-Palestine relations that indicates a force-fueled cessation of conflict will be more than temporary.   So what will Israel gain?

Regardless of which country is “right” and which is “wrong,” each resident of Gaza will consider this offensive the same way the Polish and French regarded the Nazi blitzkrieg.  Each dead Palestinian has relatives, friends, workmates.  Each survivor becomes a potential future terrorist.  In World War Two terms, those fighting the occupiers were called “the Resistance.”

The great fear of statesmen around the world is that terrorists gain the means and  materials to create a weapon of  mass destruction.  Whether this is a nuclear, dirty, chemical, or biological weapon remains to be seen.   But as time progresses, the chances of such a device being acquired by terrorists becomes more likely (despite the efforts of the United Nations, Jack Bauer, and various intelligence agencies).  If a WMD does fall into Palestinian hands, there will be one target:  Israel.  

The current Israeli offensive will come to its definitive end when that WMD is deployed.   It might not happen next week or next year.  The bomb might not drop for decades.  But unless Israel stops fostering the conditions that perpetually create terrorists, it will happen.  All those in the region are under siege.  

At some point a Palestinian terrorist (or resistance fighter), perhaps one whose child has been ripped to pieces by an Israeli mortar, will push the button.   Maybe then—when the region is leveled, covered in radiation, or suffering from anthrax—compromise will be possible, provided there’s anyone or anything left to contest.


Israel-Palestine Conflict Deconstructed and Defused (in 1500 words or less)

17 Mar

One doesn’t need to be a graduate of the Fletcher School of International Affairs to know that relations between Israel and the Palestinians are screwed.  While American attention is now focused mainly on Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, a series of articles in this past weeks’ Boston Globe caught The Hangover’s ire.  Israel and the Palestinians are at it again.  Of course, that line could have been written just about every day since 1947.

The Headlines:

Monday, March 10:  “Shooting Leaves Holy City On Edge” (Matti Friedman, AP)

A Palestinian gunman shot and killed eight Jews in a Seminary library.  Jerusalem Palestinians and Jews were set “on edge” as further violence and a tennis match of reprisals seemed possible.

Monday, March 10:  “Israel to Allow Contractors to Build in Disputed Areas” (Mark Lavie, AP)

Israel gave the go-ahead for 1000 homes and apartments to be built in disputed areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Considering the tenuous (absent?) nature of peace in the region, one wonders if Donald Rumsfeld hasn’t found work consulting for the Israeli government. 

Tuesday, March 11: “Israel Orders Military To Reduce Operations In Gaza” (Aron Heller, AP)

This would seem to be a wise, logical decision, as quelling the violence that has surfaced over the last few weeks would be a relief to those who actually live there.  But then Heller states:

“Hamas said it was encouraged by the relative lull, citing it as evidence that attacks on Israel were paying off.”

“Israel, concerned that calm could enable the militants to claim victory and rearm, said it reserves the right to strike at will.”

Oh yeah, that sounds like a solid foundation for peace talks. Both sides are more concerned with the perceptions of their opponents than with the actual results–fewer of their people getting killed.

Wednesday, March 12:  “Rocket Attack Breaks Lull in Palesinian-Israeli Conflict”(Isabel Kershner and Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times News Service)

Palestinian rebels fired a rocket into the city of Ashkelon.  A militant group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attac.  Israel blamed Hamas.

Thursday, March 13: “Hamas seeks period of ‘calm'”(Ibrahim Barzak, AP), “Israeli Forces kill 4 millitants” (Isabel Kershner and Taghreed El-Khodary, NYTNS)

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh appealed for a period of mutual calm, urging Israel to halt military operations on the West Bank.  Shortly thereafter, Israeli soldiers killed four Palestiniam militants in Bethlehem.  So much for that cease-fire.

Friday, March 14:  “Gaza rockets barrage Israel after deaths:  Attacks follow W. Bank raid by Israeli forces.” (Amy Teibel, AP)

No explanation needed.

Here they go again.  Despite a small period of relative calm between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Palestinians both inside and outside of Israel’s borders, hostilities have resumed.  This should surprise no one, simply because the conditions that give rise to the violence remain unchanged.

Some key factors that lead to conflict:

  • Israel now occupies land on the West Bank of the Gaza strip and in East Jerusalem.  These lands were acquired by Israel in the Six Day 1967 War with Jordan and Egypt.  Palestinians everywhere view the lands as being Palestinian.  Israel views them as the spoils of war–Israeli land. 
  • There are eons of hatred between the groups based on religion and disputed ownership of land.
  •  Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied land are not considered Israeli citizens.
  • Both sides consider the other to be terrorists.
  • The Palestinian state that was mandated in the 1947 Partition Plan has yet to exist.  Note that neither Palestinian or Israeli factions were pleased with the 1947 agreement.

Although it is not our usual style, The Hangover is going to go academic here.  There are both historical and sociological  perspectives that indicate violent conflict will continue until Israel changes its regional philosophy and adjusts current policy.

The Sociological Perspective:

Relative Deprivation can be used to explain the existence of conditions that can lead to social conflict.  Sociologist Jock Young concisely explains :

“Relative Deprivation occurs where individuals or groups subjectively perceive themselves as unfairly disadvantaged over others perceived as having similar attributes and deserving similar rewards (their reference groups).” 

The feelings of deprivation can be economically, socially, or politically based.  When the deprivation reaches a certain level, frustration results, which in turn, if the conditions are strong enough, can result in aggression.   This Deprivation-Frustration-Aggression model can be applied in an obvious “paint-by-numbers” approach to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Palestinians view Israelis as their reference group.  Comparisons with their Israeli peers reveal the following points of deprivation.

  • The Palestinians feel they rightfully own lands now occupied by Israel.
  • Palestinians living in Israel do not share the same rights as Israeli citizens.
  • Israel exists, the Palestinian state does not. 

Frustration arises when the sense of deprivation is prolonged and heightened.

  • Sixty years and still no Palestinian homeland.
  • Palestinians denied access to former homelands and important religious sites.
  • Palestinians in Israel remain less-than-citizens and terror suspects.
  • Aggressive actions by Israel against Palestinian militant groups often injures Palestinian civilians.

  Aggression results in violent social conflict:

  • Palestinian militant organizations strike Israel using modern guerrilla tactics.  (Israeli response is also viewed as terrorism by Palestinians.)
  • The first “punch” was thrown so long ago, it doesn’t matter who struck first, only who struck last.
  • Militant group acts, Israel reacts. Or Israel acts, Militant group reacts.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Rockets. Tanks. Ruination.

The Historical Perspective:

Occupied land never works.  Over time, the natural population will eventually contend for self-determination, equal rights, or access to the political process.  When those are continually denied, unrest follows.  That is, unless an “occupier” can decimate the native population (as the Europeans did in North America).  However, devastation of that level requires a technological advantage, as well as the will to accomplish it.

The cases showing failure of occupied land are many.  The first that comes to mind is Ireland.  After centuries of simmering and often violent conflict, the English relinquished the south of Ireland in 1922.  It is only recently that hostilities were quelled in the North by allowing Catholics access to the Protestant-English dominated political process.  Through those actions, the sense of Catholic deprivation (and frustration) that fueled the conflict was greatly minimized.

The age of empire is over for a reason:  An inability to govern occupied land.  India is no longer English.  The French long ago left Viet Nam.  South Africa is governed by native South Africans.   It doesn’t matter if the empire is halfway across the planet or across the street.  Unrest will follow. 

Israel and the Palestinians have shown they each have the will to persevere, but neither has the means to end the conflict.

The Solution:

Israel must eliminate the conditions triggering the collective deprivation-frustration-aggression construct that exists for Palestinians, which results in civilians of both sides being blown to bits on a regular basis.  If these conditions are not eradicated, violence will continue.  History in the Middle East (and everywhere else on the planet) proves that.

Israel should be a leading proponent for the formation of the mandated Palestinian state.  This would remove a major trigger of Palestinian deprivation-frustration.  It would also give the Israelis a focal point for communication and negotiation.  Instead of having to deal with a variety of militant organizations, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, Israel would have the opportunity to let Palestine be responsible for the actions of Palestinians.  Secondly, Israel should be prepared and willing to give back land they have occupied since 1967.  Mark Lavie of the AP indicates that there are “some Palestinians” who would consider swapping those settled and developed lands for other blocks of Israeli territory.  This seems specious, but at least a point for discussion.  It would be a break (if not a miracle) for everyone involved if logic and reason became operative aspects of the peace effort. 

A nation-state’s first concern should be the security of its people.  If Israel does not make concessions to eliminate the conditions fueling collective violence in the region, they can expect to continue their existence under siege.  That’s what history and social conflict theory make perfectly clear. 

Israel has the will to defend itself in perpetuity.  But why would they want to have to?  As the English relinquished Ireland, Israel should release disputed occupied land (or a negotiated equivalent) to a Palestinian state.  In what the Palestinians will claim as a victory, Israelis will reap tangible benefits.  They will have a chance for peace.  To forsake a significant change in their regional policy will doom Israelis to carry the threat of a ticking bomb in their collective consciousness, as well as in their communities.   There are better ways to live. 

Hypocrisy in Diplomacy

20 Feb

Now that Fidel Castro is stepping down as President, Dictator, Grand Poohbah, or whatever it is he is called, American politicians are highly agitated over what happens next.  Conservatives claim that nothing should change until Cuba initiates democratic processes.  Liberals argue that engaging with the country would help them move in that very direction.  That we are still imposing an all out embargo on Cuba is ridiculous.  Cuba stopped being a threat as soon as Soviet missiles and bombers were removed in 1962.  The Mouse That Roared was a work of fiction, after all.

The arguments against normalizing relations with Cuba are all based in hypocrisy.

Argument:  Until Cuba initiates Democratic processes, we shouldn’t engage with them. If this were a tenet of our foreign policy we wouldn’t be getting toys with lead paint from China or getting raped over oil by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations (nearly all monarchies, totalitarian regimes, etc..,.). So much for Persian limes, too. 

Argument:  Cuba is a terrorist nation; we don’t do business with terrorists.  How many Cubans are there in Al Qaeda?  Weren’t most of those 9/11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia, our allies in oil and dear friends of the Bush’s?  How many marketplaces have Cuban suicide bombers blown up this year? Anyone heard of Tiananmen Square?  Where does our oil come from?

Argument:  Cuba is a communist country.  See: Viet Nam, where we make Nikes.  See: China, where we get our deadly tires, kid’s toys, pet food ingredients, etc..,.  Hey, we actually have a trade deficit with those Chinese Commies.

Argument:  The Cuban totalitarian government is oppressive; we shouldn’t do business with them.  None of the countries listed above are any less oppressive than Cuba.  Their citizens also lack basic freedoms and face overbearing restrictions, especially women in Middle East nations.   

Cuba has an abysmal human rights record, no freedom of the press, and a serious lack of personal liberties for its citizens.  That is reprehensible and surely nothing to brag about.  Although the US overlooks those same humanitarian issues when interacting with other countries, it chooses not to when dealing with Cuba.  There must be some good reason for this. 

Perhaps the Pan-American rum, sugar, and tobacco industries are funneling more money than they make into Washington to lobby against the normalization of relations with Cuba.  Jamaica, Aruba, Costa Rica, the Dominican, and Mexican resort areas must be savagely spreading anti-Cuban propaganda, fearing the potential loss of tourists to Hemingway’s favorite island.  What else makes sense?  

Of course, as Americans we should work (not invade) to help all citizens of the world achieve the same pre-Patriot Act freedoms that we enjoyed here.  The Hangover looks forward to one day doing so with Viet Nam-made Nikes on his feet and a Romeo y Julieta Petit Corona in his mouth.