Recently, I watched the film Five Broken Cameras, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. It got me thinking.
Of course, the message of this film was that Israelis are violent, thieving brutes. And, of course, this is not precisely accurate, though there are good reasons for some people to see things this way. Rather than try to sort out who’s to blame or issue other moral judgments, though, I’ll use this short essay to spell out just one problem and offer a solution to that problem. It should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that I do not see these as the problem or the solution, but rather as one pair among many. I make no claims that my proposal would be easy to adopt – but it’s a solution that would reduce tension in the disputed territories. Outside actors would be wise to endorse either my suggestion or another in response to the problem I identify here.
Consider a problem: Due to their economic and political circumstances, the Palestinians in the West Bank often (though not always) must live off the land, more and more of which the Israelis are claiming as time passes. This tactic will not guarantee (or encourage) peace – it can only intensify the struggle by incentivizing backlash from the Palestinians. Were the livelihood of the Palestinian people not threatened so directly, the results likely would be different. In the Gaza strip, the circumstances are often more severe than in the West Bank, and its political and economic isolation creates an analogous problem to that of the West Bank.
There are only two solutions for the Israelis, given this reality: (1) they can exterminate all of the Palestinians or (2) they can stop taking land. As they seem unwilling to take the second path, genocide is their only practically remaining option.
In the remainder of this essay, I suggest a path forward that makes option 2 more appealing, largely through pressure from non-Israeli actors.
To demonstrate or to advocate in support of the message “The Israelis must give the Palestinians back their land!” is to accept implicitly the premise that the land is either one side’s or another’s. Instead, perhaps peace-seekers should reject that premise and instead endorse one holding that the land belongs to neither group. In fact, at one time or another, both groups have possessed the land. So, the question of whose land it really is cannot be solved definitively. Even if it could, and were a political agreement worked out according to that determination, one or the other group would be denied a homeland. More importantly, from a practical view, one or the other group’s survival would be threatened directly.
One solution to this problem is to reduce the pressure on both groups’ chances of survival by discouraging both groups’ attempts to repossess the disputed territory. This should be one of the top priorities of American foreign policy. Using soft power to incentivize a change in policy on Israel’s part must come first. Though the current administration has admonished Israel repeatedly for new settlements, words are not enough.
“Make life eminently livable for the Palestinians (and stop repossessing land)” should be the new Israeli motto. Difficult though this may be for Israeli hard-liners to accept, this is the foundation for a second-option solution to the dilemma in which Israel finds itself.
The truth is that people behave according to perceived incentives. If those in the Gaza strip had access to a functioning economy, healthcare, clean water, and plentiful food, the incentive to commit acts of violence against Israel would disappear for all but the most devout extremists. When Jihadists search for willing participants in their war against Israel, they will find fewer volunteers. (On the other hand, in February of 2011, the U.S. vetoed a non-binding U.N. resolution stating that the Israeli settlements are illegal. If we wish to encourage peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, this is the wrong kind of incentive for the Israelis).
Every new Israeli settlement building creates one, ten, or a hundred new volunteers for Jihad. If Israel were to adopt and implement my suggested motto, they could then begin negotiations about who should control what bit of land. But, even then, both parties ought to stop arguing about to whom the land belongs. It’s a pointless argument, given that Israel has the bigger guns (and a sparkling-new missile-defense system).
What do you think?