Doctor Cleveland's picture

    The Other Two Sides in Israel and Palestine

    It is not only hard to write about the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. It is impossible for most people to read about the violence in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. So the debate bogs down into questions of justification and self-defense and proportionality: that is, into the utterly useless question of whether Israel or Hamas is more in the wrong. It may well be that one side or the other is more justified, or more culpable. But since the answering that question will not prevent even a single death, the question is meaningless. Taking the Israeli side or the Palestinian side does not matter, the real merits of those causes notwithstanding, because the conflict that matters is not between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Neither side can actually win that conflict, and everything those two sides are doing right now puts resolution further out of reach. The two sides that actually matter are not the Israelis and the Palestinians but the peacemakers and the warmakers. That struggle can be won, but not by the side that's currently winning.

    Instead of thinking of two ethnic peoples, we can think of the Israel/Palestine conflict as a contest between the negotiators and the escalators. There are negotiators and escalators in both camps. The negotiators want to end the violence and reach a peaceful long-term solution. Various individuals envision different versions of that settlement, and the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators each want their own ethnic group to get the maximally advantageous deal. But the goal is still a deal.

    The negotiators have been on a long losing streak, and their position is incredibly weak at the moment. But even at their weakest, there is a single fundamental advantage that cannot be taken from them. They are the only side that can win. There is no military solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem. There is no endgame through which either group can win through sheer force of arms.

    Neither side can wipe out the other. That is not militarily feasible, politically viable, or morally acceptable. And no one is going anywhere. Israel is not going to be swept into the sea. If your goal is to do undo 1948 and make it as if Israel never existed, then your goal fundamentally cannot be achieved. Nor are the Palestinians going to be expelled. If you think that a nation founded in part by Holocaust survivors can solve its security problems through ethnic cleansing, you need to face basic reality. No One. Is Going. Anywhere.

    In the long run, a negotiated settlement is the only endgame possible. But the escalators (who, like the negotiators, exist on both sides of the ethnic divide) are dedicated to prolonging the war as long as possible. Not to win it. Winning is objectively impossible. The real objective is the continuation of the war itself. If military victory were the actual goal, much of the behavior we see on the ground would be futile or even counter-productive. (Hamas's rocket attacks, for instance, don't make a lot of sense as an attempt to weaken Israel's military. But they are not an attempt to weaken Israel's military.) If we understand the real goal to be provocation, the behavior becomes easily explicable. The violence is not an attempt to defeat the other military, but an attempt to provoke further military action by the opposition. A sudden big offensive is not an attempt to end the fight once and for all. It is an attempt to ensure that the fight does not end.

    Some of the escalators are simply refusing to accept military reality, and delude themselves with dreams of victory. Some are driven by their personal ideology or personal hatreds. Some are not thinking straight at all. And some have a vested interest in keeping the hostilities going. Any conflict that goes on for as long as the Israel/Palestine conflict becomes institutionalized to some measure. Structured organizations, both official and unofficial, emerge specifically to wage that particular war. Careers are built around that war. There are wealthy and influential people who rely on the war for their wealth and influence, and power brokers who rely on the war for their power.

    There are political figures, Israeli and Palestinian, whose careers are built on taking a harder-line position than their domestic political opponents, no matter how hard a line those opponents take. There are political leaders, Israeli and Palestinian, whose relationship with their constituents is founded on their constituents' fears. There are figures within the Palestinian leadership who have gotten seats at the table by making themselves indispensable to the war effort: the recruiters, the warlords, the money people. At least some of those people suspect that peace would make them dispensable. And on the Israeli side, in somewhat subtler ways (subtler, of course, because the Israeli state is more bureaucratically developed than the Palestinian movement), there are people who prosper in various ways from the militarization of the conflict.

    I am not claiming that both sides are equally culpable, or morally equivalent, or any of that. I am not interested in arguing about right and wrong here. Arguments about right and wrong have led to piles of dead bodies. I am interested in arguing cause and effect.

    That there are entrenched interests who benefit from the hostilities, on both sides, is not primarily a symptom of individual bad character. It is the inevitable result of a conflict that has gone on this long. A war that lasts two generations stops being just a war. It becomes a way of life. And people will fight to defend their way of life.

    The escalators can always keep the war going by provoking the other ethnic group. When the opposite side retaliates, it is a pretext for further escalation, and pretty soon peace talks are out of the question again. Whenever things get too quiet, you convince yourself that the enemy is vulnerable and it's time to take advantage. Then, when the enemy strikes back, everyone on your side of the line has to rally to the fight. Things too quiet? Kidnap some hitchhikers. Build some settlements on the wrong side of the treaty line. Fire some rockets. Break a cease-fire. Sure, some of the people on your own official side of the conflict will tell you not to do these things, but once you've done them the other side will come on the attack and then the people who wanted to restrain you will have no choice but to back you.

    The thing to realize here is that the Israeli escalators and the Palestinian escalators, while fighting each other on the battlefield, are also working together. They are both struggling to continue and escalate the war. You don't attack Israeli civilians and expect to get away with it. You don't kill Palestinian civilians in your reprisal attack and expect that this will calm the Palestinian side down. Bringing on the other side's reprisal is the goal. It is never stated that way. It could not be. But that is what is actually happening.

    The problem is not just that IDF expeditions into Gaza will not stop the rocket attacks. It's that the point of the rocket attacks is to bring the IDF into Gaza. Why would Hamas, or elements of Hamas, want the IDF to invade Gaza? Several reasons, but one of them is that when the Israeli military is on the move, the people of Gaza have no choice but to stand by Hamas. There is no middle ground on a battlefield. And the escalators' main goal is to make negotiating impossible. Their war is against the middle ground.

    Most of the struggle between the negotiators and the escalators is political; it is about whose faction is in ascendance, whose policy wins the debate, and whose orders get obeyed or ignored on the ground. But sometimes things actually flare up into intra-Israeli or intra-Palestinian violence. Fatah and Hamas have sometimes exchanged gunfire. An Israeli Prime Minister has been murdered by an Israeli fanatic because a final peace deal started to seem plausible. If the doves get too close to a deal, the hawks on their own side sometimes try to kill them.

    But the hawks haven't needed to do anything so blatant lately, because the party of war has been on a roll. The Israeli and Palestinian hawks have worked together in a masterpiece of unspoken coordination, a long series of seamless no-look passes. In this, the escalators have a massive advantage over the negotiators. The Israeli and Palestinian doves need to communicate explicitly with one another, and they need to trust each other. They have to hold talks. In short, they have to actually negotiate. The Israeli and Palestinian hawks don't need to communicate with each other at all. They can simply act. They know what will happen if they provoke the other side. They can count on it. It's not about trust. It's about predictability.

    Worse yet, the doves need unity and discipline on their own side in order to function. They need to deliver on their deals. But the hawks can disrupt things through insubordination or disobedience. They can, to various degrees, freelance. Settlers can disobey the Israeli government, but know that the state and the army will eventually have to back them. Palestinians can initiate attacks on Israelis without necessarily clearing it all the way to the top, and some people doing the attacks are not necessarily inside any real chain of command. ("Let's go kidnap a few teenaged Israeli hitchhikers" is not a plan hatched at the top level of leadership.) But the people who go ahead with those attacks know the leadership will not disavow them. An IDF commander can promise his superior that he will use restraint, and then use harsh and provocative tactics once an operation starts. A Palestinian who doesn't like a cease-fire can break it with just a few like-minded accomplices. Last Friday's cease-fire was broken almost immediately by a small group of armed Palestinians. That was not a real attempt to take military advantage, which would require a coordinated set of attacks by a large group. That was free-lancing, one small unit or cell just going out on its own. Your leaders agree to a cease-fire, you go out and shoot at Israelis, cease-fire over. That wasn't a side effect. That was the main point of the attack. 

    As long as this behavior goes on (and it goes on, to different degrees, on both sides), the war will never end. The hawks cannot defeat each other, and on some level aren't even trying. But they are committed to driving any hope of peace from the field. And they are willing to frag the doves when necessary. As long as those seeking to escalate the war can continue defying restraints imposed by their own side, the war will go on forever. And that is really the goal.


    And, in this situation, as with so many others, the war-makers on all sides have a distinct advantage.  They can provoke.  They cam murder and spread mayhem and demand not to be ignored. The peacemakers and the compromisers need help that has to come from the outside, but the world outside is obsessed with the useless questions of original sin and jusitifcations, questions that you rightly point out have no potential to save lives.

    Thanks, Michael. I'd say two things.

    First, what the peacemakers really need is to put a collar on their own hawks. The problem is when the hawks play their favorite game, "Let's Break a Deal," and the doves feel obliged to be sucked into the conflict instead of, say, arresting the people who violated the cease-fire.

    If a crazy militia group got hold of some rockets and started firing them at Toronto, we wouldn't be talking to Canada out of both sides of our mouth about it. We would take the malefactors into custody by force.

    Second, it is in many ways the warmakers who need outside help, and they get it. Neither Israel nor Hamas (or Fatah, or the rest of the Palestinian side) are funding their entire military effort from the domestic budget. They all depend on outside aid and support.

    This is, bar none, the best analysis of the P-I issue ever written.

    Thanks, VA.

    Thanks for this

    It's a refreshing way to frame the conflict, Doc, and graced by your usual acuity.

    While every war has escalators and negotiators, it strikes me that this one is historically rare if not unparalleled. Most military stalemates occur when both sides have roughly equivalent firepower, but in this case, Israel's military is vastly superior. It's more like the old colonial wars in which an occupying power uses its military superiority to pacify the locals. But there is a key difference.

    Colonial occupiers were mainly in the game for money and global influence. In the various wars for independence, revolutionary "escalators" were able to disrupt this calculus. When the economic, moral, and human cost of military occupation became too high, the colonialists pulled out. The revolutionaries essentially won by attrition.

    In this case, Israel's commitment to the land is much greater. As you note, the Israelis will never leave Israel, no matter the cost. The obvious solution is a return to the 1967 borders or something close, but there are too few negotiators on both sides willing to agree to this. Too many on both sides have been willing pay exorbitant economic, moral, and human costs rather than the give up claims to Jerusalem and other territory. And so the escalators flourish.

    I'm not sure how much these thoughts add to what you've already written, but in any case, your piece made me think.

    Thanks, Mike.

    It is a particularly vicious conflict, but I think it has loose parallels. The Northern Ireland thing, which was always waged at a much, much lower intensity and lower cost of life, was also about two tribal groups who are both psychologically invested in the same land and consider it theirs. I was thinking about that example to some extent as I wrote the post. (The IRA, for example, also developed its entrenched warlords who saw peace as fatal to their power.)

    I think there are more examples spread throughout the former European colonies (in Africa, for instance), in the former Ottoman/Austro-Hungarian conflict belt, and at the outer reaches of China and Russia's land empires. I think both the Uighurs and the Chinese understand Xinjian Province as rightfully theirs, and no one is going to give up on that one, either.

    I think what truly sets Israel and Palestine apart is the sheer amount of outside involvement, with the external sponsors backing the war party more often than not. (That again, is true to various degrees on both sides.)

    And perhaps the fatal mistake, on both sides, was believing that someone would give up the land: that the Jews would go back to Europe, or that the Palestinians would migrate to other Arabic countries. A huge misjudgment on both sides, of so, and obviously a fantasy at this point. Neither group is leaving because neither group has anyplace to go.

    Up until a few months ago I would have agreed with much of what the Doc has written. The imbalance of power and the determination of the Palestinians meant there would never be a peaceful or violent resolution to this conflict.

    When the relatively small force of ISIS fighters swept out of Syria and conquered much of Iraq the Ruling Class of all ME countries including Israel were given their first warning that their time is short and change is coming.  The Islamic State's forces are much larger now and they have billions of dollars worth of captured weapons and they are self-funding with the oil fields they have captured.

    The Caliph's Army is drawing young recruits from around the world who have come to fight the war of Armageddon on their way to Jerusalem.

    ISIS is on the way to Baghdad, and/or Damascus.

    They may get to Baghdad but not Damascus.

    Once they get to Baghdad, Moqtada al Sadr and his Shiite militia, the Iran Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, whatever is left of the US trained and equipped Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga will be trying to force them out. It is a race to the bottom, to oblivion, not a race to Jerusalem.

    We can be thankful Israel has security control in Jerusalem, otherwise there might be half a dozen Jihadist terror groups fighting to raise their black flags there.

    Organizers and recruiters for the Caliphate are already in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Riyadh, Cairo and the al-Quds, Jerusalem, which has been designated to be conquered just as the other cities. The Persians and their lackey militias are not doing so well in Syria or Iraq while the IS is on the march.

    Defeating Israel will not be an easy task but the Caliphate's conquering  army will be up to the task when the time comes.

    Sounds like the "no state solution" to me. A Mideast where nearly everyone in the Mideast becomes a refugee, with only a few Muslim fanatics heretics with a home. Nearly exclusively male fanatics to boot, with middle class boys from various countries with emasculation issues joining the quest for the He Man Woman Haters Club Homeland.  Sign up for the jihad and you too can have an automatic weapon to use with impunity and inspire fear and loathing. Once they've depopulated the Mideast, they could move on to cleansing Af Pak of those Western lackey sissies, the Taliban...the Caliphate, oh yeah, what a wonderful world that would be, riding around in Toyota pickups terrorizing the ummah into obedience...

    So it's ISIS über alles? A short list of the most ultimate Caliphate Peter can conjure in an obviously prodigious geographical imagination? Recruiters for ISIS are also in UK, France, Germany, Italy.....& Australia.......?

    My vote for what little it is worth is for Doc Cleveland's magisterial assessment rather than for  Peter's worrying (to me) scenario. I have no specific knowledge equipping me to take sides. Just a gut reaction that ISIS's current prominence  is too recent to support Peter's view.

    A year from now , maybe. (I hope not).




    My sources say, that if Iraq can remove Nori Al-Maliki and his cronies from power and replace him with a stable Nonsectarian government the USA can work with, the US will destroy ISIS in Iraq. 

    What then will ISIS do with all these new weapons they've acquired? Damascus?

    Your source is delusional if he/she thinks there will ever be stable government in Baghdad or that the US can destroy the Islamic State. The US hasn't actually won a war since WW2 unless you count Grenada. The group that the IS evolved from was never totally defeated in Iraq and only bribe money to the Sunni Tribes quieted the insurgency down long enough for our exit.

    If the US continues to escalate our involvement the whole Arab World will explode in rage against not only the US but their own Western Lackey governments.

    The Islamic World is populated by mostly young people who are ready for change and the only organization offering them unity and a chance to defeat the Western Hegemon is the Caliphate. We may be frightened by this but it is their world and they have been repeatedly shown that they will not be allowed to use corrupt Western democracy to attain their goals.

    The first Iraq war was an unmitigated success. One might argue with its goals but it was brilliantly planned and executed and it achieved the goals desired with little to no blowback.

    I think you're vastly oversimplifying the situation in the mid east. There are many factions that are seeking the support of the young and the masses. ISIS is just a more conservative version of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was unable to enlist the young in Egypt and were ultimately removed from power by the will of the people. Even though what followed may be as bad or worse the Brotherhood was unable to get the support of the vast majority of the youth. I think it unlikely that ISIS will enlist the majority of the young in Iraq.

    I don't know where you read your recent history but the MB was removed from elected office in Egypt by a military coup and those anti-Morsi demonstrators are mostly regretting their collusion in that coup if they aren't in prison with the MB.

    A revolution doesn't need to enlist a majority to be successful just enough people to carry their banner forward and the rest will follow. One report from an Iraqi source did state that when IS forces captured a town even when the locals resisted they picked up between 5 and 10 recruits for every one of their fighters.

    I don't know if you recall that little incident in NYC on 9/11/01 that was a direct result of the US stationing troops in Saudi Arabia for the First Iraq War, I guess you could call that blowback.


    We can go round and round discussing whether there was technically a military coup, in fact we did at the time, but its very clear that the military take over was expressing the will of the majority of the Egyptian people. Perhaps that was a mistake but however it turned out the majority of the population wanted the Muslim Brotherhood to go and if he wouldn't go willingly they supported the military removing him.  So the idea that ISIS will be supported by the majority of Muslim young people is ridiculous. In fact the majority of the hundreds of thousands in Tahir square protesting Morsi and the MB were the young Egyptians.

    The first Iraq war ended in 91. If we accept Bin Laden's excuse or justification for 9/11 it wasn't the war but the 10 years after the war when troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia. Had the troops been withdrawn after the war he wouldn't have used that as an excuse. He would have had to find some other excuse to justify it.

    The Muslim Brotherhood wasn't removed by the will of the people. It was removed by a military coup.

    Call it a military coup if you want but are you seriously saying that the majority of the Egyptians didn't want Morsi to go and that they didn't support the military removing him? What exactly do you think the will of the Egyptian people was? Were the majority of those  protesting in Tahir square for Morsi to stay in office?

    Since the Moslem Brotherhood had recently won elections, it doesn't seem likely that a majority of Egyptians supported the coup. What evidence is there that they did? Demonstrations don't prove that many Egyptians wanted a coup.

    Since Morsi won election with just 51% of the vote it doesn't seem surprising to me that that may have flipped and more in a year. Especially considering his fundamentalist rule after promising to be inclusive while campaigning. Even a year after the coup while views of Sisi have soured there is still a majority of Egyptians that support Morsi's removal and support Sisi.

    A year later, Morsi’s removal from office divides Egyptians. Overall, 54% say they favor the military’s ousting of Morsi. A significant minority (43%) opposes it.

    The issue highlights clear rifts within Egyptian society. Younger people are more supportive of Morsi’s removal than those age 50 and older.

    Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, whom many observers expect to win the controversial upcoming presidential elections, receives lukewarm reviews from the public. Little more than half of Egyptians (54%) say they have a favorable image of Sisi, while 45% rate him negatively. There are few demographic divisions over Sisi – young and old, rich and poor, men and women alike give the presidential candidate a moderately favorable rating.


    I've been clear what my opinions are from my reading of the news during the military take over. But you didn't seem to feel you need to answer any questions at all. Call it a military coup if you want but are you seriously saying that the majority of the Egyptians didn't want Morsi to go and that they didn't support the military removing him? What exactly do you think the will of the Egyptian people was? Were the majority of those  protesting in Tahir square for Morsi to stay in office?


    Regardless what one wants to call it, if it is by definition a coup then the proper thing to call it is a coup, wouldn't you agree?


    Aaron posted, "The Muslim Brotherhood wasn't removed by the will of the people. It was removed by a military coup" as if military coup by definition excluded the notion of popular support. While that is usually the case imo from the majority of the articles I read during the take over it seemed clear that the coup was supported by the majority of the Egyptian people. While military coup is correct since by definition a military coup can be the will of the people I tend to avoid using it since by connotation it strongly implies a thwarting of the will of the people.

     Well, chastened by the presentation of evidence that Egyptians supported the coup, I concede that maybe fifty-four percent of them did support it. I say "maybe" because polls taken in a state with a despotic government often aren't entirely reliable. But this is strong evidence nonetheless.

    However, demonstrations don't necessarily tell us what the will of the majority is. The demonstrations against the Vietnam war in 1967, or against the Iraq war in 2003 didn't reflect the views of the majority of Americans.

    No to Coups? Blissful peace, prosperity, ethnic and religious harmony, in the Middle East can only be achieved by free and fair elections expressing the will of the people, is this not true?

    Since the number of Egyptians protesting for the removal of Morsi exceed the number of Americans protesting the Iraq war as a percentage of the population as well as in raw numbers even though Egypt's population is a fraction of the United States I tend to attach more weight to those demonstrations than you seem to.

    The demonstrators were still a small fraction of Egypt's tens of millions of inhabitants.

    You don't tell us the numbers of demonstrators you claim were opposing Morsi but if you are parroting the hugely inflated numbers accepted as fact and repeated by the MSM I do pity your naivete. Do you also believe that 20 million Egyptians signed petitions to oust Morsi as was claimed in the media at that time?

    There is evidence that much, but not all, of the demonstrations were instigated by the Falool, Mubarak loyalists and Liberal groups, this was a planned coup not a spontaneous one.

    And as you said, coups against an elected government aren't legitimate even if 54 percent of people support them. I'll make a partial exception for Ukraine, as Yanukovych did terrible things, and his overthrow wasn't a military coup--it was more of a popular uprising.

    I have absolutely no interest in discussing whether the coup was legitimate or illegal, wise or foolish. My sole purpose was to push back against the idea that young arab men and women would support ISIS. It seems unlikely to me that most young Arabs would support a more fundamentalist version of the MB when for example in Egypt they supported a military coup to remove Morsi from office due to his fundamentalist Islamic policies. If fact according to polls the younger Egyptians are more supportive of the coup than older Egyptians  and were even more supportive during the coup then now after Sisi's year long crackdown.  Even if one believes the coup illegal the fact that a majority of young Egyptians supported the removal of Morsi and the MB is fairly strong evidence that they would be unlikely to support the even more fundamentalist ISIS. Or we could look at Iran where the youth are chafing under that country's islamic rule. The Iranian youth are pushing back on restrictive fundamentalist government and having some success in moving it slightly to the left. It seems unlikely to me that while pushing to liberalize their government the Iranian youth would then support a even more fundamentalist Islamic group like ISIS.

    This is interesting, OK is displaying Carnac the Magnificent like abilities in knowing the "will" of the Egyptian people.

    BTW even if 100% of the Egyptian public supported the coup it was still an illegal removal of a freely and democratically elected government.

    If a country wants a truly democratic government the first thing the people must do is shoot the pollsters, they work for the Ruling Class, then they can concentrate on eliminating the Ruling Class and their political minions.

    OK is displaying Carnac the Magnificent like abilities

    Oh jeezz. Who's Carnac, me or you? You seem to know that arab youth will flock to the ISIS banner and that all those anti-Morsi protestors are regretting their collusion in the coup. The only reason someone descends to insults without any rational content is because they are unable to come up with a rational argument to defend their opinions and are lashing out over losing the debate. I see this as an acknowledgement that your idea that Arab youth will flock to ISIS is nonsense.

    As for Peter's point about ISIS: it would be foolish to underestimate ISIS, but it's too early to declare them invincible. Many military forces have been declared unbeatable/unstoppable and had the final score card reveal something very different.

    I don't think ISIS is actually going to take over the entire Middle East by force of arms. And certainly, if ISIS fielded an army headed for Israel, I think it likely Israel could deal with that. That wouldn't be asymmetrical warfare, but a conventional army marching upon national borders defended by another army. Israel is well equipped to deal with that, it's likely still the pre-eminent regional military power, and it's geared to win on a conventional battlefield against any of its neighbors.

    ISIS is doing well against two national armies that are in disarray after years of conflict and turmoil, and has absorbed some of the weapons and personnel of those weakened armies. But there's a reason the Syrian and Iraqi armies, even when they were healthy and cohesive fighting forces, weren't marching against Israel any time soon.

    Moreover, ISIS's political power, like all political power, is local: they are filling a power vacuum for a Sunni Arab constituency that straddles either side of the Iraqi-Syrian border. The worst case scenario is they effectively set up a jihadi state carved out of parts of both countries. But it isn't clear that they could take over the rest of Iraq OR Syria, with their large Shiite populations, let alone start a pan-Middle-Eastern Caliphate.

    Only time will tell where this Islamic Movement will lead but the ME is ripe for dramatic change and the Caliphate is the only force offering unity and the power to match the Hegemon. Israel may dominate in a traditional set-piece conflict but they did poorly against Hezbollah and these countries are vulnerable to internal insurrections as well as external assault. It's interesting that the IS forces are rated second only to Israel in the ME and they are a young still growing force.

    The Islamic State is an internationalist movement that despises borders and petty nationalist/local politics which have been used for a hundred years to keep the Muslim world divided and manipulated by the West. This is probably why their extremely conservative form of Islam is absolutely necessary to purge the corrupting Western influences from the region, only then will they be free to create their own future and make their own mistakes.

    And on the seventh day they rest?

    Latest Comments