RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Bronner writes: "Israelis and Palestinians are two nations with two cultures and two very different histories: that of the colonizer and that of the colonized."

A Palestinian mother walks through a bombed out neighborhood in Gaza. (photo: Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian mother walks through a bombed out neighborhood in Gaza. (photo: Khalil Hamra)

"Vengeance Is Mine ..."

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

19 May 21


ull disclosure: I was born a German-Jew, but I have never been a Zionist, nor have I shied away from criticizing Israeli policies. I feel the deepest sorrow for the Palestinian people, but I am also sharply critical of their leadership and its political choices. Forty thousand Palestinians have just turned into “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) in their own land, and Israeli settlements have invaded their territory, but I do not view a one-state solution as realistic. Fashionable talk about its being the “only” solution seems to always avoid specifying the institutions it will require, plausible policies focusing on complex problems like “the right of return,” and ideas for dealing with majorities on both sides who understandably distrust each other and harbor deep historical resentments. That is why formal negotiations must take place between organizations of civil society in Israel and Palestine, perhaps using the Geneva Initiative of 2003 as a model, if only so that politicians on both sides can see what the people really want.

Israelis and Palestinians are two nations with two cultures and two very different histories: that of the colonizer and that of the colonized. In a world averse to explaining the logic of events, the great Tunisian-Jewish thinker Albert Memmi has much to teach. His use of the “Nero complex” explains how colonizers take over a land, proud of exporting the benefits of civilization, while the colonized resist such beneficence. In quelling the resistance, however, the “civilized” colonizer feels an unconscious guilt as well as resentment against the ingratitude of the colonized. The “necessity” of violence tempers the guilt. With each uprising, therefore, the colonizer’s repression will intensify, leading to more intense resistance by the colonized – and so on.

That is what we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pogroms and concentration camps from the Jewish past, as Karl Marx would have put it, “weigh like nightmares on the brains of the living.” They feel themselves victims, and enough Israelis are still amazed at the Palestinians’ refusal to acknowledge the modern advances that Jewish settlers brought to supposedly nomadic tribes. So, the old Zionist slogan: “a land without a people for a people without a land.” The mixture of guilt and resentment expresses itself in the blending of Israel’s occasional humanitarian actions with the inhuman brutality of its military attacks. In any event, through this cycle of violence, which is buttressed by $4 billion in yearly aid from the United States, Israel has turned into the hegemonic power in the region. Its participation in the Nero complex, however, has completely destroyed its moral capital. No longer is it the band of heroes memorialized in tendentious works like Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, and its film application. Just as Israel possesses overwhelming military power, while ostracized by the world community, Palestinian sovereignty has been recognized diplomatically, even while its people have been reduced to supplicants.

In keeping with this contradictory situation, Palestinian policy has recently assumed that pressure by the world community would somehow change the outlook of Israeli politicians. But this mistaken view ignores Israel’s self-perceptions as the historical victim of global indifference and anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s “Abraham Accords” mistakenly assumed that the Palestinians were no longer relevant and that they had given up the cause. Yet, conflicts don’t simply fade away. Trump’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel policy and his blindness toward the Palestinians’ plight while negotiating with other Arab states showed a remarkable lack of intelligence and foresight.

That the Arab world has become sick of the Palestinian struggle and its cynically incompetent leadership was already clear to me in 2007 when, while engaging in civic diplomacy in Sudan and Darfur with Conscience International, two ranking Sudanese politicians asked what I thought about their country (then under Sharia law) improving its ties with Israel. Their frustration with Palestinian politics was obvious, and I don’t believe that was an anomaly. Under pressure from below in the face of the Israeli war machine, however, Arab states must show their public support for the Palestinian rebellion. Nevertheless, what this means in terms of their long-term foreign policy interests is unclear, and whether their outrage will remain six months from now is highly doubtful – at least to me.

Shattering the impact of ideology means beginning from the bottom up rather than the top down. Like some schoolyard brawl, only with more drastic consequences, it doesn’t matter who started the fight. What does matter is that provocation from one side draws in the other. Hamas has now fired 3,000 missiles, mostly supplied by Iran, almost all of which are intercepted by an “iron dome” anti-missile system supplied by the United States. Meanwhile, Israeli missiles destroy the dense cities of Gaza. The radical imbalance of destruction and death heightens unity among Israelis at home and sympathy for Palestinians abroad.

Negotiations between the United States and Iran that focus solely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are obviously necessary. Calling for this, however, does not sell newspapers or lift ratings. The mainstream media always insist that this rebellion will prove decisive, that this one is different. Of course it never is, but the audience forgets. Uprising after uprising, intifada after intifada, has produced roughly the same disparate result: hundreds of Palestinians and about a dozen Israelis killed, Israeli cities threatened, its borderline settlements bombed, while large-scale buildings and Palestinian infrastructure are wrecked, later to be rebuilt, before they are wrecked again. Seven hundred Gazan buildings have been destroyed or damaged while up to 800,000 Palestinians might well lack drinking water due to an Israeli bombing of a desalination plant. This time the battle between Arabs and Jews has struck Israeli cities like Lod and Haifa, which were once considered happily integrated. A third intifada is in the making, but the end result will undoubtedly prove the same: unequal costs paid by innocent Palestinians, reaffirmation of imbalances of power that favor Israel, and legitimation of perhaps the most short-sighted, self-serving, and corrupt political leadership in the global community.

Einstein was surely right when he noted that insanity comes down to doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is desperate to win yet another election, if only to avoid jail-time for bribery and other crimes, in a deeply fractured country. It is meanwhile common knowledge that Khaled Meshal and Hamas along with their rivals, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, are robbing their people blind. Still, it’s a basic rule of politics that the nation rallies around its leaders in a time of war.

If the violence continues, domestic disagreements will probably make way for “Jewish” unity against the nation’s Arab citizens and the Palestinians. As for Meshal and Abbas, however, unity between their organizations seems much more elusive: each would need to compromise his power, and both have seemingly been in power forever. Hamas enjoys the spotlight while leading the fight – whatever the collateral damage to its own people – and who cares if it takes the opportunity to crack down on dissidents. The activism of Hamas stands in contrast to the paralysis displayed by the Palestinian Authority, which can neither negotiate, since it does not speak for its rival in Gaza, nor fight since it has been given administrative authority and receives financial support from Israel.

Palestine is now comprised of two competing sovereigns: one in the West Bank and the other in Gaza. Simmering conflict between them has created a situation in which, even if Israel were willing to deal, neither competing sovereign actually represents the Palestinian nation and neither is in the position to pursue serious negotiations – which, again, is why representatives of civil society, across borders, need to have their voices heard.

Crisis and violence enable Hamas to avoid recognizing the state of Israel and tempering its anti-Semitic propaganda and charter even while appearing flexible. As far as Israel is concerned, meanwhile, Netanyahu is solidifying his far-right credentials by appearing as a tough-guy who won’t relent on what has become merciless bombing. He needs those far-right parties in the short run, if he is to form a government. In the long run, however, contradictions fester between center-left mainstream parties and an intransigent minority composed of settler fanatics and orthodox extremists. The need for an alternative voice, the voice of civil society, has never been more pressing.

Starting small on negotiations before tackling serious issues has proven a disaster. Civil war remains a real possibility on both sides of the barricades. Talks on yet another “cease-fire” are underway. But they will need to deal with events that have served no purpose other than to breed paranoia concerning “security” – and justify stockpiling new missiles. The prospects for a lasting peace are dim. Yet another circle of senseless violence awaits Israel and Palestine. That is because leaders don’t lead in this conflict, and they take the easy way out. They don’t consult civil society, which remains mute on its demands beyond ending hostilities. Activists must find ways for their voices to be heard. The status quo is untenable yet desirable for politicians on both sides. A temporary truce presupposes an ongoing conflict. The world cannot afford yet another crisis of the same sort, and neither can the innocent citizens of Israel and Palestine.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue. His most recent book is The Sovereign.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.