Intifada Kid’s Letter From Ramallah sparked an interesting response and debate at Devil’s Kitchen. I’ve had this draft sitting around for a couple of days – updated to take in some of Katy’s comments.
Another aspect of the conflict between Israel and Palestine which annoys me, is the universal insistence on treating it as some sort of zero-sum game. It is as if there is some kind of kudos, a finite substance which travels back and forth accross the mythical and derided Green Line, which both sides try to win back from the other. Perhaps points, or “political capital” would be a better analogy. Acts of violence lose you points, while any kind of olive branch or positive manoeuvre will gain you points. At present, the Israeli Government is ‘up’ (Gaza withdrawl) but the Palestinians are ‘down’ (Hamas voted into power).
The concept of ‘political capital’ or points scoring operates widely in Westminster and Washington (indeed, anywhere with a recognisable leglislative district, I assume), but it is essentially an unjust system that bears no relation to the way the world actually operates. Indeed, just like global warming, it creates a sort of ‘positive feedback’ which actually makes a situation worse, and serves to keep the problem burning.
Consider the situation in Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, the two sides have mutually exclusive dreams on what should come to pass, in the Holy Land they reluctantly share. Since Hamas are branded terrorists, this bizarrely increases Israel’s political capital, and they will soon begin to spend it, moving towards their own vision of a shrunk-in-the-wash West Bank. They move away from reconciliation with the Palestinians, and thus the cycle continues.
And it is retaliation, vengeance, which dominates the region (An Eye For An Eye?). It is this desire, something that both sides have in common, which is the destructive force in the region. I saw the Israeli Ambassador to the UN interviewed on the BBC earlier this week, engaging in a very undignified and slightly sickening numbers game with the news presenter. “But the 4000 we killed were terrorists you know” or some such flawed logic to moralise state sponsored death.
Build bridges not walls
How much better if the conflict was not considered a zero-sum game at all. A vote for Hamas, with covenant couched in fervent fundamentalism, reflects poorly on the Palestinian populous. That should not mean that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank gains extra credence, but somehow it does. Conversely, bulldozers in townships or the death of another stone thrower reflects poorly on the Israelis… but its not an excuse for blowing up a Tel Aviv omnibus. Far better for the two sides to play for the same team – humanity – and shoot towards a common goal. “We will not deal with Hamas” will achieve simply nothing. “How may we help you?” might be a better response. “Your problems are our problems” must be a mandatory mantra.
This is frightfully idealistic, of course. Many will say that neither side has the ability or the desire to have those kinds of conversations. The Hamas covenant certainly precludes this, as do the fundamentalist conceptions of a Jewish state. I agree, and I weep, but merely point out that the political game being played is a flawed one. The exchange of political capital may continue, but the only score that rises is the number of dead bodies on the borders and buses. I am reminded of the tagline for the 2005 box-office gore-fest Alien versus Predator: “Whoever Wins, We Lose”. Humanity cannot win the game being played at present.
Changing the rules of the game must be the answer, because it is the only answer. Everyone must be transferred over to a single team, a single political group called homo sapien. Giving priority to a common humanity, rather than balancing the competing needs of two or more religions, is indeed an idealistic dream. But it is the only possible game that humanity has a chance of winning. Negotiations must begin from this position. Nothing else matters – not religion, not terrorism, not retaliation.