Thursday, March 07, 2002

My frustration over the Mideast conflict - as if I could really do anything about it - generated a typically thoughtful comment from Warren from LaLa. He was kind enough to focus on just one comment made, no doubt to avoid another month-long email battle. He wrote:

On your recent post regarding the Middle East, I toyed with sending you a long and angry response. I think you are off on many counts there, both morally and factually -- but I decided against it.

I will instead respond to one sentence:

"It is so disappointing to look at a conflict and not admire anyone."

Well, Rich, it is disappointing to me to see a good friend, someone whose intellect I have always admired, look at a conflict and then choose not to condemn the obvious evil of one of the parties to that conflict.

Sharon visited a settlement and inflamed tensions. The Palestinians strap bombs to their chests and blow up babies.

Case closed.

I wish I could see the world in such black and white terms.

Sure, I can condemn. The Palestinians are wrong for stapping bombs to their chest and blowing up babies. There. I join a nation - no, a world of people condemning those acts. And where does it get us? Nowhere. That fight has grown so old and out of control that it can no longer be reduced to simple rights and wrongs. The only constant is that the Arab world hates the Israelis, considers them a proxy U.S. in the region and blames them for all things bad. But guess what - the Arab world ain't going away any time soon. Like them or not, their feelings and reaction have to be taken into account. They have to be dealt with. The West can't treat the Arab world like ignorant, naughty children, smacked whenever they step out of line.

Is there anybody in the middle of that mess willing to step out and be big enough to say We are all wrong to continue this maddness. Since I wrote it, a few people are speaking out. Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Israel's Labor Party are considering leaving Sharon's "Unity" government in frustration over the handling of this matter. I don't know that they have a solution, but they're starting to feel the current "solution" ain't working. And there was an excellent clip on NPR today from some famous Israeli pianist who was blocked by Israeli border guards when he tried to to perform in Gaza. As he put it (and I'm paraphrasing here) "If this wasn't so tragic, it'd be ridiculous. It's like a kindergarden class - He hit me! No, he hit me first! No, you hit me before that! Well, now I'm going to hit you for when you hit me yesterday!"

I think it comes down to this - what's going to solve the problem? Will the current Sharon plan of pressing a virtual war force Palentinians to quit their tactics and press for peace? I don't think so for two reasons. 1) Israel will never press full-fledged action against the Palestinians unless another Arab country joins Arafat militarily. The Israeli people would revolt as would the Arab world. So in a sense, Israel is fighting with one (or both) hands tied behind its back - more like an occupying force then a goal-oriented army. 2) The Palestinians have done the math and decided they're meat pies one way or another, so they might as well go out with a bang. There is an endless supply of Palestinians willing to turn themselves into ammunition and those folks aren't going to be dissuaded by Israel tanks rolling through Palestinian cities. If anything, that will make more of them willing to strap on bombs.

Thus, we have an eternal conflict (especially when the Bush gang doesn't want to take the lead in negotiations). By embracing Warren's black and white interpretation (Palestinians are evil), we are doomed to watching generations die in Middle East Wars. That solves nothing and that's why there're few, in any people to admire in that mess.

Mind you - I don't have any answers myself. I think the deeper root of this problem is that the Palestinians and most of the Arab world hate the Jews and want Israel abolished. Even if tomorrow, the Saudi Peace Plan was enacted, I'm sure Palestinian militants would continue to terrorize Israel because they want to push them into the Mediterranean Sea.

Maybe the solution is business? If every surrounding Arab state was convinced the entire region would dissolve into decades-long chaos and economic ruin, perhaps they'd gang up on the Palestinians and press them to solve the situation. But I don't think Arab are ever going to let themselves be dragged to a bargining table at the barrel of a gun, just as the Israelis don't want to attend on the threat of a bus bombing. Frankly, I wish some Arab country would just airlift the whole lot of Palestinians to another chunk of the desert. But then, I'm sure they're saying the same thing about the Israeli (We we're here first! No, we were!)

It's just a big mess and like I said before, my feeling is the world is going to have to wait for another generation of leaders - perhaps the US included - to either push this conflict into an purging, explosive war or back down, look for answers and start fighting extremism instead of each other.

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