Contending with pessimism on peace

Contending with pessimism on peace

The editor-in-chief and publisher of the NY Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, reflects in his column on the month he recently spent in Israel and his conclusion that “lasting change can only come from within.” I don’t fully

Gary Rosenblatt

agree with his views, but I still find his observations (mostly quoting someone else) as worth reading and contending with. I quote here from what Rosenblatt wrote about the prospects for peace, and I comment beneath it:

Professor Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate in behavioral economics, addressing the issue from a psychological perspective at the two-day Israel Presidential Conference last week in Jerusalem … presented a thoughtful, logical and thoroughly depressing analysis of why Mideast peace likely will remain an elusive goal. In large part it’s because neither the Israelis nor Palestinians are willing to do what’s required to make it happen.

The situation is asymmetrical, he said, with Israel holding political and military power over the Palestinians. “Peace between superior and inferior powers is quite complicated,” he said, especially if the more powerful party is required to give up something it is comfortable with…

At a time of relative calm in Israel … the society would have to make “immediate, painful concessions” in terms of giving up land and disrupting the lives of tens of thousands, or more, citizens living in the disputed territories. What’s more, the potential gains of making such a sacrifice are “delayed and uncertain,” Kahneman noted.

Even further, making peace involves trust, and “we hate to trust someone who has betrayed us”; most Israelis feel that their previous voluntary withdrawals from territory, … resulted in more hostility and rocket attacks rather than calmer conditions.

Kahneman concluded that he cannot find anything, from a psychological point of view, to be hopeful about except for his belief that some national leaders are capable of convincing their citizens “that the risks are worth taking and the future is worth fighting for” — but that seems a distant possibility today, on both sides. …

There’s much truth in the above observations.  Israel’s clear superiority in power over the Palestinians works against peace, because concessions by the more powerful to the less powerful — especially when the weaker party is seen as untrustworthy — seem counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately for them (but understandably), the moderate Palestinian leadership will only go as far as their dignity (as an occupied people) will allow in proving their peaceful intent.  For example, they imply, but will not clearly say, that Israel is the “Jewish state” endorsed by the United Nations in its partition resolution of November 1947.  And their efforts to reconcile with Hamas, even as doomed as they seem to be, do not reassure most Israelis.

Objectively these shouldn’t matter; Palestinians do state that Israel has the sovereign right to define itself as it will, and Hamas often hints at formulas that Israel should be able to live with.  But as Prof. Kahneman correctly states, it’s a question of “trust” for most Israelis.

The only thing that could possibly persuade Israelis to take risks for peace is to argue that the risks of not pursuing peace are much worse.  Since most Israelis and their supporters wish to see Israel remain a sovereign safe haven against antisemitism and a center for the flowering of Jewish culture and identity, they need to ask themselves what happens if a majority, or even a large minority under Israel’s rule, will not share such values — especially if most Arabs under Israeli rule are deprived of equal political and civil rights.  Unless a two-state solution is successfully negotiated with the Palestinians reasonably soon, the handwriting is on the wall for Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, let alone a democratic one.

By | 2013-07-02T10:28:00-04:00 July 2nd, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

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