Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Worldwide Terrorism

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a microcosm of the larger war on terror. After over half a century of fighting terrorism with a few billion a year and the moral support of the largest superpower in the world, the Israelis are no closer to peace, or to killing all the terrorists. Now they have embarked on walls and partition as a better way of addressing the problem.

The withdrawal from Gaza and a few settlements in the West Bank is looked upon by the West as progress in the conflict, and a move closer to the roadmap prescribed by the US. This is an illusion.

In a recent Newsweek interview Sharon was asked the following question and gave the following answer.

WEYMOUTH: Why did you decide that disengagement is the right thing to do?
I never thought there would be any possibility that a small Jewish minority in Gaza—seven or eight thousand Israelis, [living] among 1.2 million Palestinians, whose number doubles every generation—might become a majority or [establish] a place that could be an integral part of the state of Israel.”

In other words, there was no illusion that this was motivated by any desire to see a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It was simply to partition off a section of Israel that would clearly always be dominated by Palestinians. The Israelis don’t envision a state. They intend to control access to Gaza. The Palestinians in Gaza are precluded from having an airport or a seaport to engage in free commerce with the outside world. They insist the border with Egypt be controlled by the Egyptians to their liking. They insist that the Palestinian authority eliminate Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This is impossible, since these organizations comprise nearly half the Palestinians in Gaza, meaning any attempt to eliminate them will mean civil war. They have also indicated continuation of any terrorist activity will mean a severe military response, in other words they will fight terrorism in the same way as they have always contended with it, by at least an equal destruction of lives and property. But, now this destruction will not be occurring in Israel, but in Gaza, essentially a prison camp for Palestinians.

Will partitions and walls eventually end the conflict? It may afford somewhat better protection for Israelis but the conflict is unlikely to end for the same reason the war on terrorism is unlikely to end through the way it is now being prosecuted. First, the lot of the Palestinians, contained in Gaza and the West Bank without commerce with the outside world will not improve. It will probably get more hopeless than it already is. Having nothing to lose and valuing their religion more than their lives they will continue to fight the endless battle of overcoming Israeli dominance with terrorism, the only weapon available to them. And the battle will continue as a war of attrition. Since the Palestinians have a birth rate higher than that of Israel, the end is not in site. Eventually, only the diehard fundamentalists in Israel will be left to fight the battle alone. The Jewish progressives will realize that they will not want to burden future generations with the fate of constant terror and marginal progress and join the Diaspora in countries where they are accepted and can prosper.

Unlike the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the US, perceiving itself a victim of a similar terror has more options. Isolated by two oceans it only has to worry about terrorists in its midst. If the will is found to protect its land borders and identify its citizens, as Israel does, it can be secure from all but the most rare of terror attacks. But, the international problem of terrorism will continue as long as there are extremists that value their religion more than life, and the tactics used to combat terrorism generate more terrorists or more sympathy for terrorism than they eliminate. I think we have shown that cooperation among countries in tracking down terrorist leaders and destroying infrastructure and communication necessary to their activities reduces terrorism, but that military action can have a positive or negative effect, depending on what specific military action is taken.

The long term solution to terrorism is likely to come when Islamic countries follow the example of Qatar, converting their monarchies to democracies more like the UK, and when Western countries realize that they have a role in encouraging this transformation, but that they must respect the sovereignty of other countries and treat them as equals, rather than attempting to control or use them to their own advantage.

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