I am beginning to think that the criteria used by the editors of the NY Times for evaluating op-eds about the Mideast are these:
Is it weird enough? Is it far enough removed from reality? Is it bad enough for Israel?
Today there’s one by a Tel Aviv University psychologist, Dr. Carlo Strenger, who advocates “diplomatic therapy” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The trauma is mutual and multilayered. The Palestinians have never been able to mourn what they call the Nakba, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Their ethos of national liberation was based on the idea that all refugees would be able to return to their homes in Jaffa, Ramle and Lod. Letting go of this dream, a condition for the two-state solution, requires a process of mourning that has been made almost impossible by the humiliation of the occupation and the force of Israeli retaliation, culminating in the Gaza war last year.
Trauma is not the Palestinians’ alone: Israeli Jews live under a fear of annihilation that overshadows any consideration of compromise. Many critics of Israel believe that such a statement is a cheap ploy to justify colonial ambitions, but right or wrong this is the reality of the country’s collective psyche. Israelis still look back at the attacks by Arab armies in 1948, 1967 and 1973 as moments when they could have been wiped out, and this fear is revived today by the possibility of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons.
Where to start? How about the bias implicit in Strenger’s exposition: were all the Palestinian refugees expelled? Some were, certainly. But many left voluntarily to escape the chaos of the war that their leadership had a great part in bringing about; and most of the responsibility for their inability to return lies with the Arab nations.
Regarding the Jews, what exactly is the point of suggesting that their fear of annihilation may be unreasonable — worse, “a cheap ploy to justify colonial ambitions?” Are the Hizballah, Syrian and Iranian missiles chopped liver? Strenger does not suggest that the Arab nakba tales might be exaggerated, so why are Jewish fears?
Furthermore, it’s gratuitously false to say that the recent Gaza war was “retaliation.” That’s pure Goldstone.
But OK, he’s a psychologist, not a historian, and what’s important for therapy is not what is in reality, but what’s in the patient’s head. So Palestinian Arab fantasies are as important as historical facts. The nakba stories with their imaginary or exaggerated massacres, rapes, etc. are as important as the very real history of Arab war and terrorism against Israel, the treachery of Arafat in the Oslo period and the murderous ambitions of Hamas.
How can the therapist help calm this anger and fear? There’s a problem, and of course it’s Israel’s fault: the “humiliation of the occupation” and Israeli “retaliation” have made it impossible for the Palestinians to ‘mourn’ (it seems to me that they’ve been mourning violently since 1948 and what they haven’t been able to do is get even. But that’s just me). The implication is that to enable this mourning, Israel has to leave the territories and stop defending itself.
Strenger also brings up the issue of religion, so that he can equate the danger from “Israel’s ideological Right” to the well-armed, Iranian funded, antisemitic, genocidal fanatics of Hamas who rule 40% of the Palestinian Arab population. Is he kidding?
So what does diplomatic therapy look like?
As in Northern Ireland, the sponsoring parties, presumably the members of the so-called quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — should maintain a permanent peace conference that will convene until an agreement is reached. And the quartet needs to find ways to engage all parties in the region, most of all the Arab League, but also Hamas and possibly, at some point, Iran.
Strenger proposes, therefore, that the borderline-hostile Quartet (only the US can be called even ambiguously pro-Israel) maintain a permanent institution designed to beat Israel until the Palestinians and others are satisfied with the result! And look at those others: the Arab League, which fought to prevent the creation of Israel and has been implacably opposed to its existence ever since; Hamas, which explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of its Jewish inhabitants; and Iran, whose President called (yesterday) for the “nonexistence of the Zionist entity,” which is directly responsible for the last two wars fought by Israel, and is preparing the ground now for the next.
This is a therapy group? It sounds more like a lynch mob. But Strenger thinks there will be a catharsis:
An open-ended process would allow Palestinians to voice their rage and pain about what they have gone through and to express their need for Israel to recognize its part in the Nakba. In the same way patients progress by talking about their traumas, a therapeutic process may lead the Palestinians to realize that they have not just been passive victims, that they have made decisions, ranging from rejection of the American partition plan in 1947 to the use of suicide bombers since the 1990s, that have driven back the possibility of peace.
Likewise, Israel’s Jews need to be able to voice their fear that Arabs will never accept the existence of Israel, and that the two-state solution is just a step toward its destruction. Therapeutic diplomacy will help them gradually accept their share of the responsibility for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. In this way both parties can come to realize that accepting the other’s narrative and point of view does not mean annihilation.
I expect that the Palestinians will voice their rage and pain, something that they are expert at and do all the time. But why should this cause them to stop thinking of themselves as passive victims? It seems to me that the more they express their rage, the more convinced of their victim status they get. And they’ll get a lot of reinforcement from the other group members.
Israelis, for the most part, do accept that some Arabs were expelled in 1948, and that some of them were innocent people who suffered needlessly. They do not in general (except for those like Strenger) think that they must accept the responsibility for everything bad that happened to the Palestinians, they do not accept the Palestinian definition of the ‘crime’ that they are accused of, and they most assuredly don’t agree that they must accept 4-5 million hostile Arabs who claim to be descendants of all of the original refugees in order to atone for it.
With all due respect, I don’t see a two-sided process of reconciliation here. I see only more pressure for Israel to make still more concessions, to move closer to the Arab position — which has not budged a centimeter since 1948 — until it finally gives up on the idea of Jewish self-determination.
It’s not therapy, it’s therapist-assisted national suicide!