Yaakov Lozowick has an interesting short piece on the Yehuda Avner book, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. I haven’t read the book yet (my pile of unread books only gets taller), but Lozowick said this, worth quoting:
Ever since the Six Day War, we learn, American leaders (not to mention all the others) are fixated on this version or that of having Israel hand over the territories it acquired in that war in return for peace. There is never (as told in this book) any discussion of what will keep the peace going once the agreement has been reached. There’s this puzzle, and it can be resolved by moving these pieces in these ways… and what happens afterward? Well, there will be peace,of course, and nothing will threaten it ever, so no-one needs to think much about it; it will be gloriously boring. No-one in the book ever brings up the possibility that the conflict can’t be resolved by Israel giving back those territories because the conflict was always about much more than them. It’s not mentioned, not considered, not part of the discourse.
I mentioned this to my son, who reads a lot of military history. It struck him that while people commonly think most wars are about territory, often — maybe most often — they are not. Human emotions and ideology (usually religious ideology) play a large role in pushing nations to war and in shaping the course of conflict. Who can deny that Hitler’s racial theories and hatred of Jews caused him to take decisions that were suboptimal from a military point of view? Historian Lucy Dawidowicz went so far as to write a book about the war in Europe called The War Against the Jews, in which she argued that Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was driven by his desire to wipe out the Jews of the world.
The Israeli-Arab conflict is infused with emotion and ideology. The Arab culture which places great importance on honor and shame — and these concepts are not identical with the way they are usually understood in the West – has had a great deal to do with the conflict. It’s not unreasonable to say that Sadat attacked Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973 as much to regain Arab honor as to repossess the Sinai.
Islam demands that Muslims rule over all the lands in Dar al Islam, and even among secular Arabs there is a belief that there is something upside down about a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world. Jews ought to be inferior, particularly in warfare — which the Arabs see as the most masculine of endeavors — and their inability to defeat Israel is a stinging wound to their honor, a source of shame.
Indeed, probably one of the reasons that even a ‘cold’ peace with Egypt held firm for so many years is the widespread belief among Egyptians that they were victorious in 1973!
Palestinian Arabs see the nakba as a massive loss of honor, an emasculation, and will not be satisfied by anything less than a full reversal of it, preferably accomplished in a violent way. Yasser Arafat was expert at pulling these strings, often leading crowds in chanting “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine…”
Ideology is strongest among Islamists, such as Hamas. The Hamas covenant explains the need for jihad to get Palestine back to its rightful owners, Muslims, and quotes Koranic scripture calling for the extermination of Jews.
None of this should be a big surprise to anyone who pays attention to what Arabs say, even what they say in English.
This is why, for example, that no Palestinian Arab leader has ever agreed that a ‘peace treaty’ would end the conflict. This is why the Arab League peace initiative (the ‘Saudi peace plan‘), which the US President and others trot out regularly, only promises ‘normal relations’ but does not say that the Palestinian Arabs have no further claims on Israel.
The point is that the conflict is not primarily a conflict over land, and certainly not just over the land Israel conquered in 1967. And if this is true — and it is — then what Lozowick calls the long-running ‘fixation’ on getting Israel to let go of the rest of the land it captured in 1967 (it has already relinquished the major part of it and the conflict has gotten worse) as a path to peace is clearly irrational. I would even use the word ‘insane’, considering the amount of effort and prestige that the US administration has invested in it.
Of course they are not insane, or blind and deaf. They are aware that a technocratic adjustment of borders will not put an end to the emotional and ideological forces that drive the conflict. And therefore I conclude that the goal of American (and European) policy is not to end the conflict, not to obtain a lasting peace. It is limited to forcing Israel to give up the rest of the territory taken in 1967.
This includes, by the way, the Golan Heights (US spokespeople often mention this). A reasonable assessment would assert that the cause of peace would be best served by leaving this highly strategic area in Israel’s hands, since 1) Syria has attacked Israel several times while Israel has not attacked Syria, and 2) the belligerent attitude and behavior of the Syrian dictator makes his intent suspect. But yet, the US and Europeans push for a ‘peace’ treaty here too.
So what is driving the ‘fixation’?