The Only Solution: Impose Peace

The Israel-Palestine conflict is rich with many things, but nothing is so widespread in it as useless aphorisms.

One of the most destructive of these is the oft-repeated mantra that “only direct negotiations between the two parties will resolve this conflict.” It was explicitly repeated today by leading Israeli hasbaranik, Mark Regev. I’ve touched before on this point, but now it seems to be gaining wider traction.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Howard Sachar, perhaps the best-known mainstream writer of Israeli history,

Is this a recipe for a bilaterally negotiated solution?

argues that only “great power intervention” can be expected to resolve this conflict. While I disagree with much of Sachar’s reasoning, his conclusion is inescapable. (Note: A tip of the hat to Bernard Avishai for pointing to this article).

Sachar’s reading of history tells him that small powers do not make peace by themselves and that only great power intervention settles these conflicts (for good or ill, as Sachar freely admits). That’s as may be, but, some would argue, the Israel-Palestine conflict has many dimensions that make it historically unique, so perhaps that principle would not apply here.

It is to this question that the major point Sachar misses in his essay provides an answer.

The disparity in power between Israel and the Palestinians is often pointed out, and this is no small factor. But there is another, more fundamental one that ultimately is the single biggest reason that bilateral negotiations are doomed to fail, and that only powerful outside intervention will ever resolve this conflict — that is the simple calculus that the status quo, or something close to it is preferable for Israeli leaders. Continue reading

Step One: Take Down All Outposts and Totally Freeze Construction

In his recent speech at the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Vice President Joe Biden reiterated President Barack Obama’s call for a freeze of Israeli settlements and the dismantling of “illegal outposts” set up by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Joe Biden speaks to AIPAC

Joe Biden speaks to AIPAC

There are many issues that need to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians. But settlements, an issue which has too long been on the diplomatic back-burner, are the root cause of most of the human rights problems in the West Bank.

From expropriation of Palestinian land, to severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, from the settler pogroms in Palestinian towns to putting more Israelis at greater risk of violence, the settlements make lives more miserable and hope more remote every day. And they throw Israel’s respect for the rule of law into question as well.

With Biden’s speech at so central a DC event as the AIPAC conference, it is clear that the issue of settlements is now as central in the diplomatic arena as it has been for years on the ground. This is good news but resolving the settlement question will not be easy. Continue reading

Filming Realities On The Ground

Last week, B’Tselem caused quite a stir when it released a video showing an attack by four masked men on Palestinian farmers in the South Hebron hills. The attack was recorded by a Palestinian woman who was later injured in the attack herself.

The farmers near the settlement of Susya live an extremely meager existence. I visited that area myself just six weeks ago. These are very simple people, not connected to much beyond the next village. They live in a tent city and subsist, barely, off farming a very small plot of land not far from the settlement, though well beyond the range where anyone could possibly pose a threat to the inhabitants of Susya.

The response to the release of the video shows the grave disconnect between reality and the perceptions of people around the world.

In various “talkback” sections in online newspapers, the comments were replete with accusations, egged on by comments from Israeli police, that the incident had been “staged.” Although very few such incidents have ever been corroborated in the slightest, a conspiracy theory, entitled “Pallywood” which purports a vast operation by Palestinians to drum up false charges against Israel and Israelis is flourishing.

Of course, false charges occur. In a recent appeal over the issue of the shooting of young Muhammad al-Dura, a boy killed in crossfire at the beginning of the second intifada who became a symbol for Israeli brutality and murderousness, a French court found that there was sufficient evidence to call into question the veracity of a French report of that incident. Continue reading

Taking Back the Rule of Law On the West Bank

Hi, all,

My latest piece is up at It concerns a historic petition being brought to the Israeli courts. You can read it by clicking here.