Jul 31st 2014

Trapped Between Delusion And Denial

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The Israelis and Palestinians have been trapped for decades between delusions and denial and both have resorted to ideological and religious dogmas that dismiss with conviction any factual evidence to the contrary.

A powerful Israeli right-of-center constituency led by Prime Minster Netanyahu insists that Israel is not an occupying power, the settlements are not impediments to peace, Jerusalem will never become the capital of two states, Palestinian hatred of Israelis is at the core of the conflict, the Palestinians do not seek real peace and are committed to Israel’s destruction, and the blockade of Gaza is justified for security reasons.

The Palestinians’ delusions about their reality are no less absurd as they continue to demand the right of return of the refugees and claim that Israel is a foreign implant in the region and has no right to exist, Israel has no real national security concerns, and all Israelis are sworn to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

It is these delusions that have tragically perpetuated the conflict; their actions and reactions to each other’s transgressions only validated these delusions. Thus, little room is left for any bilateral constructive discourse as suspicion, hatred, and distrust became deeply embedded in their respective public psyches, creating psychological, political, and physical divides.

Not surprisingly, this sad state of affairs is now glaringly manifested, once again, by the war between Israel and Hamas (an organization that represents a relatively small segment of the Palestinian population).

There will be no victors, only losers, emerging from this war, and though both sides are sustaining terrible losses, they still find comfort in their delusions and refuse to face the truth. As Kierkegaard once observed, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

There are many Israelis who strongly believe that Israel now has the opportunity to wipe out Hamas once and for all. In a recent column, Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, strongly advocated that “Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”

This is the kind of delusion that blinds him and many of his compatriots who do not comprehend how ominous their position is concerning Hamas. Israel can destroy every tunnel and every rocket and even decapitate Hamas’ leadership, but this will prove to be futile and bordering on insanity as Hamas as a movement still enjoys some grassroots support.

Such madness will only give rise to a new generation of radical Islamist Palestinians who will carry the banner of Hamas but with a far-greater vehemence and determination to violently resist Israel.

No one can accuse Mr. Oren of being stupid, but then, as Saul Bellow aptly put it, “a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

Conversely, Hamas can terrorize the Israelis, spread fear and cause havoc among the civilian population, and inflict major human and material loses, but it will never defeat Israel militarily; this only strengthens the Israelis’ resolve, however delusionary, to eradicate Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The irony is that all of Israel’s military might has failed to deter Hamas. An organization under siege with extremely limited financial resources was able to build a sophisticated network of tunnels, purchase and manufacture more than 10,000 rockets, train thousands of fighters, and ready itself to face down Israel’s formidable military machine from underground and from the air.

Moreover, the disproportionate deaths of Palestinian civilians, especially children, versus the number of casualties among Hamas’ combatants evoked international outcry, putting Israel on the defensive. Never mind that Hamas is using innocent civilians as human shields; Israel, not Hamas, is accused of indiscriminate killings, allowing Hamas to win the public relations war.

The war will eventually come to an end. The question is, will the terms for ending the bloody conflict set the stage for the next round of hostilities, or will both sides shed their delusions, recognize each other and stop this vicious cycle of violence?

For Hamas this is not just a battle for easing the blockade or lifting it altogether; it is a battle for its very existence. But Hamas painted itself into a corner; after having innocent civilians suffer so much death and destruction, failing to lift the blockade at some point in the future is tantamount to political suicide.

Although Netanyahu cannot crush Hamas as a movement, he hopes to unravel the unity government. Regardless, he no longer accepts, and rightfully so, a long-term ceasefire unless all tunnels are destroyed and Gaza is demilitarized, with the Palestinian Authority’s security forces in charge of all border crossings.

For the above reasons, any solution will have to disabuse Israel and Hamas of the illusion that either can rid itself of the other. Now that so much death and destruction has been inflicted on one another, perhaps they can stop and think where all this insanity is leading to.

Thus, any effort to find a solution following the initial humanitarian ceasefire must be based on a formula in which Israel and Hamas share important common denominators that could meet their principal requirements and open the door for serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian unity government.

Being weary of Islamic extremism, the Arab states have largely abandoned Hamas and are now in a much stronger position to squeeze Hamas to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which remains the only realistic formula and has been on the table for 12 years.

The API recognizes Israel’s right to exist, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel, and provides for permanent peace and the recognition of Israel by the Arab and Muslim states.

There is wide support in Israel for the API, and here is where President Obama must finally put his foot down and insist that the Netanyahu government embrace the API to provide the foundation for credible peace negotiations.

Every Arab and Muslim state has endorsed the API. Qatar and Turkey, in particular, enjoy considerable influence on Hamas and can now exert real pressure on the organization to embrace the API. Several statements made in the past by Hamas’ political leaders are very consistent with the main provisions of the API, which recognize Israel’s right as a state along with the creation of a Palestinian state.

For nearly seven decades, Israelis and Palestinians have been marred with delusions and denial, planning and plotting to undermine one another instead of building human bridges and coming to accept their shared destiny.

The question is, will Israel’s and Hamas’ leaders learn anything from this horrifying war, or, to paraphrase Dostoyevsky, will they continue to delude themselves and come to a point “where [they] cannot distinguish the truth within” or around themselves?

This war has introduced a new dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether the Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live and prosper or destroy each other is the question they must ponder, because neither will survive without the other living in peace and security.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."