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For progressives and liberals, I mean.

If you're a centrist or a liberal hawk (an oxymoron if there ever was one), if you believe terrorism is the transcendent evil of our time, the issue might be complex and fraught with ambiguity.

But if you believe people have the right to be free, if your sympathies lie with the relatively weak, if you believe military occupation breeds extremity and terrorism, if you believe in peace through peace as opposed to peace through pummeling, you have a clear position on this issue whether you realize it or not.

These last few weeks have made clear that in the opinion of many at Daily Kos, the enlightened position on the I/P conflict is no position. The conflict is so hopelessly complex and nuanced that it demands ambivalence, doubt, qualification. The smart person sits on the fence and criticizes both sides, whereas the person who has clarity on this issue is a zealot, an absolutist, an apologist for child killers.

People with "strong" opinions on this matter are not to be trusted. They're too sure of themselves. They like to hear themselves type. The dirty little secret is that they don't care about the plight of people victimized by the conflict. One top-of-the-rec list diaryripped people who held strong opinions and implored them to instead focus on the dying people. As if politics were unrelated to the dying people.

Can't you see past your petty, dipshit politics for three Christ-punching seconds and realize that there are people who are dying?

In fact, the prevailing thinking is not unlike Beltway-think, which glorifies difference-splitting centrism and smears the "extremes." To cite one of a thousand examples, a front pager claimed that my unconditional opposition to Israel's bombardment of Gaza meant that I opposed Israel's right to self-defense.

There's nothing wrong with doubt. It can be a virtue, especially when it's well informed and well thought out.
But it can also be a pose. And a crutch. I've discovered that often people's neutrality--how can I put it gently?--seems not to be the result of extensive research and soul-searching. In this heavily rec'd diary the diarist slams both sides in the conflict and hopes that:

militants on both sides get on with slaughtering each other as quickly and thoroughly as possible, rapturing each other away so that people who love peace can go about the task of making it.  

When I pointed out that it wasn't militants doing the fighting right now. On the contrary, a relative moderate Israeli government was doing 99 percent of the killing with the support of more than a few ostensible doves. To which he or she responded:

anyone using ballistics to solve this problem is a militant, whether they're Hamas, Israeli Army, civilian Likudnik, rock-throwing schoolkid from gaza

So you want all these people--Hamas, Israeli Army, civilian Likudnik, rock-throwing school kid--to slaughter themselves? Yes, s/he responded.

Why shouldn't the violent reap violence they sow?

S/he sought out to write a humanist pro-peace diary and ended up rooting for the death of school kids in Gaza. But at least s/he doesn't have a "strong opinion," because that would be unenlightened.

In similar fashion, many people duck the burden of taking a position by claiming that Israelis and Palestinians don't want peace. Markos opts for this line of rationalization:

I grew up in a war zone. And there was one clear lesson I learned -- there will never be peace unless both sides get tired of the fighting and start seeking an alternative.

It's clear that in the Middle East, no one is sick of the fighting. They have centuries of grudges to resolve, and will continue fighting until they can get over them. And considering that they obviously have no interest in "getting over them", we're stuck with a war that will not end in any forseable future.

No one is sick of the fighting? In fact, numerous polls have found that large majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis--some 70 percent--support the peace process even though they're not optimistic it will bring peace. Desperate, they're willing to give it a shot. The majorities are large enough to support a peace process and would get even larger if it showed dividends. As a benchmark, consider that 70 percent of Americans want to withdraw from Iraq. What's the matter with Americans? Why aren't they sick of the fighting?

Israelis and Palestinians aren't blood-thirsty. And the region isn't cursed. The problems are power and politics. They're also the solutions.

Ungirding the comments of the fence-sitters is the belief that the conflict is hopelessly complex, and perhaps just plain hopeless. I call it the myth of complexity, and it's a serious impediment to peace. It gives people permission not merely to remain neutral but to bask in their neutrality.

Will the conflict be difficult to resolve? Of course. But is it complex? No, not uniquely so. Not by the standards of geopolitics. If you adhere even loosely to widely accepted liberal principles, you'll arrive at a clear position.


The fundamental fact is that Palestinians are under the military domination of Israel. You can trace the history of this conflict back dozens--or, for that matter, thousands--of years, you can weigh competing historical claims to the land, you can try to figure out who was responsible for the failure of Oslo, but you will eventually arrive at this fact, and this fact should, if you're some kind of liberal, shape your position.

In the West Bank Israel's armed domination takes the form of an occupation, under which soldiers control the movement of Palestinians, seize their homes, and sporadically bombard them in the name of fighting militants. You know: an occupation. In Gaza the form of domination for the last couple of years has been a blockade that has reduced the area to, as Amnesty International put it, "bare survival." I'm sure some Gazans would prefer an outright occupation, what with the denial of lifesaving medical care and children eating grass. And that was before the latest attacks, which have killed hundreds.

Yet to read much mainstream coverage--and many diaries here--is to enter into a fantasy land where Israel's murderous and illegal militarized domination of the Palestinians doesn't exist. The uninformed would conclude that the Palestinians simply share a border with Israel.

Yet obviously, if you're a progressive, the fact of Israel's military domination of the Palestinians has to dictate your moral math. It's the responsibility of the occupier to stop occupying. Or if you prefer, people have to the right to live free from military domination. If you're a progressive, a believer in universal human rights and international law, you likely accept these precepts. You should. In demanding self-determination, Palestinians are not relying on archaic or secondary principles. As Edward Said put it:

This Palestinian insistence is no unique, decontextualized aberration; it is fully supported by every international legal and moral covenant known to the modern world.

The right to self-determination comes with few, if any, exceptions or qualifications. It supersedes all the interests of the occupying nation. Israel has a right to security, but if a Palestinian state were to emerge, the security of Israel, with its overwhelming military advantage and backing of the US, would not be in doubt. Israel would, of course, have the right to retaliate against an attack from a new Palestinian state, but there is no legal or moral justification for denying Palestinians their right to self-determination in the name of security. (Talk about preemptive war.) It would be terrific if a moderate, competent leadership emerged among Palestinians, but it's not incumbent on them to form a government to our liking anymore than it's incumbent on Iraqis to form a government to our liking as a condition for the US's withdrawal.

Indeed, it's virtually unimaginable that a people under occupation would produce a strong moderate leadership. Occupation, as we progressives know, breeds extremism, terrorism, and corruption. For Israel to demand a Palestinian government it admires and trusts as a condition for ending its occupation is like demanding that people you're drowning stop complaining before you shut off the water.

Reflexive defenders of Israel like to argue that unlike Palestinians, Israel doesn't intentionally kill civilians. Often this is the entirety of their moral case. But this is sophistry. Israel does violence it knows will kill civilians, many more than are killed by Palestinians. Because Israel is the dominant power.

And we've arrived back where progressives will also end up as they think through this issue: at the fact of the Israel's military control of Palestinians.

It's become fashionable here to say that the label "progressive" is so subjective, it ought not be used. But it's no more imperfect that any other political label, and it's important to articulate what we believe. There could never be a single list of "progressive values," but any list has to include human rights and belief in self-determination. If we don't believe in those things, we don't believe in anything.


The moral clarity of the conflict doesn't necessarily lend itself to a clear solution. Yet here, too--in the debate over solutions--the murkiness and complexity of the situation are vastly overstated. In fact, there is a broad consensus on what a peace plan must look like. It must look like the plan recently approved overwhelmingly by the U.N General Assembly. The two-state settlement, based on the pre-June 1967 borders, passed 164-7, with the US, Israel, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands voting in opposition.

  1. Stresses the need for:

(a) The withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;

(b) The realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and the right to their independent State;

  1. Also stresses the need for justly resolving the problem of Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948;
  1. Calls upon the parties to accelerate direct peace negotiations towards the conclusion of a final peaceful settlement on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, especially of the Security Council, the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference, the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative”

All the Arab states in the region along with the Palestinian observer backed the measure, which also condemned “all acts of violence and terror against civilians on both sides" and affirms the “right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders." A related resolution on Jerusalem passed by a similarly wide margin.

  1. Reiterates its determination that any actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal and therefore null and void and have no validity whatsoever, and calls upon Israel to cease all such illegal and unilateral measures;
  1. Stresses that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of the City of Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides and should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the holy places by the people of all religions and nationalities.

Given the near-world wide consensus, you need not know much about the issue to see that if the US used its power and its influence with Israel to press for an agreement, a settlement would be within sight.

UPDATE: After reading some critical comments, I've taken out this line:          

If anything, the moral high ground resides with Palestinians militants because the aim of their violence is to undo an immoral military control, while the aim of Israel's violence is to maintain, if not expand, it.

Although I do believe that there's a moral difference between violence aimed at undoing an occupation and violence aimed at perpetuating it, and even though I believe terrorism is the war of the poor,
I'm uncomfortable giving granting moral high ground to people who kill civilians. A higher moral low ground is more like it, perhaps.

In any case, my main point is that terrorism by the occupied doesn't justify occupation.


Originally posted to david mizner on Sun Jan 04, 2009 at 10:52 AM PST.

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