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

May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "