All Writings
November 23, 2003

The Last Option

The road map for peace has offered a spark of
hope that the conflict between the Israelis and
Palestinians may at long last come to an end. This
spark though is barely visible in the darkness forged in
the crucible of more than three years of bloody violence
that has fundamentally changed each side's view
of the other. For the Israelis, the outburst of the second
Intifadah, coming after the two protagonists appeared
on the brink of reaching an historic agreement brokered
by former president Clinton at Camp David in
the Summer of 2000, betrayed their trust in the
Palestinians they had so painstakingly constructed
since the first Oslo accord in 1993. For the
Palestinians, the truth seemed entirely different.
Misled by their leader Chairman Arafat concerning the
merits of what was offered at Camp David, they
became totally disillusioned, believing that their hopes
for an end to the occupation any time soon had been
Because of these altered mindsets, the conflict,
long perceived by both sides to be about territory and
political rights, has dramatically shifted to a war for
survival. As the violence escalated, becoming increasingly
heinous, the Israelis were forced to the painful
conclusion that, notwithstanding the progress on the
political, territorial, and economic fronts since the
Oslo accord, the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat,
has never conceded the right of the Jews to exist freely
and independently in any part of their ancient homeland.
The Palestinians came to an equally painful conclusion:
There was no real possibility for an end to the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as long
as the settlements policy continued, irrespective of the
nature of political discourse between the two parties.
These new mindsets created in both camps an altered
dynamic in which, no longer constrained by a shared
belief in the inevitability of coexistence, they focused
on measures to insure their own survival under any circumstances.
Thus, regardless of the heavy toll so far on
the two sides, they are fully prepared to inflict even
more damage on one another.
The focus here is not to so much on the political
and territorial dimensions of the conflict, although
they remain the main pillars of any future solution, but
on the human dimensions that have made the obvious
solution (that there be two states) appear untenable. I
suggest that only through a deep understanding of
each other's psychological, emotional, and religious
perspectives will the Israelis and Palestinians come to
accept their mutually irrevocable right to live freely
while creating the demographic mechanisms to permanently
maintain the distinct national identity of their
two independent states.
We must concentrate therefore on the human
dimensions of the conflict. Too often commentators
and governments have either misunderstood or
ignored them. But without confronting these determinants,
there can be no realistic hope for resolution.
Chief among these concerns is the psychological ramifications
of the second Intifadah and how the indiscriminate
violence, especially the suicide bombings,
have sanctified a culture of death that has profoundly
affected the psyches of both sides. The prolonged
occupation has further compounded the human
drama by dehumanizing the two societies, creating a
deep sense of alienation and contempt. Adding to this
lethal mix is the destructive role of the Israeli settlements.
For the Palestinians, they have provided a
panoramic perspective on their own helplessness in
stopping Israel's creeping impingement on their territory.
For the Israelis, the settlements have become an
albatross, choking off the possibilities for any political
solution. Another crucial element is the Arab states'
treatment of the Palestinians for more than two generations
which has deeply injured these proud people in
the name of brotherhood. Then there are the demographic
dimensions of the conflict, seen by both sides
as determining the future viability of their respective
national identities. The pursuit of a demographic
advantage has created a new reality–the interdispersement
of the two populations. The stunning and mostly
overlooked implications of this development are that
it has made coexistence inevitable.
Perhaps more than any other element that has contributed
to the grievous development of the conflict is
the plight of the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians'
own leaders and the Arab states, each with their own
agenda, deliberately exploited and perpetuated the
subhuman conditions under which the refugees have been forced to exist. The plight of the refugees has distorted
and undermined any pragmatic discourse about
the ways to resolve this human tragedy. Juxtaposed
against the Palestinians' human drama is the millennia-
old drama of Jews' dispersement, their ingathering
in their ancient homeland and their right to live like
any other free people. The acceptance of this immensely
complex reality is imperative because any solution
to the impasse is inextricably linked to an unambiguous
public recognition by the Arab states and the
Palestinians of this Jewish right. Together, all these elements
have shaped the tragedy that has befallen both
Although the United States has attempted at
various times to mediate a peaceful solution, our good
intentions, especially in the past three years, have not
been matched by any decisive active involvement or
purposeful strategy. Without America putting teeth
into its words and employing coercive diplomacy if it
must, peace will simply be impossible to achieve. But
even with full U.S. commitment, it will still be up to
both sides to face the inevitable. Here is where both
Israeli and Palestinian leaders, specifically Sharon and
Arafat, have miserably failed. By holding fast to absurd
ideologies whose time has long since passed, they have
betrayed their peoples' yearnings for peace.
The land itself, scarred by the grievous wounds
of generations of Israelis and Palestinians, its ancient
peoples, is calling out for a solution. What if the
"silent" stones at the holy Jewish and Muslim shrines
in Jerusalem could talk? What would they have to say
to us? The stones would question the continuing suffering
of their peoples when there still exists the
chance to mitigate and even end it. To make peace one
last option remains, rehashed ad nauseam–that of twostates
existing peacefully side-by-side. In such a scenario,
the Palestinians will occupy all of Gaza and most
of the West Bank, with Israel continuing its authority
and control over all the lands within its pre-1967 borders.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians can have it all:
It is impossible in the deepest sense to build one's
home on the ruins of another's. The self-consuming
cycle of violence must stop. Jewish and Muslim clergy,
men of true religious wisdom, must make their voices
heard. Their silence has been deafening. They, more
than any other Israelis or Palestinians, have the solemn
responsibility to speak out against this raging madness.
They must not allow religious lunatics to pervert the
holy Koran or distort the moral tenets of the Old
Testament in the service of an unholy alliance with the
devil. Otherwise, by their silence, they will fulfill the
prophesy of doom. Is it possible that Providence has
ordained that the children of Abraham are to be thrust
together and so be challenged to live in peace or perish?