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Gaza-Israel border, August 2014 © Ran Zisovitch

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is So Predictable

All too predictable violence has again broken out between the Israelis and Palestinians, but this time with no mediator and, therefore, no possible good end for either side.

Their conflict is so familiar, so predictable. The Book of Ecclesiastes sums it up prophetically: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” We have seen it so many times that we’re able to write the ending. We know what the two sides will do or say, or won’t. There is no new thing under the Mideast sun.

The language to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its elements has become stale. Whether Arabic, Hebrew or English, the vocabulary — like the people of this conflicted part of the Middle East — has been exhausted. “Cycle of violence, “eye for an eye,” “right to defend,” “nakba,” “historic right,” “senseless violence,” “two-state solution” and so on are reduced to just words. They no longer capture the profound emotions of those on both sides who must live it — and often suffer it — every day.

Thus it was on May 14 when Gazans literally took to the barricades to demonstrate ostensibly against the official opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. In this case, it was the security fence separating Gaza from Israel. As in prior similar demonstrations that began at the end of March, Israel warned Gazans that while peaceful protests would be tolerated, the protesters should not approach the security fence. Israel had positioned hundreds of Israel Defense Forces and other security officials outside the fence to prevent demonstrators from breaching it and entering Israel. When a penetration attempt was perceived, the Israelis responded. When it ended, at least 60 Gazans were dead.

Palestinians in Gaza acted in a way unacceptable to the Israelis, and Israelis responded as they warned they would. Both sides acted in predictable ways; ways we have seen repeatedly in the 70 years of the Middle East’s longest enduring conflict.

Palestinian Vulnerabilities

No doubt many of the protesters, perhaps even most, were there simply to protest. Certainly some, however, had other intentions — i.e., to provoke confrontation and violence. Those with harmful intentions — some in Gaza had announced their intention to break through the fence and “swarm across the border” into Israel — knew very well how the Israelis would respond. They were counting on it. On May 15, the day after the clashes at the border, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya declared, “The Great Return protests and the raids on the border by our youth are proof that we have confused the enemy,” suggesting that the tragic result may have been deliberately provoked by Hamas, as official Israeli reports asserted.

If so, it only confirms the insightful assessment of Owen Matthews, writing for The Daily Beast on the Balkans conflict of the 1990s: “It shows the power that a group of well-organized revolutionaries can still exercise on a traditional, poor society with a strong martyr culture and an all-consuming sense of grievance.”

Hamas has failed to meet the needs of the people of Gaza. Changing the circumstances of the people of Gaza by addressing their manifold needs apparently wasn’t in Hamas’ interest. And resorting to war with Israel, as was done in 2008, 2012 and 2014, would have been futile. But sacrificing the lives of obliging Gazan “martyrs” to resurrect the organization’s declining political fortunes seemed a solid strategy.

Nothing New: Hamas Wins, Israel Condemned, Palestinians Pay

As a result, 60 are dead, children among them. Could Israel have responded differently? Israeli security forces repelled the alleged invaders, but at what cost? The incident sparked near universal condemnation of Israel, in the United Nations and from nearly every country, though not the US. This also is predictable. All the finger-pointing has been directed in the direction of Tel Aviv and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel lost — Hamas won — the public relations war, really the only type of war that Palestinians are capable of waging against Israel’s first-world security forces.

The 60 lives lost and the thousands wounded were the cost of Hamas’ PR Pyric victory. Palestinians lose lives and suffer. But Palestinians themselves are no closer to their long-aspired for state. (See again the Matthews quote above.) It is not a Palestinian victory. Palestinian leaders on the other hand — in this case, Hamas in Gaza — notch a desperately needed political victory. They now set themselves up for the next (predictable) fruitless round of their campaign against Israel.

What is not predictable or foreseeable, however, is an end. How does this end? Does it ever end?

Both sides refuse to talk and the traditional “default” mediator, the US, has absented itself from the conflict. Or, rather, it has thrown in its lot with Israel. That America is a strong supporter of the Jewish state is not news. That it would sit idly while the conflict festers dangerously and even abet the flames of violence — by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there — is news.

In Israel’s 1967 and 1973 wars with the Arabs and in both of the Palestinian intifadas, the US stepped in to help broker an end to the violence and at least attempt to set the stage for something more permanent via negotiations. Both Palestinians and Israelis accepted this role that only the US could play.

What Is Different: No US Mediator

That is not happening now. The absence of the US is destructive for both sides. Israel may think it has its most important ally solidly behind it, but it has always had that. What it no longer has is anyone who can approach both sides with a genuine intention of ending the conflict. That ought to be upper most in Israel’s interest. The Palestinians, who understandably but unwisely chose to stop dealing with the US as a mediator, have lost the only country capable of speaking directly and bluntly with Israel, and actually have the Israelis’ ear.

This predicament is what makes the current state of the conflict so different from and more dangerous than previous outbreaks. No other nation or entity can play the role that the US has historically played. It is an indispensable role if an end is ever to be written.

Without America playing that role and offering some hope for a negotiated end to the situation at hand — and ultimately to the larger conflict — the sides are left to tragic options, violence and more violence.

It is so predictable.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Ran Zisovitch / Shutterstock.com