I know that Rob wants to weigh in on this too, but let me just say a few words about the Israeli attacks on Gaza. We have been down this road before, and not too many years ago, both in Israel and the US. Let me stipulate that Hamas is an ugly organization; a gun-toting theocracy whose rise to power is both a cause and an effect of the general disarray and chaos of the political situation in Israel/Palestine, a nasty dictatorship that certainly has little or no interest in seeking any sort of peace with Israel, and doesn’t seem to have much regard for the Palestinians under its control either. And I can understand those in Israel and elsewhere who argue that in response to the continuing rocket barrages into the Negev, Israel was obliged to “do something.” But if there is one lesson, above all, to be learned from the disasters of the invasion of Iraq it is that few endeavors have a lower likelihood of success than regime change, and that seems to be just what Israel is embarked upon; an effort to create a more satisfactory government in Gaza by killing off and destroying the current Hamas led-regime.
We heard all the liberal hawks caw in 2002 and 2003 about how Saddam Hussein’s human rights policy obliges all right minded people to support an American invasion, and we hear now that the rocket attacks on the Negev required a counterattack on the scale that Israel started on Saturday. What Bush needed to do in 2003, and what Israel needs to do today is protect its citizens, and this does not mean embroiling this unfortunate part of the world in another war, which can only end with the enmity increased on both sides. Israel will never be able to intimidate its neighbors into a lasting peace. Never. Ever. Rehearsing the mistakes and missed opportunities on both sides serves no purpose. For me the problem with the Israeli response is less that it is grossly disproportionate (though it is that), but that it just one in an endless series of tats that will provoke further tits, just spinning the cycle of violence. Breaking the cycle will not be easy, but it is the only step forward. One thing is clear. The current invasion of Gaza will not bring Israelis any lasting peace or security.
It is hard to find much cause for optimism. Over the last forty years I have seen tentative steps forward accompanied by giant steps backward. It is an anti-messianic era in the Middle East. All sides are busily beating their plowshares back into swords. Lions and lambs build fences to keep out their enemies, and then quarrel among themselves that their countrymen are insufficiently anti-lion or anti-lamb. And yet the basic facts have not changed. Neither side will able to eliminate the other. There is no alternative to living with each other in genuine peace. None. The path towards peace is perhaps inevitably, ineluctably, maddening wayward and meandering, a long discursive journey that will seem, until the very last step, little more than a series of futile digressions. Perhaps it is the Hegelian in me that hopes that eventually, the only possible resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian problem will be reached, though probably not before all alternatives are exhausted, and perhaps we are not that far away from this glorious nadir. The real is the rational, and the rational is the real. Or perhaps Isaiah said the same thing as Hegel, what needs to be must be, and therefore will be, even if the road to reach it seems unimaginably arduous, and will require the world to be radically reconfigured to achieve it. But we need our faith to continue to believe that in the end “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”