10 Days into the War but 100 Years into the Conflict:
Some Tentative Answers and Unanswerable Questions
So to move straight ahead on this:
In the short term: this would all seem to be Hezbollah's and Hamas' fault, and that there would not be a war now -- in fact there certainly wouldn't be -- without their rockets and bombings.
In the short term, "Israel has a right to defend itself." And in the short term, Condoleezza Rice is absolutely right about what is the "root of the problem"--Hezbollah.
Over the long run, the problem would seem to be one of Israel, that is, its fairly recent, -- though still -- sufficiently long ago to have taken place in a profoundly different political era -- arrival in the region, and, in the more realistic and pragmatic long-term, since Israel is now there, its expansionism, 450,000 settlers, and refusal to return to its borders.
And just as if Hezbollah and Hamas had not fired rockets and done other bombings against Israel there would be no war right now, if the Zionist movement had never gotten off the ground there would be no war and indeed a profound peace in that part of the world. The Palestinians would be peaceably enjoying the land, of which they had been the basic inhabitants for centuries, from the coast to the Jordan river, in pleasant, deep and richly-deserved quiet, and no one would be criticizing them, Arabs or Muslims, about much of anything.
Or without more criticism than any people or culture or religion -- or particular religion's fundamentalism -- of any other region of the Third World receives, which is of course is not particularly much.
As for long term consequences for Israel and Lebanon: Will Israel destroy Hezbollah, strengthen the moderate Lebanese government, and teach extremists a lesson, or will Israel get dragged into another 1982 Lebanon, or Vietnam, or Iraq-type quagmire?
Will the Lebanese be angrier at Hezbollah for running an extremist state-within-a-state that violates both the Lebanese government's sovereign territorial integrity and recognized international borders against Israel, and producing the Israeli response, or will they become angrier and more radicalized and more pro-Hezbollah and more anti-Israeli because of the degree of the Israeli action against Hezbollah?
Aside from ideologically driven hopes or worries, can anyone really guess?
And morals? Israel feels small and besieged on all sides, and in desperate fear of annihilation and genocide; the Palestinians, and Israel's Arab and Muslim neighbors feel like insulted and invaded and occupied victims of the original massive displacements and subsequent nonstop and arrogant expansionism.
Some say Lebanon's government and political system and public opinion are all too weak to do the strong and right thing and get the Hezbollah rockets off its land, and stop their intensive and illegal destructive bombardment of Israel across international borders, forcing the Israelis to come in with their intensive reaction of bombardment and destruction.
Others say that Israel's government and political system and public opinion are too weak to prevent 450,000 of their own citizens from crossing internationally recognized lines as settlers into the occupied territories, too weak and ill-intentioned to do the strong and right thing and accept the Arab League offer and get Israel out of the occupied territories and relinquish East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley and illegal settlement-blocks and go back to their own 1967 borders. That if the settlers almost took Israel to civil war over the withdrawal of 7,500 settlers from Gaza, how weak and politically provocative is the internal Israeli political system not to return its 450,000 settlers back to legal locations within Israel?
If Hezbollah and its fellow-travelers are a state-within-a-state that rules Lebanon, then the Settler Movement and its fellow-travelers are a state-within a state that rules Israel. And the Israeli movement would seem to be the one that is the most congenial and integral to that country's political system and public opinion. The two (or three) largest political parties of Israel have all embraced it over the past nearly 40 years.
It seems that Israel and Lebanon are both weak and lacking in the political will to do good and prevent evil: and that, if the short-term weakness and insufficient determinedness of Lebanon's public and political system to do good and prevent evil has created the short-term conditions of this crisis by not being able to prevent letting Hezbollah attack, then in the long-term the weakness and insufficient determinedness of Israel's public and political system to do good and prevent evil has generated the long-term conditions of the crisis.
In the largest sense will Israelis' fanatical devotion to the land they're on, and technological superiority, and what could be a fragility of energy necessary to sustain extremism ultimately prevail ? Or will the vast numerical superiority of the one billion Arabs and Muslims in our world, and the fanatical devotion of some to Palestine and its cause, and the closure of the cultural technological gap, or use of technological flotsam and jetsam such as fugitive nuclear arms, and what would become a robust and sustainable energy of extremism, instead ultimately prevail?
How can we know?
I have never seen a conflict in which there are so many idealistic and ordinarily decent and level-headed and high-minded and serious and, perhaps above all, absolutely desperately sincere people on both sides of this.
Each side has consisted of ordinary leaders and ordinary people in desperate situations -- chauvinism victims and xenophobia victims and Holocaust victims and terrorism victims (from both sides) and colonialism victims and Arab threat-and-invasion victims and Nachba victims and anti-Semitism victims and all victims of terror and loss and fear, and looping back again and alike -- what a mess -- who have used too much tribalism and short-sightedness and tunnel-vision in doing what they have thought -- or viscerally felt -- needed to be done at the times that they have done it, for themselves and against others.
But it is the fundamental difference in people's community-based and deeply-cherished, perspectives, between, on the one hand, taking the short-term view of historical Palestine's history -- seeing it as Israel, and in this (or any other) "present minute" -- and, on the other hand, the long-term view of historical Palestine over the course of the last century, which would seem to be the main factor that generates -- and continues to -- the most important, intractable, most major long-standing, and increasingly most dangerous conflict in the world.
And a conflict which is beginning to drag the world into it as well. This is deeply dangerous all of us and particularly for the United States, which seems only to take the side of the short-term view of that far-off part of the world.
As I've already noted, no one knows how it will turn out in the long run. But unless we in America change, and fundamentally reorient and broaden the scope of our empathetic understanding, I do worry very much that eventually - at least for the West - it may all turn out very, very, badly.
Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.