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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

New Philosophical Foundations For Israeli-Palestinian Peace

October 23, 2023 |

Jews and Arabs have been violently disputing over Middle East territory including Judea and Samaria for more than a century under the Ottoman Empire, the British mandate, in the  Arab-Israeli War of 1948, 1956 Suez Crisis, 1967 Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, the First and Second Intifadas,and the current grisly war between Hamas and Israel. The conclusion of one conflict is simply an intermission before a new conflict is born over irreconcilable religious convictions and territorial claims.

According to Nahum Goldmann in his book “The Jewish Paradox,” Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion explained the dynamics that have found expression in chronic upheavals in Palestine as follows:

If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true, God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?” 

There is an escape from the dilemma voiced by Ben Gurion.  But it requires a revolution in understanding.

First, every national boundary in history has been drawn by the sword. Justice or morality are helpless spectators. Might makes right. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.  Borders change intermittently through war or the threat of war.  Examine the Earth under a microscope. There are no national borders to be seen except those that have emerged from the barrel of a gun.  

No border is sacred. All borders are artificial. They are presumptively honored to diminish the likelihood of conflict, but the presumption is dishonored whenever the aggressor believes the potential benefits of conquest or annexation exceed the risk of international ostracism or losing a war. 

If Jews and Arabs are ever to cease fighting over Palestine, both must renounce the counterfactual, counter-historical conviction that God or God’s prophet gave one or the other territory for them to exclusively occupy and rule. To make God the final arbiter of all national boundary disputes is to regress the species into a Hobbesian state of nature earmarked by a war of all against all and by lives that are poor, brutish, nasty, and short. Every individual could proclaim a right to rule the word conferred through surreptitious communications from God and begin slaughtering opponents accordingly.  

Second, there are no chosen people or master races who command a superior position in the human hierarchy. There are no good guys versus bad guys. There are only bad guys equally eager and willing to kill and slaughter at the first opportunity. Thus do the oppressed effortlessly segue to become oppressors when the option arises. The DNA of the species is the same irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or otherwise.  The DNA dictates that hormonal gratifications, not the cerebral faculties, will inform the human narrative—including a lust for power, money, sex, celebrity, creature comforts, and self-righteousness. 

In sum, no tribe or group is superior to any other. They all occupy the same level of human depravity or sordidness.

With consensus on these two philosophical starting points, there is a pathway to stable peace in the territory demarcated by Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian Authority each appoint an arbitrator to demarcate the boundaries of Israel and a Palestinian state.  The two will then jointly choose a third arbitrator to prevent deadlock. The Palestinian Authority must agree in advance on a constitution for a Palestinian state that prohibits armed forces (as in Costa Rica), and the use or threat of force in international relations (as in Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution). Moreover, the United States should be authorized to intervene militarily in the Palestinian state if its constitutional order came under attack. 

Redrawing boundaries may displace hundreds of thousands, but it is a cure superior to the disease. Greece and Turkey exchanged 1.6 million nationals after World War I in 1923 to diminish the likelihood of renewed conflict.  Ditto for Pakistan and India in 1947 following British partition. Twelve million Germans were expelled from European countries after the defeat of Hitler in World War II.  

These ideas are orders of magnitude outside of mainstream thinking. But the latter has brought nothing but war and misery to the Middle East for two centuries.  To stick with mainstream thinking is to guarantee an unending succession of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

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