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The Middle East’s Military Delusions

The paradox of the current violence in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon is that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not hard to see. A large majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution essentially along the pre-1967 boundaries. The major Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others, share that view. The problem lies not in seeing the solution, but in getting to it, because powerful and often violent minorities on both sides oppose the majority-backed solution.

Perhaps three-quarters of Israelis and Palestinians are eager for peace and compromise, while a quarter on each side – often fueled by extreme religious zeal – wants a complete victory over the other. Radical Palestinians want to destroy Israel, while radical Israelis demand control over the entire West Bank, through either continued occupation or even (according to a tiny minority) a forcible removal of the Palestinian population.

When peace appears to be close at hand, radicals on one side of the conflict or the other provoke an explosion to derail it. Sometimes this involves overt conflict between moderates and radicals within one side, such as when an Israeli religious zealot assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin when peace negotiations were making progress. Sometimes this involves a terrorist attack by radical Palestinians against Israeli civilians, in the hope of provoking an exaggerated violent response from Israel that breaks the process of trust building among moderates on both sides.

The moderates are in a daily battle with their own extremists, who claim that compromise is impossible. Israeli extremists insist that all Palestinians are intent on destroying the state of Israel itself. They take the Palestinian suicide bombings and kidnappings as proof that peace with the other side is impossible. “There are no partners for peace,” goes the refrain.