Is Israeli-Palestinian Peace Impossible?

Israel’s long-running persecution of the Palestinians continues to stir up hatreds and violence across the Middle East, but Prime Minister Netanyahu remains intent on shifting the collective blame to the people under Israeli occupation, a dilemma that Michael Winship examines.

By Michael Winship

The Israeli journalist and TV producer Avi Issacharoff looked around our Tel Aviv meeting room and sighed. “The reality is so complex to understand, it’s so difficult, that for someone who comes from abroad, it’s Mission Impossible,” he said.

I was someone from abroad, he was describing his homeland, and although it was my second time in this country, I already was wrestling once again with its impossibilities.

A section of the barrier -- erected by Israeli officials to prevent the passage of Palestinians -- with graffiti using President John F. Kennedy's famous quote when facing the Berlin Wall, "Ich bin ein Berliner." (Photo credit: Marc Venezia)

A section of the barrier — erected by Israeli officials to prevent the passage of Palestinians — with graffiti using President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote when facing the Berlin Wall, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” (Photo credit: Marc Venezia)

“Even for journalists coming from abroad who are staying here in Israel, living here,” Issacharoff continued, “it takes years and years in order to get what is going on around here.

“You need to show the complexity of the conflict. There are no blacks and whites here. Only different shades of gray.” He joked ruefully, “Maybe even more than fifty.”

Our trip to Israel and Jordan had been in the works for a year. For the first week, I was going for a meeting of the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds, hosted by the Scriptwriters Guild of Israel. Who knew back when we planned it that we’d arrive in the middle of an escalation of violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis that many feared would turn into a third intifada?

As we flew into Tel Aviv last month, this new Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza had been in full swing for more than a week, but unlike past revolts, primarily this was a series of random stabbings by frustrated, angry Palestinian youth, mostly young men but some women, too, urged on in part by social media. Many of these turned into suicide missions as the assailants were gunned down within moments by authorities or in some cases, civilians.

(In one tragic case, an innocent Eritrean refugee was shot by a private security guard when he was mistaken as an accomplice to a Bedouin Arab who had opened fire in a Beersheba bus station, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding several other bystanders. While a few tried to protect him, the refugee was kicked and beaten by an angry mob and died the next day.)

There have been other incidents, too: shootings on buses and trains, cars ramming into pedestrians, stone throwing and daily demonstrations that were met with massive displays of force by police and military using concrete road barriers, rubber bullets (or worse), tear gas, and the spraying of an especially putrid substance called “skunk water.”

At this writing, according to Reuters, “Seventy-six Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli security forces, including 44 people Israeli police said were carrying out or about to carry out attacks.” Twelve Israelis have been stabbed, shot or “killed in vehicle attacks.”

In Tel Aviv, much of the time this seemed a world away. Here were bright, hot sunny days overlooking the blue Mediterranean with luxury yachts in the distance and windsurfers scudding near the shore. Sure, at the big, downtown shopping mall, security guards lightly wanded us with handheld metal detectors and made bad jokes about detonators and bombs in my girlfriend Pat’s small backpack. But if it wasn’t for CNN and newspaper reports you’d hardly know that just a few miles away, Palestinians and Israelis were dying in the streets.

Unlike my first trip to Israel 11 ½ years ago, when I stayed for two weeks in East Jerusalem and the West Bank without incident and in the company of some extraordinary activists, this time, friends and colleagues warned us to cancel planned trips to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

One mourned, “I feel as if I’m in ancient Greece sliding into the Dark Ages.” And when I phoned a prominent Israeli writer and peace advocate to ask for an interview he graciously but firmly declined. “I’ve been shouting about this for thirty years,” he said, “and nothing ever changes.”

Ostensibly, the immediate alleged cause for this latest strife is in Jerusalem’s Old City the site Muslims call the Al-Aqsa mosque or the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount. Since the late Twelfth Century, all have been allowed to enter this place that is holy to both religions but only Muslims may pray there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to maintain this so-called status quo, but the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the mosque believes, Reuters reports, “Israel has been slowly chipping away at the rules, with increasing numbers of religious Jews visiting the area and many of them surreptitiously praying.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected those suggestions, saying repeatedly that the government has not changed the rules and has no intention of doing so.”

But of course, Netanyahu is part of a bigger problem, ginning up fear and paranoia among the Israeli population to solidify his support, much as he did this past March during the nation’s elections. He insisted that not only did Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuse to be a partner in peace but that he was a “steady inciter” of the stabbings and other violence: “He and his Fatah partners and the official websites of the PA incite day in and day out on social networks.”

This despite reports that the military and Israel’s domestic intelligence service, Shin Bet, believed that while some in the PA were stirring up trouble, Abbas was doing what he could to quell the bloodshed.

One night on CNN, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said to an interviewer that he had told the Israeli government two months ago that “a sea of blood is coming. Please, let’s work together,” but that Netanyahu was dictating, not negotiating: “He has been killing hope.”

Shortly after, Netanyahu ratcheted up the rhetoric even further, claiming that in 1941 it was then-Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who had persuaded Hitler to ignite the Holocaust, annihilating Europe’s Jews rather than deport them. Historians quickly discredited the claim.

Because it works so well for him, this disconnect between Netanyahu and reality is commonplace, as are the retractions that often follow once the damage is done (Within days, Netanyahu had backed off his mufti assertions).

For example, although it was not widely mentioned in American mainstream media (except for short pieces in The Washington Post and USA Today), while we were in Israel the progressive newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the country’s Atomic Energy Commission had come out in support of the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu’s government, so fiercely opposed to the agreement, had no comment.

Further, as JJ Goldberg recently wrote in the American Jewish newspaper the Forward, “Voices have been raised in a most unlikely corner to insist that Palestinian hostility to Israel, including Palestinian terrorist violence, is at least partly a response to Israeli actions and policies, and not simply a deep-seated hatred of Jews. That corner is the Israel Defense Forces.

“Two active-duty IDF generals who are among the army’s top experts on Palestinian affairs spoke out publicly to state that Palestinian violence is driven to a considerable degree by anger at Israeli actions. One of the two went a step further, warning that only a serious Israeli diplomatic re-engagement with the Palestinians will help to quell such violence over the long term.”

In February, Israeli television viewers were presented a look at the IDF and Palestinians they had never seen before. Turned down by commercial broadcasters, the TV series Fauda (Arabic for “chaos”) aired on the Yes network, a satellite channel, sort of their equivalent of HBO or Showtime.

The aforementioned Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the series with Lior Raz, was surprised to find they had a hit on their hands. Warts and all, it tells the story of an elite, undercover army unit hunting down a Hamas activist, but from both sides’ points of view. Until now, Special Forces in Israel have been regarded as “our best boys,” Issacharoff said.

“But sometimes even our best boys are not very good. It’s very sad but it’s the reality of the Middle East blood and violence over peace.” Most Israeli TV viewers, it seems, could handle the truth.

As if to emphasize Issacharoff’s words, at the end of that first week, before leaving Tel Aviv for Jordan, I sat down with Avihai Stollar, a former IDF soldier who works with Breaking the Silence, an organization of ex-military “who had served in the Occupied Territories and now strive to expose the Israeli public to the day-to-day reality of the occupation.” They collect testimonies from veterans and current IDF members.

“The bottom line of the last month,” he said, “is the bottom line of every circle of violence that we’ve had here, that Israelis and Palestinians will physically suffer as long as there is an ongoing reality of occupation We’re living in this pressure cooker that’s constantly cooking, constantly blowing steam, but most of the time, especially when it’s not over-spilling, we, as Israelis, prefer to turn a blind eye and say that this is manageable.

“That’s the new discourse is Israel, that we can manage it. We don’t need to solve it as long as we can manage it. And then it spills, and then it blows up in our faces because you can’t contain it and you can’t manage injustice because that’s the way it works.”

There may be many shades of gray, but the one, big black-and-white reality is the occupation, the settlements, the infamous security wall.

“Obviously, Israelis have the right to live with physical safety and not be concerned about being stabbed by a random assailant,” Stollar said. “But most of the time, and for most of us, we do have the safety, we do have the security while we deny it to the Palestinians, because the daily life of a Palestinian in the occupied territory, being subjected to an ongoing military occupation, is not the same. I know that as one of the people who perpetuated it, and I know it because that’s the way it works.

“What gives me hope is that this is completely unsustainable because at the end of the day Israelis want to sit here in Tel Aviv in cafes, have their lattes, close their eyes really hard and imagine that they’re sitting in Rome or Paris. I think hedonistic tendencies will end the occupation.”

One night in Tel Aviv, we were taken to a club where hedonism bloomed and the Palestinian-Israeli hip-hop group System Ali performed. The ten members started playing together in 2006 at a bomb shelter in Jaffa and now rap away in peaceful coexistence in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English.

“Funny this is where you find the one bit of sanity,” an Israeli friend said, and danced away into the darkness.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.

6 comments for “Is Israeli-Palestinian Peace Impossible?

  1. delia ruhe
    November 15, 2015 at 15:52

    “Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, a former IDF chief of staff who at the time was minister of defence, described his plan for the future as ‘the current reality in the territories’. ‘The plan,’ he said, ‘is being implemented in actual fact. What exists today must remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.’ Ten years later, at a conference in Tel Aviv, Dayan said: ‘The question is not “What is the solution?” but “How do we live without a solution?”’” (Henry Siegman, LRB, 19 Aug. 2007)

    “No solution is the only solution” constitutes the idea behind the dream of Greater Israel. “The Endless Occupation” is a good expression of it, as there will never be a solution, if the Israeli government has to mobilize every Jewish community on the planet with bribes and threats of defaming their leaders as self-hating Jews and/or antisemites.

    And, by the way, Greater Israel may well be even greater than we assume: just have a look at that map that the Zionists presented with their argument back in Versailles in 1918. Moreover, biblical Israel is even greater.

  2. JWalters
    November 13, 2015 at 20:06

    Israeli material hedonism will not end the conflict. The materialism of war profiteering bankers established Israel and has kept it going as an engine of material profits. “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror” is highly recommended by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern at the bottom of the page here.

  3. Chet Roman
    November 13, 2015 at 12:56

    There is only one option and it’s the one-state solution. Since the supremacists in Israel will not allow that the only viable long-term solution is rid the entire Palestinian territory of all its colonizers. It may take decades but these racist, oppressive regimes always fall. It happend in South Africa. Unfortunately, the mistake they made there was to leave all the national wealth in the hands of the minority colonizers. The demise of the Saudis and their phony monarchy is inevitable and once the vast resources are in the hands of Arab nationalists retribution will be visited upon the colonial invaders. Inch’allah

  4. Mortimer
    November 13, 2015 at 12:36


    By: David T. Pyne

    While the capture of Saddam Hussein last month was certainly an impressive victory for President Bush that has been a cause for much celebration for most Iraqis and for our troops, it will likely cause the Shiites to be emboldened to become increasingly more militant and may soon spark a general rebellion in the Shiite south of Iraq. In other words, the capture of Saddam may result in a gradual transfer of the leadership of the resistance from the Baathists to a potentially even more dangerous threat—the radical Shiites who are supported and in league with the mother of all terrorist states–the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is they who are the most radical of all Iraqi groups in addition to being predominantly Islamist and anti-American in outlook. In fact, the immediate past interim President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the umbrella group for the radical Shiite organizations controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Saddam, himself a brutal, murderous dictator, has been a longtime opponent of these Islamist terrorist groups and ironically served as an important proxy for the US in furtherance of its war against Islamist terrorism in the 1980s when he invaded Iran with US support.

    The Bush Administration and supporters of the current US war in Iraq have repeatedly attempted to forge an unfounded and unsubstantiated linkage of murderous secularist dictator Saddam Hussein to Islamist terrorists. This is the case despite the fact that last January, in a failed bid to appease the Bush Administration which was dead set on war with Iraq, Saddam ordered the assassination of the nefarious Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal who was responsible for the deaths of scores of Americans in the 1980s. In fact, with the sole exception of the death benefits which he sent to the families of PLO terrorist suicide bombers, Saddam’s Iraq has long served as a bulwark against the spread of Iranian and Al Queda-sponsored Islamist revolution throughout the Middle East. According to the January 14th edition of the Washington Times, CIA interrogators have already learned from the top al-Queda officials in custody that, before the U.S.-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected requests from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Iraq. This is not surprising since Iraq was then led by a secularist dictator who bin Laden repeatedly referred to as “infidel” whom he wanted to see overthrown.

    In fact, Saddam killed tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Islamist extremists during his 24-year reign over Iraq. During the 1980’s, he invaded the Islamic Republic of Iran, fighting an eight year long war against Islamist terrorism in an effort to depose the Shiite Islamist revolutionary leaders of Iran. In this war, Saddam was supported by the Reagan-Bush Administration. In fact, visionary conservative President Ronald Reagan vowed in a national security directive not to let Iraq lose the war. At that time, the United States saw Hussein’s government as an important ally and bulwark against the militant Shiite extremism seen in the 1979 revolution in Iran. Washington was worried that the Iranian example threatened to destabilize friendly monarchies in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan as it is currently doing with the assistance of its Al Queda proxy. The Reagan-Bush Administration sold military goods to Iraq, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological agents. It also undertook discreet diplomatic initiatives, such as the two Rumsfeld trips to Baghdad, to assure the Saddam Hussein government that the US was serious in wanting to establish closer relations with Baghdad despite their use of chemical weapons against Iran.

    Once a paid CIA assassin back in the late 1950’s which he spent killing Communists (for which he was briefly imprisoned) and assassinating Iraq’s Marxist strongman, General Qasim, Saddam had done America’s dirty work for many years. Saddam also spent a considerable time in an Iraqi prison for killing his Communist brother-in-law. After spending decades fighting the Communists, in 1980 he initiated a pre-emptive war against the Islamic Republic of Iran and subsequently killed tens of thousand Shiite extremists and potential terrorists. With this scoundrel gone, Iraq is now ripe for takeover by Shiite extremists supported by the mother of all terrorist states, Iran, who seek to transform previously secular Iraq into an Islamist Republic modeled on Iran. Such a takeover would present a far greater threat to the US than Saddam ever did and would represent a stunning defeat in America’s just war against Islamic terrorists. It may be the case that the imposition of democracy by the US would be too dangerous in Iraq. Perhaps it would better serve the U.S. national security interest to set up a “benevolent autocracy” consisting of non-Baathist Sunnis and moderate, more secularist Shiites to lead Iraq and stand guard against a takeover of the country by radical Islamist, terror-supporting Shiites by democratic or other means.

    Watching Fox News the morning the capture of Saddam was first announced, I noticed that one of the video takes being showed repeatedly was of a group of Iraqis waving about two dozen red flags, which I immediately recognized as the flags of Iraq’s Communist party complete with hammers and sickles. These pictures also appeared on the front page of the December 15th edition of the Washington Times alongside the headline, “‘A hopeful day has arrived’ in Iraq.” Only the Israeli newspaper, Haaratz managed to note the fact that these much showcased red flag waivers were not those of Iraqi patriots, but those of Iraqi Communists.

    In this repeatedly showcased video footage, members of the Iraqi Communist party, long persecuted, banned and killed by Saddam who was a lifelong opponent of the Communists, brandished copies of the Iraqi Communist Party daily proclaiming Saddam’s capture. The Communist party newspaper was the first newspaper to be legalized by CPA head and US proconsul for Iraq, Paul Bremer, in one of a long series of blunders on his part, for which he should have long ago been fired. I found this footage highly symbolic of the fact that those that are likely to benefit the most from the capture of Saddam are extremist groups such as the Iraqi Communist Party and the radical Shiite Islamist organizations that ultimately are likely to prove substantially more threatening to the US than Saddam ever was. CPA head, Paul Bremer inexplicably decided to grant the Iraqi Communists a seat on Iraq’s 24 member Governing Council in opposition to U.S. interests to ban or at least marginalize them. Bremer, who had been rumored to be on his way out by some sources, seems to have succeeded in saving his job for the interim thanks to the success of this operation, however, given that the resistance will sharpen once again very soon, his days are probably still numbered.

    Reliable data on Iraqi Communist Party membership is unavailable. One 1984 estimate was 2,000 members, but other foreign sources indicated a considerably larger ICP membership. Because it has been a clandestine party fighting for the overthrow of the Baathist regime, the ICP’s true membership strength may never be known, especially because it has directed its organizational efforts through the Kurdish Democratic National Front (DNF).

    The capture of Saddam, who was reportedly so busy hiding had no opportunity to direct resistance attacks, will likely result in a spike in resistance attacks following a brief downturn as its mostly Baathist leaders retaliate for his capture and show that they plan to continue the fight. Fox News has repeatedly referred to the cancer-stricken Al Douri as being in charge of the Baath-led resistance despite the fact that multiple analysts have expressed their belief that he has been too sick to do so. Subsequent reports, which may have been planted by the coalition to discourage resistance fighters, indicating that Al Douri may have turned himself in to coalition authorities proved false.

    According to Garrett Jones, a retired Army Colonel and former case officer with the CIA in the Middle East, “the circumstances of Hussein’s capture strongly indicated that he had little or nothing to do with the insurgency. There was not even a pretense of a command-and-control apparatus around Hussein, and his reported mental condition suggests he was in no condition to track, much less direct, a nationwide resistance movement.” He concludes by saying that this “strongly suggests the clearly coordinated attacks against multinational forces are being directed and coordinated by an outside organization, such as Al Queda.”

    Many analysts worry that the resistance has been acting separately from Saddam and may be sufficiently well-financed and organized for the long haul. Even CPA head Paul Bremer has predicted an increase in attacks in coming months. US military analysts predicted several weeks before Saddam’s capture that the US had approximately six months to defeat the insurgency before it mushroomed into a more broad based nationwide rebellion. This prediction is probably still accurate. The history of guerilla warfare suggests that the chances of the resistance succeeding in exacting casualties so numerous as to force a US withdrawal from Iraq are quite good.

    “Published originally at : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”

    David T. Pyne, Esq. is a national security expert who serves as President of the Center for the National Security Interest, a national security think-tank based in Arlington, VA. Mr. Pyne is a licensed attorney and former United States Army Officer. He holds an MA in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. Mr. Pyne also serves as Acting President of the Virginia Republican Assembly. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.

    We invite you to visit his website: Center for the National Security Interest

    Published in the January 16, 2004 issue of Ether Zone.
    Copyright © 1997 – 2004 Ether Zone.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    November 13, 2015 at 12:28

    The Zionist power configuration (ZPC) in America has made it seem inconceivable to most U.S. citizens that peace can even be achieved in occupied Palestine. This is a real achievement in propaganda!

    The ZPC’s been able to turn a beleaguered, exploited and miserable chunk of Palestinian Arabs into villains who can be violently slaughtered and mowed down every 5 years by the Israel Defense [sic] Forces.

    Peace is relatively straight forward: Israel completely give up all its settlements, incursions, bombing campaigns etc. involving Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem and make serious reparations and land grants for the displaced Palestinians who are spread all over the Middle East living primarily in refugee camps for the last 30 to 70 years.

    This isn’t quantum physics; it’s all relatively straight forward. The ZPC is the only entity out there confusing the entire issue.

    For further reading, see Dr. James Petras’ book: “Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of U.S. Power” and also Petras’ “Power of Israel in the United States.” Also see, Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby.”

  6. Mortimer
    November 13, 2015 at 11:17

    Is Israeli-Palestinian Peace Impossible?
    November 13, 2015

    Gulf States Slip Out of War on ISIS
    November 13, 2015

    Netanyahu Ups the US Ante
    November 12, 2015
    Which Entity is the Fixed Controller of all of this?

    Ruler and ruled w/interchangeable villians
    non-comparable social status = “mutants”/

    external people groups are coped with

    Imposed Burdens/ sullen fears of death
    ominously lurk a siren away w/chopper lights,

    which entity is the fixed controller of all this?

    Why’re zombies suddenly so media prevalent
    as humans are dying in massive numbers?

    “There will be wars and rumors of wars”
    is warfare a product of DNA structure?

    is it to be ever random and unknown why we fight?
    the earth’s mouth opens wide to swallow the dead

    Which Entity is the Fixed Controller of all of this?

Comments are closed.