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Thursday, July 24, 2014

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Differing perspectives on conflict

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During my frequent meanderings through our local bookstore, I am drawn always to a rather chunky magazine with a distinctive logo and blue-grey cover, called Foreign Affairs. Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the journal’s mission is “to improve the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs through the free exchange of ideas.”

The current, November-December, issue caught my attention more than usual, because of its front cover reference to two lead articles running under the banner of “Israel under Siege.” What’s apparent when reading these commentaries is that even a magazine as reputable as Foreign Affairs is not as robustly objective and free of bias as one might expect. Nonetheless, it’s not often that articles with diametrically opposing viewpoints are presented in juxtaposition, to provide readers with at least a hint of balance on a topic as explosive as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In the first of the two essays, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Yosef Kuperwasser, and a longtime policy adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, Shalom Lipner, provide a piercing and erudite appraisal of Palestinian rejectionism as the singular reason for the failure in peace negotiations. They expose, without equivocation, Palestinian intransigence to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state or at the least to accept Judaism as the core of nationhood rather than as a religion.

They also explain the semantic deceptions when Palestinian interlocutors express their approval, in principle, for a “two-state solution” but refuse to accept the clarifier of “two states for two peoples” – the inference of course is that, in time, whether by demographics or force of arms, Israel and what might become “Palestine” would disintegrate into two states dominated by one people, with Jews in the minority, or worse.

The second essay, titled “Israel’s bunker mentality,” is written by Ronald Krebs, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. It’s Krebs’ opinion that the occupation has been the predominant influence in Israeli politics since 1967, “transforming a country once brimming with optimism into an increasingly cynical, despondent, and illiberal place.” And while his opening premises set the stage for a mostly negative analysis of Israeli policies in general, his thesis becomes even more strident when he weaves in a scathing rebuke of Israel’s ultrareligious (haredi) communities, criticizing them for political opportunism, parochialism, and “the threat [they] pose to Israel’s future prosperity.”

More than just its tone, there is much to question in Krebs’ piece, and, depending on their perspectives, there are those who might reasonably take issue with some of what Kuperwasser and Lipner have written as well. But given the array of complex issues that frames Israel’s political discourse, both domestically and in relation to peace negotiations with the Palestinians, dissonance, at every level is an expectation rather than an exception.

These articles, appearing side by side, provide a contrast and a spectrum that reflect this complexity and dissonance. They highlight perceptions that, whether valid or not, steer debate in one direction or another, sometimes productively, sometimes disingenuously.

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