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From the Bookshelf: ‘Israelis and Palestinians’

Posted By on April 23, 2024 @ 11:42

Eventually, beyond the Gaza agony, Israelis and Palestinians must talk. 

To move beyond war, they must embrace ‘the conversation of mankind’, a phrase that’s the pivot of a new book by one of Britain’s leading moral philosophers, Jonathan Glover, emeritus professor of ethics at King’s College, London. 

The book was on the verge of printing when Hamas attacked on 7 October. Now published, the ethicist’s work is given a daily, horrific relevance by Gaza. 

Glover writes of psychological fault lines that trap people, shape conflict and drive cycles of violence. 

The setup in the book’s title is ‘Israelis and Palestinians’: the argument is aimed at peoples, not their governments. 

‘Leaders playing their competitive games can be unmoved by horrendous human costs,’ Glover writes. ‘Some leaders may care less about ending the Israel-Palestine conflict than about winning a current round. This shallowness can seem eternal …. Crisis leaves little time for the deep tides of history. It is harsh to blame leaders for their one-dimensional world. But the rest of us can ask the ignored questions.’ 

Glover is scathing about the leaders of Hamas and Israel. 

The October terror attacks, he writes, ‘were extreme by any measure. And they had an extra horror. The ideology behind it was a Nazi one’. Glover points to the Nazi influence on the Hamas constitution, which ‘explicitly endorsed the fraudulent antisemitic document Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. At least since 1989, Glover says, Hamas knew it was relying on a document used by Hitler and Goebbels, ‘but did not delete their constitution’s endorsement of the Protocols’. 

Turning to Israel’s government, Glover observes that ‘indiscriminate retaliation cannot be justified’, although psychologically it is understandable. ‘There are many awful actions that can be understood. But that does not stop them from being indefensible,’ Glover writes. ‘Bombing is only part of the indiscriminate punishment. The Israeli government cut off Gaza’s water, food, fuel and power. Did they think that only Hamas supporters would die of thirst, starvation or cold? When the power to hospitals gives out, do only Hamas patients die?’ 

Damming the leaders, Glover turns to peoples—to conversations between Israelis and Palestinians on three core elements that structure his book:  

—The cycle of violence; 

—The psychology of backlash built on collective guilt and stereotypes; and 

—Rigid beliefs and identity. 

Glover draws on other long-running cycles: a century of war between France and Germany; Northern Ireland; Muslim memories of the Crusades across a thousand years. He seeks to show how ‘the conversation of mankind’ must replace the cycle of violence.  

A very different way of thinking about strategy is offered. A philosopher asks warring peoples to understand their psychological triggers. See how war produces more war. Find a common humanity. Vengeance and retribution just feed the cycle, Glover writes. 
When each side uses violent backlash to teach the other a lesson, nobody learns anything. The backlash is central to keeping the cycle of violence going. One factor is moving from thinking of others as people to thinking in abstractions. ‘They’ are terrorists or cruel occupiers; communists or fascists; unbelievers or religious fanatics. Seeing others in these ways makes people harder and more cruel. Everybody loses. 

Ambitious for new understanding between peoples, Glover is cautious about the chance for big political solutions or diplomatic agreements. He argues that two-state or one-state resolutions are not within reach because of psychological fault lines.  

Both Palestinians and Israelis when ‘thinking about a shared single state are likely to fear and reject minority status. At any given time, one people will be outnumbered.’  

Single-state proposals advocate constitutional guarantees of the rights of both peoples, Glover notes, but ‘entrenched’ guarantees can be overturned by the majority. 

A two-state solution seems to give each people a better chance of self-determination and safety from each other, Glover writes. In the abstract, he thinks, it's possible to design a version that's roughly fair to both sides, but 'for each people, the gap between that and what they care about is so huge'. 

Israel would resist losing the settlements and part of what some see as Greater Israel, Glover argues, while Palestinians would lose much of what was once theirs: ‘Goodbye Haifa, goodbye Jaffa, goodbye Beer Sheva ….’ 

Glover’s dismissal of the two-state solution chimes with the view of the former Australian diplomat, Bob Bowker, who calls it a ‘zombie solution’ that has no prospect of success. In words that Glover would embrace, Bowker argues that ‘peace will not be found between Arabs and Jews, in victories or treaties. If it can be found at all, it will be found when Palestinians and Israelis can look into each other’s eyes’. 

Rather than strain for the unreachable two-state answer, try for ‘federal and semi-federal solutions’, Glover writes: ‘A newly-created Palestine state would join Israel in a federation.’ 

‘Federation need not be all-or-none,’ Glover says. ‘The best solution may contain a variety of different overlapping sovereignties.’   

A semi-federal deal could work on practical issues such as water and shared ecology. Douse hostile passions with ‘limited and local cooperation over specific shared problems’. 

The conversation between Palestinians and Israelis, Glover concludes, should turn away ‘from ever-receding “solutions”, and try by a thousand small steps slowly to shuffle away from war’.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/from-the-bookshelf-israelis-and-palestinians/

[1] Jonathan Glover: https://jonathanglover.co.uk/

[2] book: https://www.politybooks.com/bookdetail?book_slug=israelis-and-palestinians-from-the-cycle-of-violence-to-the-conversation-of-mankind--9781509559787

[3] zombie solution: https://johnmenadue.com/staring-into-a-void-of-neither-two-states-nor-one/