By Robert Andrews, a second-year BA International Relations student at King’s College London. Robert has travelled extensively across the Middle East and North Africa and has lived and worked across the Levant, with a specific focus on Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Robert is primarily interested in the study of radicalisation, the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood, and dependency theory in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From ‘Empathy is What’s Lacking in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’: ‘This is not a conflict that can be solved by arguing about national histories, nor can it be solved by whitewashing racist Israeli government policy, it can only be solved by empathy. Both peoples need to accept the other’s narrative as legitimate and painful. Only then will a negotiating table become a productive diplomatic tool’.
I find it hard to understand the liberal co-operative discourse, quite prevalent in Western academia, and that is clearly implied in the article, which says that the issue has not been resolved because both parties have not seriously engaged in negotiations or made compromises. Anyone who has studied the conflict seriously can see that the lack of a resolution is less of a dialogue issue and more of a structural and ideological issue. Both the power inequities in the conflict (structural reasons) and the shift towards the right in the domestic politics of both of the respective parties (ideological reasons), can be used to more accurately explain why the conflict has not been resolved.
The article has clearly presented (see the above quote) the lack of empathy, on both sides, as the main obstacle to peace and has completely disregarded the REAL issues behind the Israel-Palestinian impasse as of lesser importance. Instead of presenting ‘empathy’ as the missing key in the peace process, it would perhaps be better to consider how we can deal with the structural and ideological issues that move us further away from a reality where we can even begin to empathise with one another. One example is challenging the perception of the U.S.’ role in the conflict. Indeed, one significant contributory factor to the asymmetrical relationship between Israel and Palestine is the U.S.’s failure to apply its leverage; without serious pressure from the U.S., Israel’s power goes unchecked and, as a result, Israel has no real incentive to engage in the talks properly. This, in turn, perpetuates the structural imbalances in the conflict, which brings us away from the state of ‘empathy’.
(When referring to the structural imbalances or ‘power inequities’ in the conflict I am specifically alluding to the fact that the Palestinians are under occupation, with autonomy over only a fraction of what would constitute a future Palestinian state; Israel has full security and civic control over sixty-one percent of the West Bank. Any analysis on the peace process must consider the effect of this on thwarting negotiations. Whether through Israel holding all of the bargaining chips, or through Palestinian capitulation arising from their demands not being met, this asymmetry is vital to our understanding of why the conflict has not been resolved.)
From ‘Empathy is What’s Lacking in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’: ‘Does that justify their violent terror targeting innocent Israeli civilians? Not in the slightest’
The word ‘civilians’ here is misleading as both Israelis and Palestinians lose civilian status during armed hostilities. So, if an Israeli is killed while attacking Palestinians, or vice versa, that’s different from them walking around in the Old City. I agree that retaliatory violence against civilians that are not engaged in armed hostilities only serves to exacerbate existing tensions, and I also agree that most cases of violence is violence against those with the intention to harm, but one should differentiate between the two to avoid the article’s point being misunderstood – that is, in this case, the grouping of ‘violent terror’ under the same umbrella when it is clearly more complex than that.
I, like Eli Shafritz, strive for peace and whole-heartedly support both parties’ right to self-determination. However, the unawareness of the causal relationship between important variables in the conflict, and how this relates to the article’s main argument and the point that it is trying to convey, makes the argument, for me, extremely reductive and essentially a logical fallacy.
Bishara, Marwan, Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid (London: Zed Books, 2002)
Finkelstein, Norman, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (New York: Verso, 2003)
LeVine, Mark, Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine since 1989 (New York: Zed Books, 2008)
McMahon, F. Sean, The Discourse of Palestinian-Israeli Relations: Persistent Analytics and Practices (New York: Routledge, 2010)
Usher, Graham, Palestine in Crisis: The Struggle for Peace and Political Independence after Oslo (New York: Pluto Press, 1995)