The Israeli-Palestinian Fallacy

A few weeks ago, I did a France 24 program discussing the meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And at one point, the discussion turned into an argument between a former Fatah negotiator and a representative of the Likud party over which branch of Jerusalem city hall was responsible for granting construction permits in East Jerusalem.

Ever since, I’ve been finding myself thinking of that exchange as an illustration of how detached from the broad lines of the conflict most Israelis and Palestinians are, but also as an illustration of how detached from the actual reality of the conflict most outside observers are. The thought, experienced as a thorny problem, had been nagging away at me, until today, I finally came up with what I think is the formula to express it more succinctly.

The reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not yet resolved is that the Israelis don’t realize that they have lost, and the Palestinians don’t realize that they have won. Both sides are still so locked into tactical considerations — consisting of what Ehud Olmert described as holding onto “hilltops” — that they haven’t yet realized that, in strategic terms, the war is over. There is a near-universal consensus on the nature of the political solution, and that won’t be changed one iota by the rearguard military actions on both sides over the past eight years, which will be remembered by history as a sort of extended “Armistice Day” battle.

Now that the eight-year vacuum of U.S. involvement in mediating the conflict is being refilled by the Obama administration, there might be a chance of waking both sides up to that reality.