The Tragic Despair of Tom Segev

Segev in the Washington Post:

Israel has adhered to a number of basic assumptions that have never proven right. Some of these theories contributed to the operation in Gaza this time. According to one such assumption, inflicting hardship on Palestinian civilians will make the population rise up against its leaders and choose more “moderate” ones. Hence, when Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, after a short, sharp struggle with its secular rivals in Fatah, Israel imposed a blockade on the strip, pushing 1.5 million Palestinians to the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. But Hamas has only become stronger. And here's another false Israeli assumption: that Hamas is a terrorist organization. In fact, it's also a genuine national and religious movement supported by most of the people in Gaza. It cannot be simply bombed away.

The latest violence hasonce again brought reporters from all over the world to the region. Many of them wonder why Israelis and Palestinians don't simply agree to divide the land between them. Indeed, Israeli leaders support a two-state solution, which had previously been advocated only by the extreme left. Palestinian leaders, though not the heads of Hamas, have agreed to accept this solution. Apparently, only the details of the agreement have to be worked out. If only it were that simple.

This conflict is not merely about land and water and mutual recognition. It is about national identity. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians define themselves by the Holy Land — all of it. Any territorial compromise would compel both sides to relinquish part of their identity.

In recent years, with the rise of Hamas and the increasing militance of some Jewish settlers, this precariously irrational conflict has also assumed a more religious character — and thereby become even more difficult to solve. Islamic fundamentalists, as well as Jewish ones, have made control of the land part of their faith, and that faith is dearer to them than human life.

So I find myself among the new majority of Israelis who no longer believe in peace with the Palestinians. The positions are simply too far apart at this time.

I no longer believe in solving the conflict. What I do believe in is better conflict management — including talks with Hamas, which is a taboo that must be broken.