As you know, everybody sees the Middle East through his or her own narrative. Conservatives see it through the “front line in the war on terror” narrative and defend Israel’s actions on the Gaza border fence this week. Progressives see it through the “continued colonialist oppression” narrative and condemn those actions.
.. sometime in the 1990s, a mental shift occurred. Extremism grew on the Israeli side, exemplified by the ultranationalist who murdered Rabin, but it exploded on the Palestinian side. Palestinian extremism took on many of the shapes recognizable in extremism everywhere.
.. First, the question shifted from “What to do?” to “Whom to blame?” The debates were less about how to take steps toward a livable future and more about who is responsible for the sins of the past.
.. Second, the dream of total victory became the only acceptable dream.
.. extremists stop trying to win partial victories, insisting that someday they will get everything they want — that someday the other side will magically disappear.
.. Third, extremists over time replace strategic thinking with theatrical thinking. Strategic thinking is about the relation of means to ends: How do we use what we have to get to where we want to go? Theatrical thinking is both more cynical and more messianic: How do we create a martyrdom performance that will show the world how oppressed we are?
.. If you read the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s April 30 speech or much of the commentary published over the past week, it’s clear that some powerful Palestinians now believe that the creation of the state of Israel is the wrong that needs to be addressed, not the expansion and occupation.
.. They rejected incrementalism. After Israel withdrew from its settlements in Gaza, the Palestinians could have declared a new opening, taking advantage of the influx of humanitarian aid. Instead, they elected Hamas, an organization that lists the extermination of the state of Israel as an existential goal. They expended resources that could have improved infrastructure to fund missiles and terrorist tunnels.
.. Yasir Arafat was once a terrorist, but at least he used terror to win practical concessions. The actions today — the knife attacks, the manipulation of protesters to rush the border fence — are of little military or strategic value. They are ventures in suicidal theater.
.. The shift from the politics of Rabin and Shimon Peres to that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman is a move from pluralism to ethnocentrism, from relentless engagement to segregation. It’s a shift from tough realism to the magical thinking that Palestinians are somehow going to go away.
.. sometimes Israeli policies seem callously designed to guarantee an extremist response.
.. That’s the problem with extremism: It is a flight from reality. It makes you stupider. Instead of cleverly working to advance your own interest in a changing context, you end up shouting your own moral justifications into a whirlwind.
.. Extremism is naturally contagious. To fight it, whether at home or abroad, you have to answer the angry shout with the respectful offer. It feels unnatural. But it’s the only way.