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Israel-Palestine: Tell me how this ends
Posted by: Bryan Pick on Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Megan McArdle dispenses some wisdom today about the seemingly never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict.

After all the perceived wrongs of actions and reactions going back before living memory, nobody's going to convince enough people on either side to just give it up, to end this conflict.

When the justice of acts isn't quickly settled to everyone's satisfaction (or grudging acceptance), and parties that feel wronged begin acts of revenge, that creates even more complex questions of desert, proportionality and proper targeting. Then any civilizing system of justice has to deal with the revenge act to everyone's satisfaction, or there's a risk of yet another revenge act. Before long, you've created a Gordian knot that can't possibly be unraveled to everyone's satisfaction.

I should hasten to add that I'm not declaring that both sides are morally equivalent, and I'm not declaring which side I think is in the right.

In my humble opinion, at this point, everyone should be thinking about what outcomes they ultimately expect from given actions and reactions. The muddied distant past doesn't offer you a guide to an optimum end. Start coldly thinking about the end-game, and encourage your opponent to do the same.


So here we are again, at another outbreak of violence — which sounds more like an event than an action, I know, but bear with me. I start thinking, what should each party do?

On the one hand, I don't see how this action by Israel is going to leave them better off than they were before they started. I'm not ready to completely buy this argument, but I might be convinced.

On the other hand, what are Israel's better options? Every state's legitimacy rests fundamentally on the security of the populace.
  • Should they allow the enemy's attacks to bring them to the bargaining table, again, without any rational expectation that the attacks will stop permanently after concessions have been made?
  • Or should they not respond at all to the constant attacks?
  • Should Israel respond only with weapons that are so accurate that Palestinian combatants can't hide behind civilians, and make sure that every kill comes with video evidence that the target was not a civilian?
Who would accept those conditions for his own country?

But McArdle finishes with one statement that immediately sent my thoughts in another direction:
The saddest, truest thing that I've ever heard about the conflict is a friend who said that it seems to him like a stable equilibrium.
Looking back, so far that's been pretty true. But McArdle also mentioned that "a plurality-to-majority of Palestinians constantly and actively wish to kill large numbers of Israelis purely for revenge," and with the power to cause mass casualties diffusing down to ever-smaller groups, how long is that stable equilibrium going to last?

I believe that the price and difficulty of acquiring weapons of mass destruction is dropping, and—particularly in the case of biological weapons—will be dropping much more sharply in the next couple of decades. The A.Q. Khan network managed to commoditize even nuclear weapons, and the ingredients for biological weapons are much easier to obtain. Bioweapons are also much easier to smuggle and anonymously deliver to their targets.

And if the commoditization of such weapons happens before Israel and Palestine establish a working peace, with no "rogue elements" on either side, that creates some troubling scenarios:
  • What will happen when someone first decides to use that kind of weapon against Israelis?
  • Will it really be that hard to find a Palestinian who will use that kind of weapon?
  • What if Israel can't conclusively prove who delivered the weapon in the first place?
Then what are Israel's options?

It's a stable equilibrium until, by a plausible series of events, it's not. Tell me how that story ends.
Note: Edited multiple times.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

It will end after the explosion of at least one nuke on Arab soil. At that point I think the Arabs will realize that the price of annihilating Israel is just too high. (too many folks runing around in Rolls Royces, private airplanes, and living the good life despite their Islamic teachings).

Yes there are a lot who feel they will go to heaven as Martyrs. And selling that line to some folks is easy. Selling it to most, espeically leaders of the countries who will realize that they have quite a bit to lose, umm not so easy. Despite their talk there is a healthy bit of self preservation in there and I think it will kick in about the time it normally does... When someone is about to hand you your ass on a plate.

I think it will reach this point within the next 8 years so if Obama wins reelection than it will be his baby to deal with it. I think this because as you say the weapons are becoming easier to get. Someone who is at that vast brink is going to take a deep breath and decide,, umm No I dont think so. That wont be Israel because they will feel they have nothing to lose anyway.

Written By: retired military
URL: http://
Yes. This is one of the deeper reasons I support the Iraq War and the GWOT. Technological creep is going to commoditize WMD and that will favor the terrorists.

Defeat radical Islam now; don’t wait until later when it will be much harder and nastier. They are not going to stop coming at us as long as they have oil money and a large young population.

But I keep doing the calculation and all I can see is that we won’t press the point home until the these Muslims inevitably hit the West and/or Israel with WMD, probably nuclear, and then it will become a matter of how many Muslims we will have to kill until they get the idea.

I don’t want to see this, not at all. And that’s why, as goony as the whole "bring democracy to the Middle East" approach sounds, it’s worth a shot, given the grisly alternative ahead.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
Bryan — Thanks for bringing this up. It’s not discussed nearly enough, but it is crucial.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
How do you use bio-weapons on people who live next door?
Written By: OneEyedMan
OneEyedMan - Not all bioweapons are contagious, and even for those that are, that doesn’t mean no Palestinian will try it — risking Palestinian lives to take out more Israelis. And then there’s the possibility that another agent, not Palestinian or even particularly concerned about Palestinians (perhaps Iranian? Or Al Qaeda?), will deliver the weapon anonymously.
Written By: Bryan Pick
Bio weapons would be fairly easy to deploy. Weaponize it, aerosolize it, walk into your nearest mall, hide the container, set it up to spray and empty itself and walk out. Some chem weapons could probably be done the same way - especially if you have "martyrs" available.
Written By: McQ
Tell me how that story ends.

in tragedy and farce
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
Not all bioweapons are contagious, and even for those that are, that doesn’t mean no Palestinian will try it — risking Palestinian lives to take out more Israelis.
Remember in dealing with these Hamas/Fatah people—they don’t see a dead Arab civilian as a tragedy: they see a dead Arab civilian as a propaganda tool—double bonus if the corpse in the case is a child.
Written By: kishnevi
The Arab Muslim cultures have the 3,000 year-old sociology of honor/shame, while the Judao/Christian world have the 2,000 year-old sociology of guilt/rights. If they have any "stability" between them in the Middle East, it is the stability of eternal, relentless conflict based upon widely divergent world-views.

As long as Zionism (guilt/rights) picked the Middle East (honor/shame} instead of Argentina (guilt/rights) for the new homeland of the Jewish people, war has been the fruit of the choice. Because of their antagonistc sociologies, these wars will not end until the death of one of them. Today’s war in Gaza is merely prologue to tomorrow’s, or next week’s, or next month’s, or next year’s...

Any neo-libertarian ideas on how to solve this "eternal" problem?
Written By: a Duoist
Israel is only the most horrific and longstanding of hot spots between Muslims and non-Muslims.

It’s not a matter of divergent worldviews. It is the nature of Islam to subjugate all worldviews to itself. Whatever spiritual values Islam may embody, it is also a supremacist political ideology which mandates violence and is unable to coexist on an equal basis with anyone else.

When Muslims are weak, they bide their time and rebuild; when Muslims are strong, they attack.

Muslims must either reform Islam at a fundamental level to allow coexistence. Or we must keep Muslims weak and sufficiently threatened that they bide their time. Or we defeat Islam as utterly as we did Japanese nationalism in WWII.

One way or another we will settle this in the 21st century, but it is unlikely to be pretty.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
In my humble opinion, at this point, everyone should be thinking about what outcomes they ultimately expect from given actions and reactions.
Bryan — Muslims are thinking about their ultimate outcome: a world in submission to Allah as envisioned by Muhammad and the Qur’an. For them to imagine any other world is blasphemy. It is a bright shining world, no matter what horrors its achievement may entail.

This is why all negotiations with Muslims can only be temporary measures—hudna—before they find a new opportunity to renew attacks. This is the cycle of violence surrounding Israel. The so-called equilibrium that Megan McArdle points to is only the Israeli unwillingness to be obliterated...for now. But they can never relax or they will be.

Westerners are the only people who aren’t thinking this through in terms of outcome. They refuse to understand the implacable nature of Islam. Westerners imagine that Muslims haven’t thought through the effects of Islamic violence. No. Muslims know exactly what they are doing.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
The Israeli wall has worked. The whole Palestine thing is only in the news now because of the Kassim rockets. Compare that to previous years where we had bombs in cafes.

If Hamas were to lose power, its possible that those could be stopped by the PA themselves. (I think more easily than suicide attackers who used to be a big problem.)

Were that to occur, I could see the PA and Israel slowly edging the conflict into more boring "not friends, not exactly enemies" mode.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://

Only some muslims think that way. The problem is that if enough think that way, and have access from a like minded state actor....that is a bit scary.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
In a time when knowledge is ever more widely disseminating, the most likely way it will end is the least civilized party will either provoke the more capable party into a fairly certain solution, or the least civilized party will succeed in a surprise attack that eliminates the other.

The least likely way it will end is the Palestinians realize that destroying Israel will leave them run by the same idiots who have produced their current decrepit state, they adopt representative rule-of-law government based in natural law, and they grow their way into prosperity without further regard for the Israeli state.

Any in between state is just same-old-same-old until an end game is undertaken.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
"It’s not a matter of divergent worldviews. It is the nature of Islam to subjugate all worldviews to itself.....They refuse to understand the implacable nature of Islam."

Kind of reminds me of the good old days of the cold war; the same can be said of Communism.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I would add to huxley’s comments that the Palestinian question is complicated by other factors, including the long association between Arafat and the Soviets/KGB, so that a tradition of terrorism was established that was equally in the service of "revolutionary" causes like those seen throughout the third world.

Iran, via Hamas and Hezbollah, took up the terrorism portfolio and added the more specifically Islamist element. Arafat was more out of the "popular front" tradition of international socialism.

An irony here is that Iran’s only real "friend" in the world is Putin’s Russia; Putin of course being KGB and knowing how to work the Palestinian situation for some perceived advantage in keeping the situation cooking.

Putin is also the only real protector of Iran, and probably the first reason why the Iranian nuclear facilities have not been taken out.

More irony: the Russians are in perhaps worse shape than the Iranians, and they (the Russians) have a newly re-formed relationship with the Chinese, who are less to be trusted than the Russians themselves.

But the world, of course, is in peril because of the moral certainties of the United States: beliefs in freedom, individual rights, free markets, and rule of law.

That’s why I "blindly" support Israel, because it does its best to live by those moral certainties.
Written By: Martin McPhillips

The Israeli wall has worked. The whole Palestine thing is only in the news now because of the Kassim rockets.
And there is a technological counter to the FROG/Nebelwerfer type rockets. That might get the Izzies 5 or 15 years.

The Palestinians need to change their minds to an all but unanimous degree for the fundamental calculus to change.

Or the Israelis need to agree to decamp*—and some territory needs to be yielded to their sovereignty (or Zionism abandoned)—and they must leave any dead-enders to their fate.

*Of course, that only ends the Muslim campaign against the Zionists, and not one the Muslims are waging against humanity. It’s a distant second best option.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
I think it comes down to a fundamental unwillingness of Hamas and it’s supporters to accept a peaceful solution. Hamas’ charter is to destroy Israel. Anything that Israel does now is in terms of how best to prevent that. There is no way to achieve peace with a party that is vowed to destroy you.

I’m sure if Hamas and a signifcant majority of the Palestinians would embrace a peaceful solution then the rest could easily be worked out in gradual stages.
Written By: JoshK
URL: http://
Pace McArdle, there is no stable equilibrium between Israel and its Muslim enemies.

Just a long, slow, horrible game by Muslims to wear Israel down until it can be overrun then obliterated, to accustom the world to that prospect, and to propagandize Israel’s attempts to defend itself as apartheid, holocaust, and genocide.

It’s immoral and ugly and it’s working. And much of the so-called free world is complicit.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
Everyone engaged in it is interested in proving that one side is righter than the other. Since no action in the region has occurred without plausible provocation for 4,000 years or so, this requires constantly shifting the metrics by which you measure whichever side you happen to favor.

—Megan McArdle, "The problem with Israel-Palestine blogging"
This is the opening of McArdle’s whiny, hand-wringing piece about how the Israel-Palestine conflict is sad and sick making, and how futile it is to make a moral choice between the two. For authority she appeals to her Irish ancestry and high school debates over The Troubles. Sheesh.

Well, I’m Irish too, and I’ll say that anyone who can’t take a stand on this one because she gets caught in the middle and accused of "shilling for imperialism" then chooses to wash her hands of the whole unpleasant business while dispensing toothless wisdom about "stable equilibrium" is basically gutless. McArdle fails to realize that just because the bad guys can shout as loud or louder than the good doesn’t demonstrate moral equivalence.

Now and then one has to choose between human imperfection and genuine evil. This is one of those times.
Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: ’The Jews are yours’.

—Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
A bio attack that leaves significant numbers of people still functioning would immediately result in: 1)emergency action to develop a cure, an antidote, a preventative, or protection gear for the rest of us; 2)serious investigations as to the source would start in order to stop cold any repeat attack by whatever means possible, and to neutralize the bioagent supply; 3)a counterattack would commence against the suspected sources (with a relaxed level of proof of involvement needed to go ahead and hit certain hostile nations—simple possession of the bioagent, for instance, if it could be detected and found).

In the counterattack, using standard explosives on suspected stockpiles might not be a smart idea, as the supply of the agent might be spread everywhere we don’t want. It all depends on how we can detect and neutralize the bioagent. Fighting our way through aerosols that may penetrate our suits does not seem smart, either. Faulty decontamination after combat might be fatal, if not immediately in combat, because of the suits being worthless to protect against the agent used.

We would need a weapon that would neutralize or destroy the bioagent with great certainty over a large area, and be capable of remote delivery. Any suggestions? Would a nuke (or so) do the job, or not?

A worse scenario would have the attackers tell us that there are thousands of cannisters of the bioagent hidden all over our populated areas that can be remotely set off. Since you know how effective the agent is now from our demonstration, best you surrender and save the bulk of your people. You have 24 hours.
Written By: mannning
URL: http://
"A worse scenario would have the attackers tell us that there are thousands of cannisters of the bioagent hidden all over our populated areas that can be remotely set off. Since you know how effective the agent is now from our demonstration, best you surrender and save the bulk of your people. You have 24 hours"

I think a scenario like this would lead to Israel proclaiming that

a. The attackers surrendering immediately or nukes will be launched against multiple targets in the middle east to include Mecca.

b. The non Arab world waking up and realizing that you cant play nice or play tit for tat with the terrorists, you have to play to win. In the US any politician that publically proclaims otherwise will do so at the risk of being ran out of town on rails (Pelosi may still be safe in SF though).

Written By: retired military
URL: http://
Steven Den Beste: A Letter from Tehran 2003-12-01 Reply:

How long before the cost in blood is too great? It’s already too great. It was too great after the first person died on September 11, 2001. But that’s when the war started. My people are not monsters; we didn’t want this war. If you want to look for monsters, look no further than al Qaeda and ask them about mass murder, and ask them why they started the war.

If you learn nothing else about America, learn this and imprint it on your brain in glowing colors: we will never surrender. There are many ways this war can end. That’s not one of them.

So if you want the war to end, then you better start working to restrain the worst and most militant elements within Islamic society which started the war against the US, and who continue to fight it. We’re quite willing to stop and call it a draw, but we cannot and will not stop as long as the threat continues to exist against us, and we won’t accept a "temporary ceasefire" with a later renewal of hostilities (which is to say, continuing terrorist attacks against us). As long as we think there are militant groups out there who mean to attack us, the war will go on. As soon as those militant groups have been rooted out and annihilated, the war will be over.

So the only question is how that will happen.

You can clean out the vermin in your own house, or you can have us clean out the vermin for you, or you can refuse to clean it and prevent us from doing so, in that case you will watch while we blow your house up in order to destroy the vermin, the extremist Islamic militants who started this war and who want to continue fighting it. Those are your only choices.

But you better not plan on us giving up and letting your militants win, by letting them slaughter us when and where they want. We will not stand idly by while they plan attacks against us to slaughter us. As long as we face that threat, we will continue to fight.

It’s not a question of my nation making a decision whether people will die. Islamic militants made that decision. America’s only decision now is who will die, and where and when. If we stand by idly and passively, then it will be Americans who die, whenever and wherever the Islamic extremists choose to kill them, probably in huge numbers.

We don’t consider that acceptable. That’s surrender. That’s not going to happen.

Instead, we’re attempting to take control of events, in hopes that we can minimize the total number of deaths caused by this war. That’s why we’ve embarked on the highly risky and unprecedented strategy we’re following. If we were only concerned with minimizing American casualties and if we didn’t care about anyone else, then every major Muslim city on the planet would have been vaporized by September 15, 2001, and the war would have ended in a week.

But we’re trying to minimize the total number of deaths, not just American deaths. In particular, we’re trying to minimize the number of Muslims who have to die. So we sent our young men into combat; we sacrificed some of our own in order to try to save Muslim lives – because we think you are important, and we want you to keep living. Our men are sacrificing their lives for you in Tehran, because what we’re trying to do in Iraq seems to be the only way to keep the body count in this war from making WWII look small. Is it the act of a monstrous nation to sacrifice its own men to save the lives of people in hostile nations?

As long as we see a reasonable chance of winning this war with a relatively small body count, we’ll continue on the path we’ve chosen.

But if we reach the point where we face the stark choice between surrendering and letting our people be slaughtered, or committing nuclear genocide, then you better kiss your a** goodbye.
Written By: huxley
URL: http://
Think this is simple tribal warfare, similar to what is happening in Burma or Zimbabwe. The Israeli tribe is asserting dominance over the Palestinian tribe. In normal circumstances the weaker tribe would be moved to marginal land to wither and die or migrate to exile.

But the Palestinians are allied to the other Arabs and other Muslims, and these are in turn protected by world powers for their vital role in the world economy. The Iranians are armed by the Russians; the Sudanese by the Chinese; the Saudis, Egypt & Gulf principalities by the Americans/British - all of these client states provide the Palestinians with support. The status quo of beligerent, semi-war will continue until the Muslim world becomes economically unimportant.

As the oil runs out we will see something, until then more of the same.
Written By: unaha-closp
It ends when the last Israeli is dead. Being civilized, the Israelis shrink from doing whatever they have to to survive.

The other side doesn’t exhibit the same restraint, and has a demographic advantage. We’ve proven ourselves to be feckless allies. Israel, alone, is doomed. I’d really like to be wrong.

Written By: MarkD
URL: http://

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