Conflicts are a frequent topic of political essays focused on Israel: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Left-Right conflict, Israel-Diaspora conflict, religious-secular conflict, etc. The key to understanding conflicts, and working to solutions, is understanding the values each side holds dear. I’ve found most conflicts are generated by a difference in values between the two sides of the conflict.
The common interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sees it as a conflict surrounding land, religion or politics. These explanations focus on issues unique to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the disagreement over the specific land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea; the more than a millennia of violence between Jews and Muslims that’s spanned the globe from Iran to Spain, having nothing to do with land; or the battle of control between Zionists and Arabs. Each of these explanations fits the conflict, but they miss the foundation of the conflict – values.
Israelis and Palestinians have fundamental disagreements over basic values. When Gilad Shalit was taken captive by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza from Hamas, the world saw just how much Israel valued life. In a trade that freed Shalit, Hamas was able to manipulate Israel to release over a thousand Palestinian terrorists for its one soldier. Part of Jewish ethos is that preserving life takes precedence over almost everything else – including the sacred Shabbat.
Palestinians don’t value life in the same way Israelis value life. Their institutions, from government, schools and communities, praise and incentivize terror. Their depraved “pay to slay” program pays terrorists a monthly stipend based on the heinousness of their attacks. A Palestinian terrorist who has murdered a Jew receives six times the salary of a school teacher in Palestinian cities. Palestinian schools are named after terrorists, teaching children who their role models should be and what they should aspire to in life. Mothers praise their terrorist suicide bomber sons, and Palestinians place their rockets in schools and residential buildings – knowingly putting their innocent civilians in harm’s way. A people who value life wouldn’t consider these policies, let alone put them into action.
For over two thousand years, Jews have prayed for peace three times a day. Peace plays a central role in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, with a paragraph calling on Israel’s Arab neighbors to make peace with Israel. On the other hand, Palestinians engage in terror, making violent “resistance” a central part of their culture. Palestinians rejected peace offers from Israelis even before there was an Israel – when Zionists aimed to create a Jewish state at peace with its Arab neighbors. Since then, Arabs have started wars, Palestinians have started intifadas, and Palestinian terror groups have started rocket barrages against Israel. Palestinians have rejected tens of Israeli peace offers over the past eight decades and have never once countered with their own. It is clear Palestinians do not value peace as Israelis prioritize peace.
In 1947, the United Nations proposed the partition plan as the solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Arabs rejected it outright. The Jews, although giving up on over 75 percent of what they considered their historical heritage, agreed to compromise. The Arabs were so resistant to compromise, they went to war – repeatedly. Over the course of the next seven decades, Jews would continuously suggest their own compromises and accept those suggested by others, to end the conflict with their Arab and Palestinian neighbors. Arabs have continuously rejected compromise. Even while putting on the show of willing to compromise they’ve been disingenuous. During the Camp David negotiations, Yasser Arafat was already planning the second intifada.
All too often, people project their values onto others and assume the others share those values. American diplomats have repeatedly made the mistake of assuming the people across the table from them, whether they be Russians, North Koreans, Iranians or Palestinians, share their values. Americans become frustrated when countries turn down their generous offers with no rational reason. They don’t – or refuse to – recognize that their counterparts don’t share their values and therefore don’t see American offers as valuable.
Nowhere was this clearer than when President Trump offered Palestinians 50 billion dollars in economic investment, and not only did the Palestinians reject the offer, they wouldn’t consider it.
While land, religion and politics enlarge the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, approaching both sides with practical suggestions as to how to divide land, make room for both religions, and create political solutions will never solve the conflict. Until an understanding develops that both sides don’t maintain the same values, all suggestions will fall on deaf ears and fail.