The last two weeks of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians have been grimly familiar: another set of Hamas’ rocket attacks trigger Israeli reprisals that end up in a lopsided casualty count. Hamas takes special care to publicize Palestinian civilian casualties that result from Israeli strikes. Israel counters with footage of the destruction Hamas has wrought within Israel, and points out that Hamas’ strategy of placing military hardware in cities is designed to produce as many dead Palestinian civilians as possible. Palestinians credibly point to the injustice of living under occupation, and link it to a series of losses stemming from their original catastrophe, or naqba, that they suffered in 1948. Israelis credibly point to Hamas’ charter, which vows to wipe out their state and push the Jews into the sea, and link it to the kind of eliminationist ideology that necessitated the creation of Israel in the first place.
But despite its similarities to previous rounds of violence, this episode has differed in one important way: competing moral arguments have been the only ones trotted out by both sides. Absent was any clear sense of why all this had to end, beyond claims by the Palestinians that justice demands that it does.
Partly this has to do with exhaustion. As I remarked two years ago after a trip to Israel and the West Bank, no one in the region really believes in a two-state solution any more. For the Israelis, the reality is that these periodic irruptions of violence are in fact tolerable. They are serious disruptions to life, to be sure, but overall they are seen as manageable. Palestinians, however, are in despair. Unable to see a future beyond the status quo, their plea is emotional: “Things simply can’t go on like this!”
The problem for the Palestinians is that things, in fact, can probably go on like this—perhaps indefinitely.