It is not cycles that drive the Mid-East conflict

By Dan Kosky, April 21, 2011
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The latest round of Gaza border violence is seemingly over, but it has given rise to a familiarly inadequate analysis of the situation. As mortars and rockets rained over southern Israel, few examined the reasons behind the recent increase in bloodshed, preferring instead to point the finger at the imaginary "cycle of violence", a handy but crude tool which sidesteps the need for any meaningful understanding.

The reality of the Middle East cannot be explained by straightforward cyclical cause and effect. It is the result of a deep-seated animosity which will not be eradicated overnight.

It is a seductively catchy phrase, that "cycle of violence", but a lazy one. Rather than prompting us to strive for deeper insights, or even to distinguish between right and wrong, it enables us to regard the events as unstoppable.

The fact that Gaza terrorists fired at least 120 rockets and mortars at exclusively civilian targets in southern Israel during one weekend earlier this month should have been cause for moral outrage. Yet, the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton drew no ethical conclusions and instead bracketed the attacks within a constant bout of fighting. Clinging to the dangerously simplistic notion that all violence is equally wrong, Ashton condemned both sides, and called for a "cessation of violence".

Attacks on Israeli citizens barely register in the media

This mindset regards truly heinous acts as part of a never-ending game of "tit for tat". It allowed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to get away with little more than a token condemnation of "all violence against civilians" in the wake of the Fogel family murder last month.

The subsequent celebrations in Gaza were conspicuously absent from most media reports following the butchering of the Fogels. Presumably, such incomprehensible inhumanity is too hard to grapple with for those who have already decided on a childlike explanation of events.

In the fairytale "cycle of violence", we are led to believe that, if only the chain of tragic events were broken, peace would blossom. If only Israeli occupation would end, some argue, Palestinian violence would abate and the damaging cycle would be stopped in its tracks. A cursory glance at recent history demonstrates that this kind of reasoning does not apply to the Middle East.

Israel's only reward for its unconditional withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and pullback from Southern Lebanon in 2000 has been rockets and violence.

Yet many persist in applying the same flawed concept of cause-and-effect to the conflict. Media reports speculated that last month's Jerusalem bus bomb was in retaliation for Israeli air strikes in Gaza, lending credence to Hamas's claim that it was a "natural response to Israeli crimes against the Palestinians".

Similarly, much of the mainstream press implied that the massacre of the Fogel family could be explained by the fact that they lived on the settlement of Itamar. No settlers, no murder - such is the logical linkage of those whose only view is of a cycle of violence.

The truth is that those who perpetrate terrorist attacks have a deep enmity towards Israel that can neither be comfortably rationalised nor erased overnight. The 325 rockets and mortars that have been fired into Israel from Gaza so far this year are not aberrations. They are part of an ongoing and relentless campaign.

In 2010, a supposedly quiet year, there were 16 shooting attacks, and 16 improvised devices exploded in Jerusalem and the West Bank. These events and other similar, almost daily occurrences, barely register in the western media. They make a mockery of the notion of a "cycle of violence", which assumes that if only one side (usually Israel) ignored the provocations of the other, then the sequence would be broken. QED. But violent attacks on Israelis are not part of a cycle, they are an everyday reality.

If world leaders truly have ambitions for peace, then they should recognise this reality. The lack of talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has generated a growing appetite to impose a solution.

The Quartet - the EU, USA, UN and Russia - are hinting they will support the call for a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines, while the Palestinians plan a UN-sanctioned unilateral declaration of independence in September.

We all know that settlements, borders, refugees and Jerusalem are at the heart of any future agreement, negotiated or imposed. But, as the failed Oslo process has shown, an agreement is not the same thing as peace itself. Overlooking the decades-long ideological commitment of Israel's enemies to violent struggle is to wilfully ignore an enormous and very real obstacle to peace.

Until Israel sees a tangible reduction in the constant attacks on its citizens, it cannot fairly be expected to trust any peace deal to be durable. Engineering such a change is a long-term project; there is no "quick fix" for establishing real peace.

And the myth of the "cycle of violence" is a dangerous distraction.

Dan Kosky is a writer and communications professional based in Tel Aviv

    Last updated: 11:43am, April 21 2011