Peace in the Middle East? Only When the Future Becomes More Important Than the Past
Since the attacks on October 7th I have kept uncharacteristically quiet about my views on the conflict and I will largely continue to do so. In my opinion one of the most important things to model in the public space is avoiding commenting on things not within your field of expertise. The incentives created by social media and the entire commentary ecosystem make this an extremely difficult temptation to resist, which is precisely why it is important to try.
Instead of talking, I have been listening. On TRIGGERnometry, we have spoken to a number of pro-Israel voices like Bari Weiss, Sam Harris, Eric Weinstein and Douglas Murray. We have tried getting numerous pro-Palestine guests on the show, which has proven harder to do, but we have finally booked two who will be appearing shortly.
I’ve also attended several protests in support of the Palestinian cause, spoken to the people there, and went along to the March Against Anti-Semitism in London.
The more perspectives I encounter, the more I understand why this conflict has been raging for 75 years: it’s very, very complicated. There is a mixture of interlocking claims and counterclaims from both sides. I’ve yet to encounter an argument that has convinced me of the historical right of <insert Israel or Palestine as appropriate> to <insert action/demand> that isn’t met with an equal and opposite claim from the other side.
But, as Bill Maher brilliantly pointed out in a brave and incisive recent monologue, obsessing about historical “rights” to land and who did what generations ago is not going to get us anywhere:
And so, having heard a variety of perspectives on this issue, I will continue to refrain from commenting on the history because, in many ways, this obsession with the past is why there is a continuing nightmare in the present.
Palestine supporters will tell you that Israel was created by stealing Palestinian land and is therefore illegitimate. Even if they are right, there are over 9 million Israelis living on that land. They aren’t leaving. And the only way to change that is through another Holocaust.
Likewise, Israel supporters can argue that there has never been a Palestine, claim the lands of Judea and Samaria as rightfully theirs, and even pursue a one-state solution of Greater Israel on the basis of the Jewish people’s historical links to the land. But again, even if they are right, that isn’t happening either. Not without the mass slaughter and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
And, if we are going to be intellectually consistent, we cannot say, as we should say, that Vladimir Putin’s historical claim to portions of Ukraine is an illegitimate pretext for war, while simultaneously siding with either Israel or Palestine on the basis of their historical claims.
If we attempt to resolve territorial disputes between countries and peoples by going back centuries, we will only be stuck in a perpetual hell of endless conflict. Europe learned that the hard way in the 19th and 20th centuries. I can’t imagine that with the benefit of hindsight anyone would think that adjudicating who owns Alsace-Lorraine through a series of wars was worth the millions of lives the Franco-German rivalry ended up costing humanity.
Ultimately, all peace is made by putting the past where it belongs: in the past.
But there is also a different reality we must acknowledge: you can only make peace with people who want peace.