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  • Writer's pictureAlexander M. Wegner

Israel and Palestine: Toxic Idealism, Elusive Rationality

(C) Harvard University

THE MURDERS OF NAFTALI FRAENKEL (AGED 16), GILAD SHAER (AGED 16), AND EYAL YIFRAH (AGED 19), all of whom were young Israeli citizens, not solely prompted an extensive quest for their allegedly Palestinian perpetrators, but triggered the atrocious killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir (age 16), a Palestinian adolescent. While the campaign to identify the murders of the three Israeli teens, despite the arrests of numerous Palestinians, did not result in the detention of those directly responsible for this loss of life, an investigation in the killing of Mohammed Abu Khedeir translated into the arrests of several Israeli suspects, hardly older than their alleged victims. Israel’s Netanyahu, declared: “We do not differentiate between the terrorists, and we respond to all of them,” firmly.

Following the series of arrests across Palestinian territory, and the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Hamas resumed its assault on cities across Israel through the launching of rockets, many of them smuggled through the maze of tunnels that spans below Palestinian grounds, but–ever since the demise of the Mubarak regime in Egypt–features continuously fewer goods. Correspondingly, those living on Palestinian territory, find themselves in daunting circumstances, with 70 percent living on less than USD 1 per day. In accordance with Netanyahu’s claim, Israeli forces mobilized for a ground-offensive in Palestinian territory, while commencing its infamous air strikes against Palestinian homes, suspected to harbor those launching rockets toward Israeli cities.

The number of deaths caused by Israeli strikes on Palestinian homes heightened rapidly, and is thought to exceed 700; meanwhile, a handful of Israelis have been reported dead, in consequence of both rockets launched by Hamas and Israeli operations. Of course, such figures–however indicative–cannot reveal the richness inherent in any life, richness that vanished from one moment to another. Curiously, despite these figures and their implications, Hamas previously rejected a cease-fire proposal brokered by Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, prompting Israel to heighten its asymmetric aerial assault.

Due to the historical, cultural and–though to a lesser degree–geopolitical dimensions of this long-standing conflict, pathways to peace, which are most likely to originate from a two-state scenario, are unlikely to come forth through politics. Indeed, contemporary politics, in and among developed countries, is mere administration; it is rendered ever more similar to public policy. Concretely, public policies are typically intended to fix or maintain the status quo, but scarcely conducive to evolution. In other words, contemporary politics and public policy represent the lingua franca of technocrats, guided by reason rather than imagination. While reason may be conducive to the identification of next-best alternatives, it halts redesign, destruction and reconstruction. Politics and public policy may stabilize or escalate, but are unlikely to yield resolution.

Social media, which may be thought to foster the reciprocity, in which liberal democracy is rooted, may actually erode it. First, it merely allows for shallow, if not hollow, sound bites. Second, absent of face-to-face encounters, it facilitates fierce discourse that is prone to further distance vantage points rather than bridging them through rigorous but sensitive interchange. In fact, graphic snapshots of the horrors associated with the Israel-Palestine stalemate entirely disregard inherent humanity, and serve as dehumanized objects in an increasingly ruthless form of interaction. In other words, social media allows for shallow, hollow, and vicious monologues that could hardly differ more from the dialogues fruitful discourse and interchange necessitate.

Popular faith in contemporary politics, as an engine of progress, and the popularity of social media, embody peculiar ideology. Any era tends to be defined by those capable of intellectually predominating it; those who define this century, and inevitably influence thinking worldwide, tend to reside in North America and Western Europe. Of course, the nations that these locales accommodate have experienced an unparalleled enlargement of political and socioeconomic evolution, which has prompted steadfast longing for improvement, in the tradition of thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Smith and Fukuyama. Consequentially, the desire for progress, cultivated by intelligentsia across North America and Western Europe, has taken hold in the minds and hearts of most.

This idealism has, arguably, steered the Israel-Palestine conflict, whether through agents of Israel or agents of Palestinian territory. Indeed, Hamas’ objection to and rejection of the cease-fire brokered by Egypt seems to have been born out of a hope that deontological reasoning–conduct in accordance with principle, at all times and at all costs–will halt the subsuming of land claimed by Palestinians, and will distract Israeli leaders from pursuing policies that are expected to further worsen the conditions within which Palestinians find themselves. Similarly, Israeli resistance to rocket-based assault by Hamas through aerial and ground offenses, coupled with measures that reflect control and coercion, is likely guided by hope in a secure and prosperous Israel.

Whether in regard to Israel or Palestine, idealism is toxic; it demands of contemporary politics–as administration–what politics is incapable of; namely, the crafting of reality in the image of any abstract. Hence, the rationality–as conduct in accordance with reason–that contemporary politics is said to be rooted in, is both impotent and elusive. It is impotent, as the quest for ideals casts the dictates of reason into its shadow; and it is elusive, as man is not solely a creature of the mind, but also of the heart. The presently prevalent understanding of intellect as intelligence is, indeed, misguiding; intellect ought to represent the soul at large, a fusion of mind and heart, unlikely to allow for principles.

Yet the toxicity of idealism does not solely result from its overstatement of politics–and, as a presumption, of man–but from the inevitable disappointment of the misguided expectations by which it is accompanied. Thus, on his ceaseless quest for progress, man turns cynical, as he faces disappointment, fatigue, as he encounters stasis, and on occasion fierce, driven by a heartfelt but irrational impulse to revolt against what is. Man, compelled by a curiously steadfast hope in the feasibility of reforming the actual into the potential, is but an artisan striving to form a durable pot from watery clay, never seeking to and never capable of replacing the very clay itself.

The Israel-Palestine stalemate cannot be resolved through means of contemporary politics, however heartfelt the underlying hope. Fierce outcries against what is, voiced through social media, and stubborn resistance against actuality, evoked by a longing for the potential, is unlikely to alter what has unfolded throughout the lifetime of generations. While hope must not be forgone, as it forms the soil on which the human project grows, it must be rooted in an understanding of the world as it is, not as it ought to be. Where those deprived of improvement, whether in Israel or on Palestinian territory, endure atrocities in the consequence of abiding to principles, and in accordance with a sense of self-proclaimed righteousness, however noble or legitimate, hope is likely to be misunderstood; indeed, hope springs from the heart, only to enable reason, and prompt reasonable action. Hope that betrays reason for the ideal is demise.

Unless hope in a peaceful and prosperous Israel as well as a peaceful and prosperous Palestine enables reason to accept compromise, however unsatisfactory for both Israelis and Palestinians, and prompts moderate discourse that leads people and peoples toward rather than from one another, the stalemate cannot cease. Not the virtual rants of vicious idealists who promise salvation where non exists, but hope-inspired, reasonable conduct promises relief. This is not a political matter, but a trial of our every intellect.

Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior. Isaiah 45:15
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