Hazem Saghieh

Vile Wars and Needed Solutions

In 1948, the first war between a newly established Jewish state and newly independent Arab countries broke out. In a sense, the battles were fought between a Zionist militia and seven regular armies led by conservative notables. The wars that followed, in 1956, 1967, and 1973, were fought between this same Jewish state and Arab countries whose notables and politicians had been overthrown and whose armies had seized power before nationalizing politics. Subsequently, since 2006, wars began to be waged, on their two Arab fronts, Lebanon and Palestine, by absolutely non-state Islamic militias.

In tandem with this shift from the conservatives of 1948 to the military men of 1967, and then to the militias of 2006 and the present, several other shifts, political, social, cultural, demographic, and of course ideological unfolded. The peoples of these countries went from societies taking shape (1948) to societies punished by repression (1956–1973), to societies embroiled in infighting amid the rise of identities, the spread of religious populism, and the declining ability of the central authorities to contain things, whether they had been imperious (Baathist Syria and Iraq) or not (Lebanon).

Here, what we are interested in is that the curtailment of the state and society building project - the flip side of militia movements like Hezbollah and Hamas growing stronger - has had multiple implications for Arab conflicts with Israel, rather, the general manner of Israel's violent behavior. This shift has come about because when non-state (and therefore illegitimate) actors are on the other side, restraining the Jewish state through international law and its dictates becomes a difficult task.

As we know, Israel is a state that defies and disregards the law like no other on the planet. Thus, restraining its aggression, whether offensive or defensive, becomes operationally more complicated and harder to justify, and the number of victims continues to rise and balloon amid efforts to enforce the law on Israel.

Although settler militias and societal schisms have weakened and continue to weaken this orientation in Israel, its behavior since 1948 has mostly gone in the opposite direction of the Arab Levantine states. There, we saw a transition from the Zionist militias, at the forefront of which was the Haganah, to an army that has remained under the control of politicians, without this translating to the army taking hold of political life or disrupting it. Some see the zenith of this process in David Ben-Gurion's decision to bomb the Altalena ship mere weeks after the establishment of Israel, and to then clamp down on the Jabotinskist Etzel organization that had insisted on maintaining independent control over its arms.

What I mean, here, is that these two wretched tracks in our region went in opposite directions, and the conflict has dramatically exacerbated their wretchedness. The first (Israeli) track started was that of a militia becoming an army which is advanced military and technically, behaving brutally outside the country without infringing on domestic politics. The second, which prevailed in the Arab Levant, was brutal towards its own people and in national politics; it also inherited a frail social fabric and turned it into an open-ended conflict. Despite this, however, it did not manage a single significant external achievement.

That is how, through this track, the traditionalist attempt to build states following independence collapsed, and the military then stepped in to seize power, convinced that the "cause" absolved it of the need to justify its illegitimacy. That was all before the non-statehood that militias represent took the reins of power, and before the erosion of legitimacy became more pronounced.

It might now be appropriate, after having seen these horrors and so much bloodshed, to say that the region, including the question of Palestinian rights, demands the establishment of decent elected states. These new states can restore those that had been killed in their infancy, immediately after obtaining their independence, giving rise to a more representative version that does a better job of facilitating social mobility and engaging with the world more loudly from within the framework of its consensuses and agreements.

Despite its divergent conditions and requirements, this is also true for Palestine itself. Indeed, although blood obscures the scene today, the day for politics may come, however far-fetched or distant it currently seems. In that event, a Palestinian state would become a key component in any possible solution.

Will the wheel turn, if political solutions make their way tomorrow or the day after, on the two sides opposed to politics, i.e. opposed to the emergence of a Palestinian state within the framework of two states, one Palestinian and the other Israeli? One side is the Jewish settlers whose encroachments and settlement expansions prevent the establishment of any non-Jewish state; the "solutions" they offer Palestinians begin with population transfer and end with annihilation. The other side is Hamas, which opposes the emergence of this state and the two-state solution under the pretext that everything "from the sea to the river" must be liberated.

It has often been said that politics is "playing in the center and excluding the extremes." In the Palestinian case, this can only be achieved through the endorsement of the two-state solution and the center taking the initiative. However, the important thing now is for this center to take form and do so quickly.