plays ‘win-win’ while Arabs play ‘zero-sum’
Israeli Jews frequently argue that
Israel and the Palestinians are not
engaged in a zero-sum game and that
they have “no choice but to learn to
live together.” This view has become
a cliché that requires scrutiny.
Most Jews believe in
the inevitability of sharing the land
of Palestine/Israel, which is one reason
it is Israeli Jews who sponsor virtually
every coexistence project with the Arabs.
But where is the evidence that Palestinians
believe they must live with the Jews?
In fact, evidence is
overwhelming that most Palestinains believe
there are other choices, and the one
favored by the Palestine Liberation Organization,
Hamas and Islamic Jihad is Israel’s destruction.
Just because Israelis don’t believe that
is a realistic option doesn’t mean the
One reason Jews have
such a difficult time acknowledging other
options is that we have such a limited
perspective on time. It’s ironic given
our long history, but we still tend to
think of time in terms of days, weeks
and months. Ask a friend what they would
consider the “good old days” and you’re
likely to get the 1950s or 1960s as an
How many articles or
books have you read about the future
of Israel? Probably none, because we’re
all caught up in the present. We wonder
what will happen to Israel today or next
Israelis want peace
now. It’s not some left-wing slogan;
it’s the reality for every Israeli. No
Israeli wants to continue living the
way they do now, having to worry about
getting on a bus or going to a disco
for fear that a bomb might go off.
Young Israelis are proud
to serve their country, but they don’t
want to have to go to Jenin, Ramallah,
Gaza and other parts of the territories
where they often have to carry out unpleasant
and often dangerous orders to protect
their nation. Their parents also would
prefer that they didn’t have to go to
those places. So, of course, all Israelis
want “peace now!”
If we look at the plight
of the Palestinians objectively, we might
conclude that they, too, must want peace
now. After all, their lives are miserable.
Israeli curfews, military
operations, checkpoints and the other
measures Israel must take for its own
security do impose hardships on the Palestinians.
The people also suffer,
however, from Palestinian Authority president
Yasser Arafat’s corrupt regime and its
refusal to grant them any of the rights
we take for granted. It is Arafat’s fault,
not Israel’s, that the Palestinians have
no freedom of speech, press, religion
Shouldn’t the Palestinians
be anxious to reach a compromise that
would improve their situation? That is
a rational argument; but there is another
view that is also rational and predominant
in the Arab world; and it, too, is related
to perspectives on time.
If you ask Arabs the
same question about the “good old days,”
they are not likely to answer the 1950s.
They might say the 950s, the 1250s or
Why? Because the Arabs
have a glorious history that covers centuries.
They long to return to the golden age
of the Muslim empire, and they are willing
to wait as long as it takes to achieve
That is why you hear
Arabs say, “The Crusaders conquered Palestine
and it took us 200 years to drive them
out, but we did. Now the Zionists have
conquered Palestine and it may take us
200 years, but we will drive them out
also.” From their perspective, they’ve
only been working toward that goal for
100 years, so they’ve still got another
century to go.
Muslims cannot accept
the idea of a Jewish state in the Islamic
heartland, or that Jews should rule over
Muslims; so at least the radicals among
them will continue to pursue the agenda
expressed in the Hamas covenant: “Our
struggle against the Jews is very great
and very serious…. It strives to raise
the banner of Allah over every inch of
In addition, the Palestinians
believe that time is on their side because
of the demographic and atomic bombs.
Projections show that
in a couple of decades the Palestinians
will comprise the majority of the population
between the Mediterranean Sea and the
Jordan River. They will defeat Israel
by the sheer weight of their numbers.
Technology is on the
Arabs’ side as well. According to our
Western short-term thinking, we’re (rightly)
concerned about the prospect of Iran
developing a nuclear weapon in the next
two to five years.
Forget that. What about
50 years from now? Several Arab countries
are likely to have them then. And they
don’t need an arsenal of ICBMs like the
old Soviet Union. All they need are three
bombs — for Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem
— and it’s goodbye Israel.
If you look at the situation
from this perspective, why should the
Palestinians accept a bite-size state
in the West Bank and Gaza when they can
wait another 30-50 years and swallow
the whole? Sure the Palestinian people
will endure a lot of suffering in the
meantime, but they’ve managed for the
last 50 years. What’s another 50?
This is why the prospect
for a negotiated “solution” is so bleak.
The Israelis are trying to play a “win-win”
game while the Palestinians are engaged
in a “zero-sum” game.
Unless the Palestinians
are prepared to play the same game, by
the same rules, diplomacy is futile,
and as much as Israelis long for peace
now, they will have to begin to take
a longer-term view of their security