Mitchell Bard 
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© Mitchell Bard 2016

Israel 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 Palestinians agree.

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 answer.

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 week.

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!”

Two bombs

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 or assembly.

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 the 1450s.

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 their goals.

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 Palestine.”

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 needs.