The New York Times’ Tom Friedman has incredibly insightful friends and colleagues he loves to reference is his articles. Alas, many  of my friends lean more inciteful than insightful.

One loves to make historical analogies. At least those that fit his confirmation biases. For him, every negotiation with an enemy is Neville Chamberlain seeking to appease Hitler.  Why talk with an enemy you need to destroy? Every militant group that he opposes is always Al Qaeda-like. Just kill their leaders today and worry about tomorrow’s leaders tomorrow.

Today, I introduce my friend to James Baker III, of the Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Perhaps he can impact my friend’s tendency to misconstrue history.


Baker’s analysis of a current crisis  that too often violently ebbs and flows with the vicissitudes of each side’s misfortunes, offers political leaders  the  long-term vision necessary to at least begin resolving seemingly intractable problems. With fewer intractable problems, there’s less need to birth false historical analogies. While cable talk shows and Avigdor Lieberman’s rants might become less interesting, addressing the root cause of problems beats endlessly debating all the reasons you can’t or shouldn’t and offering the wrong solutions.

Here are Baker’s comments, with a few bracketed tweaks from me. (Don’t click the links just yet.)

The root of (the) present crisis is not purely extremism; it is largely (a result of unaddressed) grievances and disenfranchisement. If a political compromise can be reached, (this group) will not survive long.

They succeeded by working alongside a wide range of local groups. (I SEE YOU OVER THERE. NO CLICKING YET!) They depend on support from the local population as a whole. In the words of Charles Lister of The Brookings Institution, “They are still totally reliant on an interdependent relationship with what remains a tacitly sympathetic and facilitating population.”

These groups and the public have not cooperated because they share its extremist ideology.

Rather, top  political and religious leaders agree that the crisis should be seen in part as an uprising against (an occupying and controlling) government’s … security forces indiscriminately detaining and torturing… and using lethal force. ..It is no surprise that (there is a) demand for  an end to such practices. Moderate political leaders have offered to turn against them (and will gain support) if political grievances can be addressed. (A) future as a (viable)  state is largely contingent on whether … political issues can be resolved.

If you failed to follow my admonition, you already know that Baker was not commenting on Israel, Hamas, Fatah, or the Palestinian Authority. His topic was ISIS (also known as ISIL, if you’ve watched Professor Obama speak at any of his recent golf-delaying* news conferences). *A little known fact: Obama golf games still hold a comfortable lead over Obama news conferences. Even the delayed ones without congressional playing partners.

Baker’s insight on ISIS comfortably applies to Israel and its battle with Hamas because the key to resolving what has now been 47 years of low and high level conflict is to remove the oxygen that allows the conflict to survive. The Israeli and Palestinian radicals who believe in endless war and threaten genocide, expulsion, kidnapping and terrorism are not reflective of the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians who simply want to get on with living their lives — normal lives where missiles, rockets and bombs aren’t part of the daily forecast, where walking  across the street means looking side to side and not up to the sky.

Israel needs to recognize that more closely embracing Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate head of the Fatah party controlled-Palestinian Authority, the administrative authority over Areas A and B in the West Bank, is an important part of weakening Hamas. ( Even though the PA was originally given authority over Gaza, Hamas ousted the PA in 2007.)  The recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas and the just announced cease-fire agreement terms between Hamas and Israel  gives  Israel that opportunity, especially if the PA is, as is rumored,  given a significant role in the border crossing into Egypt, the overall Gaza reconstruction effort, and, over time, becomes more involved in the security forces.

Fatah is enthusiastically supported by the vast majority of Arab League members and has forsworn the use of violence. Abbas’s administration has a positive and improving track record in administering the West Bank under difficult conditions of Israeli occupation and has been endorsed as a true “peace partner” by many Israeli politicians, including former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres and former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

If all Palestinians see that non-violence has achieved something tangible — fewer West Bank checkpoints and nightly raids don’t substitute for a two-state agreement that gives Palestinians in the West Bank control over their own lives — then it is only logical that Hamas’s support in Gaza (and the West Bank) should be reduced. A two-state agreement will offer West Bank Palestinians sustainable benefits that Palestinians in Gaza will then want for themselves. The  recent comical “Hamas victory celebration” after thousands of Gazans have been  killed, tens of thousands  injured, and billions in property destroyed, will come to be seen more  as the Palestinian Nakba.

Let’s end where we started. One historical analogy my friend won’t make, because it suggests a final peace agreement is possible, relates to Britain and Northern Ireland. Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect analogy. But when there is  a sui generis conflict like the Israelis and Palestinians have, with long-standing territorial and religious issues that frequently erupt into  spasms of violence that resonate throughout the world, it is hard to find any comparison that perfectly fits. Thankfully.

But here are some lessons from that conflict that do fit: One, there is no military solution. Unless underlying issues are addressed, the cycle of violence will continue. Israel can try to kill every significant Hamas leader, but it can’t kill their supporters’ ideologies and beliefs. New leaders will emerge.  Ultimately, Israel has to negotiate a political solution unless its leaders believe the “acceptable level of violence” status quo that has existed for 47 years is sustainable indefinitely. It isn’t.

Two, Hamas is more than a terrorist organization to its supporters.  Hamas provides various social and governmental services and is viewed as defending Gazans from Israeli aggression. That’s not an excuse for Hamas’s indiscriminate violence, but it is an explanation for why they are able to build support. One way to weaken that support is to provide Gazans with a more moderate alternative, one that works to avoid every-other-year wars and provides life-affirming benefits to Palestinians. Current Hamas supporters will start to want what West Bank Palestinians get.

Three, recognize that reaching a peace agreement is not a zero sum process. Yes, Palestinians will eventually get their own state, but  Israel will also get a better Israel. Peace will bring Israel greater economic and diplomatic returns and reduce military threats.  Peace will also bring Israel the normalcy and legitimacy its leaders and citizens have sought and deserve.  Peace will also shore up Israel’s support from diaspora Jewry and the U.S.

Four, the absence of a two-state agreement is a zero-sum process. No one wins. Israel’s leaders need to recognize that a two-state agreement is one of Israel’s vital interests, as critical or even more critical to address than Iran’s nuclear efforts. Without an agreement, Israel risks losing strong U.S. support — perhaps Israel’s most critical vital interest — and also risks a further attenuation of diaspora Jewish support. Palestinian leaders need to recognize that continued occupation misery may lead to a one state solution  becoming the default option if they are unable to make the type of territorial and security compromises Israel will likely demand.

Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognize that there is no way to destroy Hamas or the next Hamas-like group militarily, and the only way forward is for him to wage a peace battle within his coalition that is at least as ferocious as this last Gaza War? Can the 2003 Arab Peace Initiative (Road Map Plan) serve as the basis for developing a comprehensive agreement? Will Netanyahu and Abbas be open to painful compromises that threaten not only their political careers but could also threaten their lives? Will Israel be wise enough to realize that Hamas’s reconciliation with Fatah is ultimately in Israel’s interest as it will create an opportunity to have a unified approach to Gaza and a final agreement that is with, and is supported by, all Palestinian political parties?  Will third parties such as  the U.S. and the Arab League take more active roles in offering specific plans and support? Will another third party — Egypt? — emerge that both sides trust enough to play an interlocutor role along with the U.S.?

The Israeli and Palestinian issues — borders, refugees, Israeli security,  Palestinian capital, Palestinian demilitarization – are known, as is the general path to an agreement. The failure to follow that path will only lead to continued unrest and an eventual eruption of violence. Let’s hope both sides have their political GPS’s programmed to negotiate and that they both work  to not only prevent another Gaza War but to bring lasting peace to their peoples.



Back To The Future? What To Do With Gaza

by Jeff Pozmantier August 15, 2014

In 1977, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance pitched the idea of a UN trusteeship for the Palestinian territories. That was to be the first step in getting  to a Palestinian homeland. Little was Cy to know that 37 years later his idea would be adopted by Israel’s Official P.R. Nightmare and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (who all sentient beings should be […]

0 comments Read the full article →

How To Filter News Updates On Operation Protective Edge (And How To Avoid Having To Name Another War)

by Jeff Pozmantier August 9, 2014

First, the most important question: What Knesset committee names these things? Is a list of military operation names compiled in advance just like the list of hurricane names? After all, recommended actions in Gaza wars and Gulf Coast hurricanes are similar: Cat 1 hurricane — minor damage; shelter in place, except if you live in a frame home or a […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Israelis and Palestinians: Best Recipe For Solving The Crisis

by Jeff Pozmantier August 2, 2014

My Friday started with our family’s shih tzu /cairn terrier/rabbit mix lick-assaulting my leg, feet, and hands, and ended with an email that added 15,000 miles to my Mileage Plus account….followed by another lick-assaulting. Plus as an added bonus, a family verbal assaulting: You’re going to Israel? Who intentionally goes to a war? What can you possibly accomplish other than worry […]

2 comments Read the full article →

Hamas Victory? Can Israel Safely Give Up The West Bank? Plus: A Heartfelt Message From An Israeli Peace Activist

by Jeff Pozmantier July 24, 2014

Hamas Victory? If “victory” means succeeding in a tactical maneuver — in this case, firing as many unguided missiles as possible and not caring who or what you hit near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport —then, yes, Hamas won. However, while Hamas’s tactics may make fine fodder for Michael Bloomberg tweets (that, thankfully, have moved from the danger of Big Gulps to the safety of […]

3 comments Read the full article →

A Vision: Israel and Palestine Reach Historic Peace Agreement

by Jeff Pozmantier July 5, 2014

Just be a little more patient. In the summer of 2016, what didn’t happen at Camp David, with John Kerry and his team, or in brief discussions following the horrible murders of three Israelis and one Palestinian and the resulting militant and military responses in mid-2014, will happen at Blue Heron. There are too many […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Strange Travel Stories PLUS Key Travel Advice (Read This If You Want To Become A Travel Pro)

by Jeff Pozmantier June 15, 2014

If you travel frequently, you’re bound to have had strange travel experiences. If you don’t travel frequently, you’re probably still waiting to separate your liquids, take everything out of your pockets, remove your shoes and hold up the slow, now slower, line as you just remember you need to find and remove that laptop computer and water bottle. I am the TSA pre-approved […]

23 comments Read the full article →

U.S. Accepts New Palestinian Unity Government: The Right Decision

by Jeff Pozmantier June 4, 2014

I just returned from Brazil — Rio to be exact. After all that I read before I left, I half expected to step off of the plane in Rio, have everything I had on my body forcibly removed by marauding gangs of thieves, and then get directed to a special Naked Tourist Customs lane. But […]

3 comments Read the full article →

Pro-Israel: Should We Broaden The Definition? Does Caroline Glick Qualify?

by Jeff Pozmantier May 16, 2014

Jerusalem Post managing editor and one-state Israelestine fan Caroline Glick is pro-Israel — at least in intent and self-labeling. So are Roger Cohen, Brett Stephens, George Soros, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and David Harris. So are AIPAC, AJC, ZOA, Hillel and J Street. And so are the vast majority of the Jewish groups and individuals who care enough to advocate not […]

1 comment Read the full article →

J Street Vote: Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations Proves It Is No Longer Major … But It Does Have Lots Of Presidents!

by Jeff Pozmantier May 4, 2014

Our U.S. Jewish population ranges from 4.2 to 6.6 million. More exact numbers are dependent  on how you choose to use the Pew Research Center’s interactive Jew-counting tool and  whether you also want to count Republicans, Donald Sterling, Bernie Madoff, and Christians United For Israel members. So it is actuarially refreshing to know that the  Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has exactly […]

0 comments Read the full article →