The view from Claremont


As in most other days, the Southern Californian skies of Claremont today are clear and the sun shines exceptionally bright. In the Middle East, however, the skies are darker and developments on the ground look ominous. Karl Marx once noted that “History repeats itself… first as tragedy, then as farce.” In the Israeli-Palestinian case, unfortunately, history repeated itself more than twice and farce and tragedy are no longer distinguishable. The current cycle of violence is not unique in this respect; it resulted from the broader preexisting dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but ignited by immediate events such as the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager subsequently.


The tragedy and the farce belong to both Israelis and Palestinians to the extent that the “blame-game” is an integral part of the Israeli-Palestinian discourse nowadays. It is focused on historical questions such as “who started?” or more philosophical ones such as “who is suffering more?” And so the farce is that while leaders on both sides continue their bickering, and continue attempts to discredit the other side, ordinary people are tragically suffering. Rather than finding a a resolution to the situation on the ground, all leaderships are more interested in questioning the motivation and legitimacy of the other side. 


It is the lack of leadership that perpetuates this shameful situation and the lack of genuine will on behalf of some of the key protagonists makes sure it will persist until the next time violence erupts. The Israeli government must stop playing for time and the Palestinian leadership must be pragmatic and realistic. Both leaderships must transcend beyond the immediate political obstacles and constraints and move into the sphere of joint statesmanship where visions are converted to common political understandings and then to action. 


Notable Israeli author Etgar Keret recently advocated a shift from talking about “peace” to “compromise.” I agree with Keret’s assertion and think that pursuing an “all or nothing” approach will lead nowhere other than to more carnage. Israelis are truly lucky to have Iron Dome and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are fortunate that the Israeli government is unwilling to order a ground invasion. But luck has a tendency to run out whenever you need it the most and compromise can be an excellent remedy for dubious luck. And regardless of the “who started?” or “who is suffering more?” questions, that resemble the things you hear from children arguing, a compromise will require the parties to give up something they want very much—land or narratives—to obtain something they need very much—an end to violence. 


The sunny skies in Claremont are clear, the sun is exceptionally bright and all is peaceful and quite. I wish my fellow Israelis and neighboring Palestinians that their skies will be as clear as in Claremont. That the sun will shine as bright as in Claremont. But, more than anything else, I hope that peace and quiet will descend upon Israelis and Palestinians, just like in Claremont. 



Ilai Z. Saltzman

AICE Visiting Assistant Professor of Government 

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, CA