Where the mess comes from

What has caused the mess we're in?
Who knows?
First problem: each of us defines the mess in a different way. 
Is it Islam, Obama, Hillary, Donald, Bibi, overpopulation, or global warming?
Maybe it's the Jews or the Palestinians. Some think that if one or the other, or both were to disappear, the rest would be on the verge of nirvana. 
The world has been globalized. It's a large village. We all have linkages via a few intermediaries with everyone else on the planet. 
Political, economic, and social phenomena are multi-dimensional. 
That means that everything is related to everything else.
And no one can be certain what causes the mess, however it's defined.
Should we begin the origins of violent Islam with the first generations after Mohammad, which set the foundation for Shiite-Sunni enmity and violence? Or with Ronald Reagan's actions to recruit Islamic fighters and equip them to battle the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s?
From one or another, it is possible to chart the steps to 9-11 and civil wars in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. 
Pushing things along may have been 
  • George W. Bush's destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime, including its army, without replacing it
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's pushing Barack Obama to join the Europeans in destroying Muammar Qaddafi's regime without replacing it
  • Obama's 2009 Cairo speech promoting equality and democracy in the Middle East where there were no cultural roots for either, and 
  • Obama's dumping Hosni Mubarak for the imagined democracy led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
We might recommend hospitalization for those who still think that solving the problems of the Palestinians will pacify the Middle East.
The Palestinians have said, "No" too often to be taken seriously by other Arabs or the rest of us. Yet the French still seem obsessed with hosting a peace conference, with John Kerry nodding affirmatively to anything that looks hopeful.
But the French, as well as the Egyptians and Saudis--each with their proposals--may be principally concerned with taking from the Americans a piece of regional leadership.
Should Israel be more forthcoming, or is it clear that that nothing short of the regime's suicide and the return of Jews to wherever might produce unity among Palestinians? 
Condemnation from the US State Department against any decision to build more housing in the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem testifies to the distance between competing conceptions of what is Israel. Yet again, at least one of the presidential candidates promises to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but no one here should expect it.
Do the State Department pronouncements change the shape of things? 
Not by anything that is apparent.
Concerns for international pressure may cause building may be delayed, and construction slowed, Yet there is something like 900,000 Israeli Jews living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Each decision of Israeli authorities to move a few dozen due to court decisions produces years of delay, maneuvers by politicians, demonstrations by settlers, and often some fig leaf of a decision that keeps things pretty much where they were.
Currently there is a movement of former settlers in Gaza to prompt the government to move them back to Gaza. 
They are demonstrating that political intensity, or madness, of is not a monopoly of the Palestinians, the US State Department, or the French Government..
One of the best explanations of Israel's stubbornness with respect to removing settlements from the West Bank derives from the Palestinian response against the withdrawal from Gaza. Opponents of Palestinian statehood or the removal of Israeli settlements note the thousands of rockets in several waves, several Israeli incursions, some destruction in Israel but much more in Gaza.
Yet as with everything, there are other explanations. They begin with the fractured nature of Palestinian society and politics, the Palestinian leadership's weakness in its own governing and politics, and its incapacity to agree to what Israelis or Americans have offered them.  The man who travels the world as the Palestinian President remains in office more than seven years after the end of his term, and is not recognized as President in Gaza.
I'll leave to Americans to argue the source of Barack Obama's election, the emergence of Hillary vs Trump as the political event of this season, and what can be expected from the election of one or the other.
Among the ideas competing for attention are the appeal of an articulate African American moderate on social policy. Then somewhere in the support for Trump may be a blend of resurgent racism associated with several episodes of violence, both by and against cops, along with the prominence of Islamic violence, and Obama's reluctance to talk about Islam.
Others may emphasize the long-festering dissatisfaction of Americans left behind, and moved below the category of middle income, by the decline of American industry. 
Hillary's ascendance may derive from her record as policy wonk while being a Governor's and President's wife, as well as her service in the Senate and State Department. It's tempting to put her in the class with Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George Bush the senior as individuals with the most governmental experience to approach the White House since World War II.
Yet the length of her political CV invites scorn as well as applause. She failed in her effort as Presidential wife to enact a health package that was given high profile, and her term as Secretary of State comes with negatives associated with Bengazi and emails. 
Also in the list of explanations for Hillary's nomination is the opportunity for the politically correct to support a woman, with lesser concern for accomplishments, controversies, and predictions of how she'll operate as President. It bears some resemblance to Obama's status  as a politically tolerable African American.
Competing views of history, the present, and future are welcome. There are lots of them.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem