Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mideast troubles -- again

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If the eyes of ordinary observers are glazing over during the recent exchange of rockets and bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, it is not because they are insensitive to the suffering.

No, it's because they've seen it all before, outrage met with outrage, followed by a ceasefire, a renewed commitment to peace, followed by new outrages and more bloodshed.

Thanks to Wikipedia and other online sources, it's possible to identify seven previous Israeli incursions into Gaza in response to some form of violent attack from the Palestinian territory since 2001.

Of course, the number doesn't include the dozens of wars and smaller operations that have unfolded between Israel and its neighbours since 1948. Even Wikipedia doesn't keep a list that long.

The latest eruption was sparked in typical fashion. Three Israelis were kidnapped and killed, followed by the murder of a Palestinian teenager. Hamas, a terrorist group that also dominates political life in the Gaza Strip, responded with rocket attacks, which was no surprise to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu naturally had to respond with an even greater outburst of violence to show a price will always be paid for attacks on the homeland. By the same logic, Hamas has been unloading its arsenal of rockets to show that it, too, will not tolerate attacks on its people.

The incident also allows Hamas to demonstrate it is prepared to stand up to Israel in defence of its demands for a homeland, most of which are unacceptable to Israel.

Israel claims its bombs, rockets and artillery shells are meant to kill Hamas leaders, even though it knows the largest number of casualties will be women, children and other innocent civilians.

Hamas is less circumspect in its goals. It wants to sow insecurity, fear and anxiety among the Israeli population, disrupt normal patterns of commerce and increase the cost of doing business.

It might make for an exciting table-top war game, if it wasn't for the fact thousands of people have been killed, maimed or wounded over the decades. In the recent edition, some 1,200 Gaza residents have been killed or injured, compared to a handful of Israelis injured, with none killed thanks to its anti-missile defence.

The real problem, then, the reason everyone is weary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the main actors seem more interested in limited warfare than actual solutions.

Israel, in particular, at least under the current prime minister, is content to rely on low-intensity warfare and conflict management, rather than deal with the truly tough choices that would have to be made for real peace.

When Israel was founded in 1948, its biggest threat was the armies of its Arab neighbours, but that threat has passed. The real danger facing Israel is from non-state actors, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and other shadow groups. Though, none constitute a legitimate threat to Israel's existence.

If there is hope on the horizon, it will be found in the region's common problems -- water resources, food production and jobs -- which can only be resolved in a climate of co-operation and peace.

Ultimately, however, Israel and the Palestinians -- if they wish to end these periodic eruptions of violence -- must come to an agreement on one of two possible solutions for the long term. Either a two-state solution, which most observers think will never happen because it is too complicated and mired in bitter disputes about borders, or a single state for both groups, which Israelis understandably fear would reduce them to a vulnerable minority.

In any event, for Israel at least, conflict management remains the best and maybe the only solution.

The eternal impasse means jaded eyes will continue to grow sleepy until both sides decide enough blood has been spilled, too many innocents killed and, to paraphrase Golda Meir, they love their own children more than they hate each other.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 A8

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