Israel Report

MayJune 2004         

The Two-Conflict Delusion

By Saul Singer - May 13, 2004
An Israeli woman, eight months pregnant, and her four daughters, ages 11 to 2, are gunned down at point-blank range in their car in the Gaza Strip. An American is beheaded on camera in Iraq. Six Israeli soldiers are blown up by a roadside bomb and masked terrorists parade their body parts, including a head, for the press.

How barbaric, we react. Yet this is exactly the point. Pride in barbarism is the bedrock of terrorism. The terrorist is in a constant struggle to outdo himself. Each atrocity must be more shocking than the last, or it risks losing the ability to shock and therefore to inculcate fear and despair. The terrorist seeks to obliterate the difference between war and war crimes. Terrorism begins where the Geneva Convention leaves off.

The insatiable appetite of terrorism is the first lesson of these atrocities, a lesson that we in the West have trouble absorbing. We cannot fully bring ourselves to believe that there are people trying to "top" 9/11 or the rash of suicide bombings that Israel has experienced. We can never really imagine things that are worse than what has happened.

But even if human denial kicks in on the psychological level, this logic is, at least intellectually, readily understood. Less obvious is another lesson of these events: The "Arab-Israeli conflict" is not yet a separate conflict, and there is only one enemy.

Events in Israel and Iraq are linked not just because the terrorists in each place compete to raise the current global terrorist threshold. They are linked because the hooded men who displayed the head of an Israeli soldier and those who decapitated Nick Berg are part of the same global jihad. One wants an Islamic dictatorship in Iraq, the other the same thing but in place of Israel.

This should go without saying, yet there is still a strong impulse to pretend that there are two separate conflicts. When I suggested this to a visiting leader of a major American Jewish organization, he insisted that the conflicts are separate and there is no point in even trying to argue that they are one.

Why should there be such resistance, even among Israel's supporters, to merging the "Arab-Israeli conflict" with the "war against terrorism"? Because joining the two is seen as giving up on the prospects for a negotiated Arab-Israeli peace. If Yasser Arafat is our Taliban and Sheik Yassin was our Bin Laden, then how is peace possible? Toss the two-conflict model and out goes the two-state solution.

If this were true, the reluctance to see the conflicts as one would be understandable. The truth, however, is that Israel's critical goal is for our conflict to - in reality, not perception - become separate from the global jihad. The Jewish leader was right in his unspoken fear that being part of the global struggle does render our conflict unnegotiable. But prematurely pretending otherwise does not lead toward hope and peace, but in the other direction.

Every attempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict has been based on the notion that it is about borders, not about Israel's existence. But the jihadis don't care about Israel's borders, just like they don't care about America's. It is not about territory. It is about whether the world is made safe for free nations or for dictatorships.

There are not two conflicts, but there are two kinds of Palestinians: those who can accept living independently beside Israel and those who care more about keeping the door open to Israel's destruction than having their own state. The Palestinians fighting Israel now, including Yasser Arafat, are in the second camp. And though these forces began their fight separately, they have become functionally and strategically part of the same global jihadist enemy. The fact that "secularists" like Arafat, Bashar Assad, and Saddam Hussein are often in a power struggle against Islamic fundamentalists does not make them less allied in their common struggle against the West.

The misunderstanding of the conflict as two rather than one is not benign, particularly when it comes to the jihad against Israel. This is the only place where terrorism in its most brutal forms is granted a degree of legitimacy. The cause is just, only the means are unacceptable, goes the argument.

But what is the cause? If the cause were their own peaceful state, it would be just, and there would be every reason to separate out that cause from the global jihad. But it is not. And treating the conflict as bifurcated is playing into the lie that all the terrorists want is peace, justice, and sovereignty.

Does anyone really believe that all the head-severing crowd wants is to live in peace with Israel? To claim the conflicts are separate is to imply that they do, and to grant the terrorists the high moral ground.

Someday, the West will win and the jihadi camp will lose its stranglehold over the Palestinians and other parts of the Muslim world. At that time, the Arab-Israeli conflict will be solvable, just as the Cold War evaporated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Until then, playing into the enemy's two-conflict game is not a sign of hope but a delusion that drives away the hope it seeks to keep alive.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11

©2003 - Jerusalem Post

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