13.04.2022 by Dr. Omer Einav
13.04.2022 Research

The Problem with the Comfort Zone Between Managing and Shrinking the Conflict

“No, I do want to say what my approach is, my approach in this context is to Shrink the conflict. We will not resolve it... but wherever it is possible to have entries, more quality of life, more business, more industry, we will [encourage it – O.E]” said Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in an interview with Amit Segal on the local Channel 12 News on the eve of his inauguration in June 2021. This was a short, casual statement—an aside in an interview that dealt with many other issues on the agenda. In fact, Bennett was not even asked about his position regarding the conflict and insisted on digressing due to the impatience of our interviewer toward the subject. Thus, Bennett tried to differentiate himself from “managing the conflict” — the approach of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu — by offering a fresh, new approach.

“Shrinking the Conflict”, an approach and terminology brought to the Israeli public discourse by Dr. Micah Goodman, is the necessary branding tool to try to redefine Israel’s policies about an issue that it does not want to deal with - but must. The differences between the two approaches are few if any at all. Both echo a cognitive situation of rejecting and repressing, attempting to ignore reality instead of trying to change it.

The common thread between managing and shrinking the conflict is the stated assumption that Israel should continue to control the Palestinians. That is, in fact, the real problem with both approaches. Even if there are serious reasons for these approaches, both completely ignore the consequences of this reality and its fragility. Both exist in an almost mystical cognitive space, which allows them to assume that time can relieve tensions, eliminate problems, and normalize real difficulties (even though it hasn’t done so until now). They are looking for an easy and effective course of action where uncomfortable decisions are required.

It is worth mentioning the basic convention upon which any perception of the conflict should be built: The occupation of another people is not sustainable in the long term. It is needless to mention (or isn’t it?) the moral aspect of the subject. It is the daily reality of living under military rule in which political sovereignty is invested in a General, with all that entails, and the implications of an occupation on the structure and character of Israeli society.

Yet morality is a negligible component of policy in the view of the conflict managers and Shrinkers, not because it is inherently unimportant but rather because it hovers above in utopian worlds, disconnected from the violence and roughness of this country. However, even with the other components, occupation is not a good option. Most senior security officials past and present, have argued over the years that the pseudo-calmness will inevitably end in a flare-up. The next violent confrontation will erupt—it’s just a matter of time. In fact, even in quiet times of —according to IDF and GSS data — hundreds of attempted terrorist attacks are thwarted every year. Palestinians are growing increasingly despaired with the status quo: more and more young people, in particular, are abandoning the idea of two states and expressing an interest in the idea of one state. Yet naturally, they do not see themselves as disenfranchised in such a country, but as having equal rights to the Jews there. Simply put, the change in Palestinian public opinion is related to political scenarios and does not reflect any softening in relation to the occupation itself.

It’s important to remember another point. There is a degree of smugness in the assumption that Israel controls the situation and can contain any development, provided it maintains the intermediate stage — the status quo. This relies on history, on the two intifadas and the occasional military operations. But history does not repeat itself. How can we know that the next violent outbreak, which will eventually happen according to almost every professional assessment, will not completely change today’s existing balances? Who guarantees that an ongoing violent confrontation will not take a toll on Israel which it is not willing to pay, and will create a situation much worse than the current one? Israel’s political imagination is directed toward conflicts of old. And so, Israelis find it difficult to envision a better reality, and more importantly, it ignores the likelihood of a worse one.

If the status quo is much less stable than we would like to hope, then managing or shrinking the conflict are dangerous approaches because they keep us from preventing a violent outbreak in the future. Occupation is not now and cannot in the future serve as a work plan. Conflict is not meant to be constantly managed or “Shrined”. Conflict is meant to be resolved. Even if not immediately, the overall vector of progression therein must be motion toward ending rather than sustaining it

What Goodman offers can be likened to a piece of advice to a married couple on the verge of a breakup, that they should behave better and act kindly toward each other in order to make the process of breaking up pleasant and to avoid dangerous fights that could leave them feeling bad and scarred. This can indeed make the separation process pleasant, but it can not prevent the separation itself nor can it solve any of the fundamental problems that brought about the parties’ decision to part in the first place. If we accept Goodman’s claim that demographic considerations on the one hand, and security considerations on the other, prevent any significant break from the status quo, we must conclude that we are stuck with the current situation. Therefore, the policy is driven solely by the dangers of the present, devoid of any consideration of future risks and opportunities. In other words, it is completely lacking in vision.

Shrinking conflict is not much more than a well-branded, aesthetically pleasing filter for conflict management. Yes, the melody is easier on the ears and makes sense to those who have sought justifications and reasoning for the status quo. But it is not offering much beyond that. The Middle East has indeed changed. Israel has changed, and so have the Palestinians. One thing has not changed, however: partition of the land into two sovereign states, however problematic, is superior to all other alternatives in every parameter. The illusion that Israel can, over time, control another people without worsening its situation, is wrong and dangerous. A Palestinian state will not be established tomorrow morning; the conditions are not yet ripe on both sides. But the conflict-Shrinking approach offers no real substitute for the two-state option. Hopefully, it is a harmless step on the path toward the final destination. But the goal is not to continue Israel’s occupation but rather to end it. Those who sell, or are tempted to buy, other dreams are at risk of a particularly rude awakening.

Read the full report here.

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