October 31, 2014

Racism Is At The Heart of The Two Longest Standing Conflicts In The Middle East

There is this idea that Washington can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it only gets serious about diplomacy, withdraws aid, cracks down on Israel's settlement activity, brings a moderate Palestinian coalition to the table, and plays a more neutral role at the United Nations.

But that is a fallacy.

The core of the problem is that the Israeli public, never mind the government, absolutely hates the Palestinians and views them as less than humans. They don't see the other side as a worthy enemy with legitimate grievances to negotiate with and make peace with, but as insects to be stepped on and removed.

The racism in Israeli society has gotten so bad that Israeli settlers are running over Palestinian pedestrians with their cars, and they face no punishment. They even targeted and killed a five year old girl.

Washington is not powerful enough to change the Israeli public's view of Palestinians, and help them evolve. Nobody can do that but the Israelis themselves.

The other long-standing conflict is between Turkey and the Kurds. The racism of Turkish society towards Kurds was so bad at one point in history that they denied their existence and referred to them as "mountain Turks." Those days are over, but there is still a lot of racism in Turkey against the Kurds. A recent Reuters article featured a couple of quotes from shopkeepers in Istanbul, and they were saying that they want ISIL to take over Kobane because they hate the Kurds more.

The racist feelings run deep, so the Erdogan government can get away with a lot. Supporting ISIL in Kobane is a popular position inside Turkey. Of course, there are noble, bright, evolved, and enlightened Turks who have tried to educate their society about the problems and grievances that the Kurds in Southeast Turkey have, but they are up against a well-oiled government propaganda machine that is hard to overcome.

What can Washington do to change public opinion both inside Israel and Turkey? Not much. Racism and nationalist propaganda in Israel and Turkey prevent any peaceful outcome of their current conflicts. The media has drilled hate and lies into the minds of everybody in those societies from a very young age and for so long that it will take transformative leaders to change the situation, and that is not likely to happen.

The leaders of Israel and Turkey are not as forward-thinking and wise as the white leaders of South Africa were in the 1980s. A Palestinian Mandela would be killed. And as long as the Israeli and Turkish societies view Palestinians and Kurds as second-class citizens, believing that it is better to kill them rather than make concessions at the negotiation table, then there is nothing that Washington or the world can do.

America, the most important ally of both Israel and Turkey, has a lot to teach these societies about how to overcome racism and learn to live with the other peacefully, but they're in no mood of listening to sage advice. Washington does not have the ears of their peoples or their leaders.

Netanyahu wants to take all of Jerusalem and establish a Greater Israel, and Erdogan wants ISIL to take Kobane, and massacre the Kurds there. So for the foreseeable future the only rational and logical reaction to this state violence will be armed resistance.