The conflict with the Palestinians has again reached a violent stage, and again - as it does every time the pendulum swings from calm to the drunkenness of murder - each side blames the other for the renewed conflict.
Because both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, are exposed to the media and the rhetoric of their leaders, everyone is ensnared in the trap of denial and self-deception that prevents us from freeing ourselves from the devastating bear hug of the blood ritual.
The Palestinians have wrapped themselves in the language of occupation. This prevents them from viewing the conflict in any other way and from adopting a perspective that could help them understand Israeli sensitivities. Israelis, for their part, have gathered together under the umbrella of "security" and "fighting terror" and comfortably dug themselves into the imagery of "the few against the many," and of people searching for peace but continually coming up empty-handed.
This mutual failure to communicate cannot be conducted by cross-cultural media, and no side can understand or investigate the touchy dynamics of the other. Leaders on each side fail to understand the intricacies and are not experts in peace or conflict resolution. They are best qualified and most able to glorify violence and the rhetoric of anger. Each time they speak, the power bases of the other side begin to shake. As a result, they begin to build reality and rationalize in order to justify militant action and basing the legitimacy of their rule on it. And the public experiences the fruit of this process and simply nods its collective head.
But here the collective Israeli-Palestinian vision ends, and the real obstacle to solving the conflict is opened wide. Here begins the difference between the two sides. The difference is extended on three points of understanding: the nature of the conflict, the meaning of justice and the understanding of peace. Israeli consciousness has failed completely on all three points.
First, the nature of the conflict: This is not a symmetrical conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israel's continual demand for reciprocity and bilateralism is a fantasy. For 40 years, the conflict has been between an occupied people and its occupier, and lately there have been far less broad compromises or patience for that reality. Even the bloodiest terror attack cannot be compared to the ongoing torment of occupation.
Second is the feeling of injustice: The acute feelings fuel support for those pushing to continue the conflict. As long as we fail to address the motif of justice, no process will bring us to an end of the conflict. Most efforts to resolve, administrate or change the path of the conflict concentrate on restoring peace and quiet. But restoring normative life is not possible without dealing with the failures that originally caused normative life to dissipate in the first place. Treating the symptoms of conflict is always easier than treating the root causes, but it has short-term effects - and occasionally even makes things worse.
Third, next to justice, the drive for peace, noble and honorable as it may be, was always vaguely worded in Israeli discussion. For it to be true and serious, it must be detailed, and Israelis must understand exactly what long-lasting peace entails, what the repercussions of peace are, and what feelings and what self-image it could shatter. The popular Israeli claim: "Who doesn't want peace around here?" could turn out to be a lie, if and when the fog clears and people understand what the real cost involved is.
None of these claims are pleasant to the Israeli ear. The demand for reciprocity, the desire to bring the conflict to an end, and the drive for peace were always, and will always be ways of purification and easing of the conscience for many of our best and brightest. It's very easy to fall apart over these claims and to place the collar of failure on the other guy. But in order to stop the slaughter and to free both peoples from the burden of violence, we require a drastic change in approach.
This can only be accomplished by a deep and fundamental internalization of these three points, and it is simply unavoidable for Israelis to march further along the way, to extricate all of us from the trap from which there is no exit, and from the illusion of blaming the other.
This will be a bitter pill to swallow, and it will not be simple. Israelis, with the ongoing and active support of governments and leaders, myths and justifications, self-mercy and sacrifice psychology have built around themselves a thick labyrinth that protects them from this sobering up. Ten years ago, Yitzhak Rabin started to cut away this thicket, but in doing so he aroused all the snakes against him.
Muli Peleg is an expert on conflict resolution and political violence at the Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya College. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.