In the modern world, conflict is not an equilibrium state. A country or people in constant military or violent political conflict soon find itself exhausted. That’s because conflict demands self-sacrifice and self-defeat, it shifts the manpower and intellectual capacity of a state or a group from internal development to external destruction. Conflict is a state of unproductivity. Every soldier killed in a war is a loss to a local economy. Every machine gun bought was purchased at the expense of feeding the poor or technological investment.
This is why conflict usually provides the ingredients to its own dissipation. At the end of the day most people want to live a peaceful and productive life and have only so much tolerance and energy to sustain distraction from this essential purpose. Death and destruction, not quickly followed with victory, will almost always seem pointless after enough time has passed.
So, given the above, why do military conflicts fester and go on for years and years? Why do we still live with the Syrian Civil War, the Yemenite Civil War, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine? The answer lies in a surprising place.
What all of these conflicts have in common are sponsors- the bloodshed and destruction serves a political end to entities that aren’t participating closely in the conflict itself. The Yemen conflict hasn’t ended not because Yemenites continue to want to spill each other’s blood, but because Iran and Saudi Arabia seek to spill the blood of Yemeni’s on their behalf. Same story for Syria and Ukraine.
If war and conflict are a naturally exhausting state then the only way to sustain it is to have interested parties, who have limited exposure to the destruction inherent in this conflict, reinvigorating and prodding each side of the conflict.
This could provide an interesting thought to those whose morality prioritizes solving the destructive and long-lasting conflicts around the world. Stop trying to change the perspectives or incentives of those participating closely within the conflict. Instead, attempt to influence the countries and groups sponsoring the conflict from afar.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another long-lasting conflict, but, I’d argue that its sponsors are of a different ilk than those who sponsor Yemenite Civil War and the conflict in Ukraine. Instead of state actors seeking to play out larger conflicts through a proxy war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ideological sponsors. These ideological sponsors want the Israelis or Palestinians to “win” or gain greater strength because such winning or strengthening will push forward the larger political and social objectives of these groups.
On the Israeli side there are several ideological sponsors. There are Evangelical Christians, who hold that the Jews having a homeland in the ancient land of Israel is a biblical prophecy. To them, the existence and prosperity of the State of Israel is a justification of their worldview and thus a Jewish State ruling over lands of biblical significance must be defended at all costs. Additionally, nationalist and right wing forces, both in the United States and in other parts of the globe, view Israel as a front line soldier in a great civilizational struggle. Those believing that Islamic terrorism is the most critical threat to the safety of Western Nations desperately want Israel to act as a guard on a border wall- a nation of Jews with Western cultural preferences stopping an onslaught of Muslim barbarians.
One prominent sponsor of the Palestinian nationalist cause is the political hard left. They see U.S. hegemony and past imperial colonialism as the ultimate threat to the security and prosperity of peaceful indigenous peoples the world over. To see yet another indigenous people, the Palestinians, overcoming a colonialist and Western power would signal a defeat of this threat.
Additionally, Iran, and other more recalcitrant Sunni Islamic authorities and nations, view the Jewish State as a violent and disgraceful upstart. In various ways they see the Islamic Umma being violated by the presence of a non-Muslim state in what used to be Palestine and they wish it to be reduced in stature or wiped away completely. They abhor the humiliation and pain that Israel visits on the Muslims in the conflict and bond with their plight to help them achieve a victory to make up for their previous pain.
These ideological sponsors of conflict, on both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, do the yeoman’s work of extending the length of this conflict. Islamic charities funnel money to Hamas and sustain an Islamic resistance that, otherwise, would quickly run out of funds. Evangelical groups in the United States pressure the American government to provide ever more military technology to Israel, so that the costs of the occupation of the Palestinians will never result in the monetary exhaustion of the Israeli State. Leftist groups continue to attend rallies and promote points of view describing Israel as a colonialist state that should be boycotted, which provides hope to nationalistic Palestinians who think that if they hold on and fight a little longer the tables will soon turn. The anti-Islamic right provides political cover for Israel so that Israel will never feel under harsh international pressure to give true concessions or make Israel feel that an alliance with its neighbors is a necessity for its survival.
There are many who seek an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not in order to vindicate their political positions or ideological preferences, but because they see this conflict as waste, a great mess of human carnage and suffering. And yet, the attention of these people who seek to end this state of conflict is invariably focused on its local participants – the people on the ground who fight on despite the fact that it is in their best interests to seek some sort of compromise. Instead of analyzing and re-analyzing why these people seek to keep a cycle of violence and oppression alive, maybe those who seek peace in this conflict should turn their attention elsewhere- to those who see a real benefit in having this conflict continue. Changing the minds and plans of these ideological sponsors of conflict will do more good than any peace summit, protest or distribution of economic development funds
Remember, that conflict is not an equilibrium state. To cause its end, all it takes is to let the conflict to run its course to a certain extent, for its participants to realize that they have more to gain through peace and compromise then warfare without reward. And this point of futility can’t be reached if conflict participants are supported, aided and abetted by outsiders who never feel the tangible pain of the conflict. It’s counterintuitive, but if you want to find an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel and the Palestinian territories is probably the last place you should look.