In the midst of the unprecedented conflict between
Utterly at odds
As a new generation of leaders takes charge, the pragmatic lessons of the past are being lost, replaced by visions of a dogmatic future
By David Kaiser,
From 1820 to 1860, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and other children of the early
At 140 years' distance, neither the Southern states' determination to secede in 1860-61 nor the Northerners' decision to bring them forcibly back into the
In the same way, outsiders today assume that both Israelis and Palestinians have nothing to gain and much to lose from prolonging and deepening their armed conflict. This supposedly logical view, however, misses the point. Like the Civil War in 1861, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle does not relate to the present. IT, too, is about two parties' utterly irreconcilable ideas of the future and reflects the rise of new generations of leaders who have no commitment to or faith in the arrangements under which they have grown up. They are willing to risk their future and their children's lives to try to turn their ideas into reality.
By 1860, the white Southern leadership - composed exclusively of men far too young to have any memories of the American Revolution or the adoption of the Constitution - believed in slavery as a positive good, one that needed not only to be maintained, but extended - first into the Southwest, and later into Mexico and around the Caribbean (where it had already been abolished). (The postwar myth that states' rights, rather than slavery, caused the war grew naturally from the bad conscience of a defeated elite, but the secessionists themselves made it very clear at the same time that they fought the war for the sake of slavery.) Lincoln and the Republicans, meanwhile, argued that slavery would die out if it could be kept roughly within its original limits, as some of the Founding Fathers had hoped, but they also decided that slavery threatened the expansion and survival of free labor and free institutions.
When the South seceded,
The goals of the Israelis and Palestinians are equally irreconcilable. In 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians now living in the
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is old enough to remember the initial Palestinian expulsion from what is now Israel and who has spent his whole adult life dealing with its consequences, might have wanted to accept some such deal, but the increasingly influential generation of middle-aged Palestinians who have spent their whole lives under foreign rule and their adulthood under Israeli occupation will not. Whatever their ultimate goal - and for many it remains the destruction of Israel itself - they now insist upon a complete and irrevocable withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements from the territory occupied in 1967, and the right completely to control their own state. This includes the right to readmit millions of refugees, to build their own military power, and eventually perhaps to engage
Three generations of Palestinians have now been born in occupation or exile, and the third generation displays nearly every day its willingness to die for its parents' ideals. The Palestinian leadership will not stop terror until it is promised a full and irrevocable Israeli withdrawal from the territories. There is not the slightest indication that any successor to Arafat would be more moderate than he.
Israelis of all political persuasions now understand these goals and are revising their own views accordingly. This is why
Recently the Israeli historian Benny Morris - author of ''Righteous Victims,'' an extraordinarily evenhanded treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 20th century and previously a critic of the occupation of the
Some historians are beginning to focus upon 80-year cycles in American and world history, and to understand how the outcome of one cycle - the crisis that creates a new political order - ultimately creates the basis for new conflicts that come to a head when a postwar generation has grown up. In the
On another front, for the last 20 years a new generation of Republicans and corporations has been waging an increasingly strident and effective campaign against most of the achievements of
In the last 10 years, we witnessed the disintegration of
The prestige the
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not, alas, the last one of the post-1945 era to be resolved. Instead, it is the first great conflict of a new era that will discard many of the beliefs of the second half of the 20th century and leave behind the stable, comfortable, and equitable world that our grandparents and parents created in which middle-aged Americans have spent their entire lives.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on
I did not realize when I wrote this piece how much the Bush Administration's would do to accelerate this process. Its emphasis on regime change and elections has accelerated the disintegration of the old order. In Lebanon and Palestine, the Administration counted on elections to bring moderates to power, but they have done the opposite, giving Hezbollah cabinet seats in Lebanon--where a Syrian presence kept some check on Hezbollah until Washington unceremoniously ushered it out--and giving Hamas its extraordinary victory in Palestine. The latter victory led immediately to an escalation of the conflict against
On the Arab side the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist actions certainly do show increased radicalism, encouraged by
The metaphor of a human life upon which the model of an 80-year cycle is based suggests that we should not be too quick to blame the Bush Administration for the collapse of the old order. An infection or a tobacco habit may accelerate the demise of an elderly person, but that demise is eventually inevitable in any case. Authoritarian regimes based on older colonial Administrations, like those in