The Israeli frustration
The recent outcome of the Israeli election following the Gaza war reflects an Israeli population increasingly frustrated with the inability of its leaders to make Israel into a "normal" state on the terms that Israelis felt were "promised" to them---in a metaphysical sort of way---by their early leaders. I recently read this op-ed piece in Ha'aretz which really puts the frustration into stark terms:
Until recently, armies fought deep into enemy territory, conquering or retreating from lands, taking control or loosening their grip. Ultimately, both sides would come to the negotiating table to resolve the problem until the next conflict, either through peace agreements or an armistice, border arrangements and regions of influence, POW exchanges, granting rights and exacting obligations. Yet, ever since the Muslim world launched its global terror war, there have been no more accepted rules.
It is unclear who is fighting, or why. Small non-state groups engage in hostile acts against individuals, organizations and other states, kidnap hostages and make demands for their release. There is no way to bring the conflict to an end other than by playing by their rules, and since they are ensconced within - and protected by - civilian populations, there is no means to defend oneself without touching off the world's fury.
The author plainly notices the obvious and points out the Reality which Israeli leaders often find it difficult to utter, because the theories under which they are used to operating are completely crushed by this realization: that the Enemy of Israel is not the Arab and Muslim regimes, primarily, but the popular will in the countries that surround it, and insofar as that will is not expressed by the regimes nor its consequences considered by the Israeli leadership, Israel will be forced, whether it likes to do so or not, to face groups that do express that will. And presently, these take the form of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
These asymmetrical groups impose their own concepts and terminology, and the world obediently follows. Hamas and Hezbollah speak of a hudna, an Islamic concept rooted in tradition and precedent, and we are dragged behind them, forgetting internationally accepted terminology like cease-fire, armistice and lull, which obligate the entire world with the exception of these groups. Recently, since the hudna - which is also bound by Islamic rules and historical precedents - seems too institutionalized for Hamas, and because it may, God forbid, require it to recognize Israel - albeit indirectly - its operatives have concocted a new gimmick, tahadiyeh, which connotes a temporary lull. And if anyone had any doubts, they refuse to extend it beyond one year, 18 months at the most.
Essentially, the author has come to another correct realization, whether or not he understands its full implications. The truth is that the popular will in the Muslim world has for decades and longer not been given any stake whatsoever in international arrangements, and hence it has no incentive to accept any of the "internationally accepted terminology" the author holds so dear.
And this situation has been created by a persistent policy of Israel and implemented in macrocosm by the West as a whole---that Arabs and Muslims would be persuaded to accept as a fait accompli what has been accomplished to their detriment. Instead, what has happened is merely the alienation of these populations from any incentive to accept the terms that, in particular, Israel depends on for its very existence---seeing as its national founding ideology requires the construction of a particular kind of nation-state.
(I leave aside the Elephant in the Room that Israel has largely not felt very bound by these norms either---but expects the Palestinians to follow them...)
And here's where the Rafael Yisraeli's thought goes off the rails:
It is as clear as day why Hamas and Hezbollah are employing these concepts. It is less clear why we have to accept them without reservation. We can reject them, and abide strictly by accepted international terms, which have significance, are applicable by law and offer an exit ramp. When the world prods us to accept a hudna or a tahadiyeh, we should ask it if it understands what these are, and if it would accept them.
Let us recall that the American-led coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan has refused and is now refusing any cease-fire, and is even ruling out any contact or negotiation with Al-Qaida or the Taliban until they surrender. This is what the Allies did in the Second World War. Conceding the surrender of terrorists, while at the same time accepting their terminologies and conditions, was so extreme as to be inconceivable.
Essentially, the author is advocating the reimposition of the terms and norms he feels should be standard to these conflicts. (It's interesting that he brings up WWII in this---I cannot help but feel that this is because the Israeli desire is to construct a nation-state in the image of a WWII resolution, something else the Muslim world has no stake in.)
In reality, the inability of Israel to accept the dissolution of nation-state concepts that the Muslim world is undergoing will ultimately force Israel to accept that discussions are going to happen under terms alien to them, and therefore ideologically unfavorable. This is largely due to the fact that Israel refused (and still refuses) to abide by them itself, what with its continuing expansion of West Bank settlements. This means that Israel will eventually find itself sitting across the table from people with no good will towards Israeli society, playing a hand that is stronger than any of the present-day Arab regimes.
And, in the larger picture, unless something seriously changes, it means that the heirs of Barack Obama will eventually find themselves seated across the table from the heirs of Osama bin Laden, whether they like it or not. It is merely a question of the extent of the conflagration before this happens, and whether humanity survives it.
So when I say that Israel-Palestine conflict is the central conflict of our time and will surely determine the fate of the world, this is kind of what I mean. Since Israel's wagon is surely hitched to the wagon of the West, what happens on the Israeli front will be reflected in some way in the relations between the Muslim world and the West. And that's a heck of a lot of the world, you know.