Whenever madness and violence breaks out in the Middle East, I generally look to Gershom Gorenberg, the Prospect‘s correspondent in the area, to make sense of it all. His latest dispatch isn’t terribly encouraging:
In a 2007 article that now reads as if written to explain the 2014 Gaza war, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and fellow psychologist Jonathan Renshon succinctly gave some answers. Human minds, they said, have hard-wired biases that favor hawks. People are too optimistic about their own strengths, including the strength of their armies. They prefer to double down rather than to cut their losses. They’re sure that other people can read their thoughts and understand their good intentions—even while they misread their opponents’ intent.
You can go down this list and find painful proofs in the events of recent weeks: Hamas appeared absurdly overconfident that rocket fire would force Israel to stop air attacks and loosen its siege on Gaza. When that didn’t work, rather than accept a ceasefire, it upped the ante by sending gunmen through tunnels to surface in Israeli territory. Israel thought Hamas would surely fold in the face of air strikes. When that didn’t happen, it quintupled its bet with the ground invasion. The Israeli government thinks the world has to understand that it’s acting in self-defense, even as whole families die in Gaza. This isn’t just a PR ploy. Or rather, the PR is sincere, which doesn’t make it more convincing outside Israel.
Attributing the disaster to human nature may be accurate, but it doesn’t provide much hope. Gorenberg suggests the two parties may have to start over:
If all-too-human blindness to alternatives has led us into this tragedy, the proper response isn’t despair. It’s to look for better options, for diplomatic opportunities, that are being ignored right now.
There’s a Hebrew saying: A clever man climbs out of a hole that a wise man wouldn’t fall in. We’ve missed the chance to be wise. It’s not too late to be clever.
Let’s hope not.
UPDATE: The New York Times has this report on the apportionment of responsibility:
The United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said Wednesday that there was a “strong possibility” that Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes with indiscriminate attacks on civilians during more than two weeks of fighting with militants in Gaza.
Opening a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Pillay called for an investigation and accountability to end the cycle of violence.
Ms. Pillay cited Israeli airstrikes on civilian homes in Gaza and the shelling of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital two days ago, which killed four people, as examples of actions that suggest “a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She also condemned Hamas and other militant groups for attacks on Israeli civilians. And she said it was unacceptable to place military assets in densely populated areas or to launch attacks from then. “The principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed by such indiscriminate attacks on civilians by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.
“The actions of one party do not absolve the other party of the need to respect its obligations under international law,” said Ms. Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.