Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

Although James W. Nickel (the author of “What’s Wrong with Ethnic Cleansing?”) believes that it is entirely possible to provide plausible explanations of why ethnic “cleansing” is generally detestable, he also believes that there are certain sorts of ethnic cleansing that are conceivably justifiable (476). Nickel explains that ethnic cleansing may be tolerable when five criteria are met: “partition and ethnic cleansing are indispensible means to making possible a stable peace between antagonistic ethnic groups, the ethnic cleansing is both non-genocidal and largely non-violent even though force may be used to induce people to more, fair replacements or compensation are provided for lost territory, membership, and property, the mode of transportation is sufficiently safe that there are not large numbers of injuries and death as people are moved, and those relocated have places to go and adequate assistance is provided for resettlement” (474). Nickel believes that these specific conditions could have helped resolve the conflict in Bosnia in 1994. Because of the continued violence within the region, Nickel explains that “mild” means of forcing people to move would have been acceptable. Stopping the war and achieving a stable peace could not have occurred through any other means. Furthermore, the adequate replacement of lost territory, property, and membership would have been satisfied under these conditions; each group would have received their own territory. The last two conditions, however, could only have been satisfied with the help of external bodies (the United Nations, charitable organizations, and other countries who were both willing and able). Nickel believes that these bodies would have been able to provide safe means of transfer and assistance with resettlement (476).
The ongoing violence resulting from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict (largely concerning security and human rights) has encouraged a significant amount of international action. The conflict has been marked by a number of key issues: mutual recognition, borders, security, water rights, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement, and legalities concerning refugees. The most recent negotiations (between President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) started in September of 2010. Although these negotiations seemed promising at first, they ended in February of 2011 when Netanyahu refused to extend a building freeze for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Would the conditions of the “tolerable” form of ethnic cleansing that Nickel presents in his article stimulate any type of peace settlement in Israel (if agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinian National Authority)? The chances of satisfying these conditions would be difficult, but it seems as though President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would have much to gain if they rationally considered these conditions during their peace negotiations.


  1. As I was saying in class last Tuesday, I would argue that a resettlement of the Jewish people in the West Bank or the Gaza strip to other parts of Israel is not ethnic cleansing. Nickel says that ethnic cleansing involves the removal of people because of their ethnicity and so that the land vacated has a greater homogeneity. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, while a movement of Jewish settlers would both remove people of an ethnicity and create greater homogeneity; I do not think that this is the purpose of the movement. The Jews would not be leaving qua Jews, they would be leaving qua invaders. Perhaps this is the difference between looking at this situation from a deontological perspective and from a utilitarian perspective.

  2. Nickel is wrong. Ethnic cleansing is never the answer. It may delay the issue at heart, but it is not an answer, ever, to a problem. Hatred builds when tolerance is not demanded. Tolerance is required when one is "forced" to live and coexist with others who share dissimilar views. I could be in favor of "religious" cleansing if that meant getting rid of the hatred that seems to breed when religions (not to be confused with people of religion) claim to have God on their side. Then, we might not need to worry about ethnic cleansing. The Israeli-Palenstine problem would seem to support this notion.


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