Israel, Gaza and the Fatal Spirit of Versailles

By Juan Cole

The Egyptians appear to have floated their cease-fire agreement Tuesday morning in the press, and Hamas insisted any such proposal had to be communicated directly with them. As a result, an Israeli spokesman alleged, Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, with an Israeli man being killed by one (the only Israeli killed in the current conflict). Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs since the current round of hostilities began a week ago.

The fact is that the Palestinians were not very enthusiastic about a mere cease-fire, and most had reason to distrust the current Egyptian government. The Egyptian proposal did little to address Palestinian grievances and only offered a temporary relief from Israeli bombing. The Palestinians of Gaza want the kind of settlement that will end the indignities and hardships imposed on them by Israel.

Ironically, it is a more thoroughgoing peace agreement that would most benefit Israel, as well.

After WW I, the victors treated Germany as a criminal at the Versailles Peace Conference. Harsh retribution was imposed on Germany and the country was humiliated and economically disadvantaged.

As a result, Germany re-armed in the 1930s and launched another world war.

After World War II finally ended, the US and its close allies treated Germany very differently. It was allowed to emerge in the West as a prosperous democracy. Former Nazis with no blood on their hands were rehabilitated for government service.

The vindictive and unfair treatment of Germany after WW I sowed the seeds of another war only two decades later. The magnanimous treatment of Germany after WW II led to 7 decades of peace in Europe.

Recent supporting examples include the wretched way the victorious US and its Shiite allies treated Sunni Arab Iraqis. This caused another war, the great ‘Islamic State’ War of 2014.

The Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people in 1948-49, 1967, and ever after is has been Versailles on steroids– punitive, vindictive and inhumane. Nor did the Palestinians even bear the kind of guilt for the outbreak of hostilities that Imperial Germany did in 1914 or the National Socialists did in 1939. The point of the analogy is not the guilt or innocence of parties to conflict but how to win the after-war.

The Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is wretched, and of course it causes further wars.

If anyone wanted the wars to stop, they’d adopt the policies of the FDRs and Eisenhowers toward the defeated enemy.

Palestinians in Gaza should be paid billions in reparation for the land and homes they lost in southern Israel in 1947-48.

The ban on Palestinian exports must be lifted.

The ban on importation of building materials must be lifted.

Gaza’s water crisis must be resolved.

Gaza’s electricity generation should be shifted to solar energy with international aid.

Could taking these steps start the process of getting a humane government for Gaza and of reaching genuine peace terms with Israel? Historical experience shows that magnanimity toward defeated populations has some chance of leading to peace, whereas vengeful and invidious policies toward the vanquished generally lead to further wars and conflict.


Related video:

TheRealNews: “Report From Gaza – Why Hamas Rejected Ceasefire”

19 Responses

  1. This appears to be an acceptance of the Israeli idea of separating the West Bank Palestinians from the Gaza Palestinians. Do you really think that the Palestinian problem should be looked at and “solved” piecemeal like that? Maybe it should, but I have always thought of it as a single issue. Israel clearly has a very significant interest in separating and demonizing Gaza while trying to tame the West Bank and get them to accept permanent apartheid.

  2. Except, of course, Israel isn’t finished with the Palestinians yet, and won’t be until it can “convince” them all to leave.

    Magnanimity isn’t on the agenda, because that’s what you do when you want a durable “peace”.

    But that’s not Israel’s goal – at least, not yet. It hasn’t finished claiming all the territory between the River and the Sea.

    Once it has done that – and that really does require the mass exodus of all the Arabs – then Israel’s mind will turn to “peace”.

    But until then Israel is merely faking it, and that’s why there will be no magnanimity.

    • “Once it has done that . . . then Israel’s mind will turn to “peace”.”

      No, there remains southern Lebanon and the Litani water.

  3. Of course you’re right. But it’s the mindset of Israel that needs to be gotten past. It’s illustrated by the manner in which one of your own quite sincere commenters a few months ago (to paraphrase it) put the onus on the Palestinians: “the situation will resolve when the Palestinians finally come to understand we’re here to stay here and aren’t going away.” Were that was all there was to it….

    Start out with that attitude, but couple it with a victim’s insecurities and the pathological need to get EVERYTHING they want or imagine they might want. Add-in an opportunistic short-sightedness and the uncritical empowerment of a powerful third party. Then, consider a leadership with an abject disregard for the other side, who sees them not even as animals, but a lawn that needs mowing, who carry with them a purely zero-sum view toward negotiations.

    The situation is only going to change when the underlying FORCE imbalance shifts, which at this point is overwhelmingly asymmetric. As another commenter notes, such states of affairs simply do not last. Forever is too long a time for Israel to wait. Being tough and strong is good, but the smart money builds up the imbalance, then works for a genuinely gracious, considerate and lasting peace. The analogies to be drawn with Germany are appropriate, and Israel needs to think about them from ALL sides. (Here I’m think of your thought experiment with Bibi in the dock.)

    • Let us not forget the Giant Mammal in the Center of the Room, so artfully described by several less-than-jingoistic writers in the Israeli press, the “Thou shalt not be a freier” (loosely, sucker) 11th Commandment, with its corollary, “Thou shat make a freier out of everyone else.” link to

      Kind of hard to negotiate in any kind of good faith, with the fundamental need for trust or at least enforceability that hawhaw “peace processes” sort of require, where one side raises duplicity and advantage-seeking to the height of a religious and cultural ultimate duty…

      And of course we US taxpayers are referred to by a lot of our “Israeli allies” as “Uncle Freier,” and occasionally you see articles like this, link to

      Comparisons with things Teutonic are deemed politically incorrect in this context, but whereas the Wehrmacht polished and practiced plain old Blitzkrieg, “lightning war,” it looks to me like the Dons of the Israeli syndicate-enterprise are mixing “Exschluss” (loosely “expansion-absorption-dispossession-takeover-oppression”) with “Melassekrieg,” (loosely “Molasses War…”) Even the more reactionary newspaper of record in Israel sees an existential threat from within the Ruling Ranks: “Will corruption undo Israel? ” link to

      And we “freiers” keep on letting these dudes “give us the business.” Well, for their own selfish reasons, our Rulers do…

      • The “reasons” of our “rulers” are truly hard to fathom. For the longest time, I’ve assumed that Israel was our base (‘al-qaeda’ in Arabic, oddly enough) in the Middle East, providing the West with access to oil fields. That would explain the cynicism that many Israelis express about us. Is there some other not so easily grasped reason why American politicians suddenly turn zombie-like when the topic of Israel comes up?

        • The key to unassailable power in America is to have a powerful base in both parties at the same time. Every institution that is too big to fail in America has that. The rich in all their manifestation have the GOP by ideology, the entire belief system that the rich must be better to justify inequality. Then they just buy Democrats as needed on an issue-to-issue basis. The Israelis started with a key faction in the Democratic Party, then cynically worked with the neocons and Christians in the GOP to become unassailable there. This leaves room for none of the safe partisan maneuvering that normally allows debate in this country.

  4. As far as the purported cease-fire goes, one has to wonder how genuine it was. A “cease-fire” the Palestinians could hardly respond to at any level appeared more like a ploy to give Israel the thin diplomatic cover to do what they intended to do all along.

  5. What is necessary is a sensible proposal and time-scale for Israel to get out of the occupied areas. That would be something to ‘negotiate’ about. Talk of ‘peace’ is diversionary. Yes, there is an humanitarian crisis is Gaza but it is not war, it is the illegal armed oppression of indigenous people and their comparatively puny but courageous response. The recent campaign has nothing to do with rockets or the deaths of those young Israelis, it is a familiar periodic Israeli undertaking and one might just as well talk of peace between foxes and huntsmen. Inhuman behaviour provoked the response that set a pendulum swinging. If Israel wants to avoid its Versailles then it needs to come up with a coherent proposal for evacuating the occupied territories in good order. Else the conflict will not end, the Palestinians will be supported by ever increasing numbers of vocal allies, and Israel’s future will be more like the Etruscan disappearance from Northern Italy than the rise of the Third Reich.

  6. Agreed that harsh retribution, particularly the impossible reparations (primarily demanded by France) contributed to the rise of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, the primary reasons for Nazi Germany’s rise after World War I, and Germany’s post World War II development as a contributing member of the international system are that, except for a small area of East Prussia (and for only a couple of months) Germany did not experience allied troops fighting within its borders. This led to the “stab in the back” theory that German politicians were responsible for Germany’s defeat.

    World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of Germany and the thorough and complete occupation of the country. The contrast and results of the post-war development of Germany after World Wars I and II could not be more striking. Although the World War I allies of Britain, France, and (to a degree) the U.S. were too exhausted to fight further, after Germany agreed to the Armistice, history suggests that it might have been better had the allies invaded Germany and demanded unconditional surrender, as they did in World War II. The Germans then would have actually experienced defeat and occupation, which might have led to a different trajectory for Germany in the 1930s.

    • Maybe, but I think the allies had to learn why they did things the wrong way after 1918 in order to have any chance to do things right after 1945. It wasn’t just the nature of the surrender. The 1918 German elites surrendered partly due to fear of Communist rebellion within their own soldiery – but the Allies lacked the expected empathy. In ’45 the Western allies, conversely, faced Communism in the form of their own fellow co-occupier, which kept millions of troops mobilized. So the West had to quickly get Germany on its feet again and not engage in the many punitive acts that sabotaged the Weimar Republic’s economy. The much larger role of the US the second time around also meant a greater emphasis on, well, nation-building (a dirty word today). The 1945 Allies were more socialistic and more willing to engage in social engineering to excise the pathologies of German society.

  7. “Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, with an Israeli man being killed by one (the only Israeli killed in the current conflict). Over 200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs since the current round of hostilities began a week ago.”

    I think the MSM was coming breathlessly close to invalidation of the Gaza-Israel symmetry notion. Evidence of asymmetry was showing its ugly head. Now, with the death of an Israeli, the notion is safe, e.g. hypothetical headline: “Death on Both Sides”

  8. While I do not have any problem with the main point of the article I have a problem with some of the supporting points.
    Spreading these mistakes can only have bad consequences.
    The first bad idea is that it was the harsh treatment of Germany
    after the 1st WW that contributed to the rise of the Nazis. I do not need to say much about that because it was covered by other commentators above. what has not been mentioned in this regard is the imperialistic mindset that permeated the minds of leading Europeans in the 20th century.
    The second thing that seems fishy is that there were Nazis without blood on their hands after the Second World War.
    I find that a highly objectionable point of view. After the second Second World War there were no innocent Nazis there were only Nazis who were useful or no longer useful in the conflict that was about to develop between other two somewhat less nasty alternatives to the Nazis.
    Compared with the carnage of World War Two Europe has been relatively peaceful for 70 years. Is WW2 a good standard by which peace should be measured?

    • After the second Second World War there were no innocent Nazis there were only Nazis who were useful or no longer useful in the conflict that was about to develop between other two somewhat less nasty alternatives to the Nazis.

      There is room for debate on this point. There were Germans who were offended by the Nazi party but joined it to survive. Probably, many of them avoided practices they found offensive if they could. Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party. No doubt Schindler and others in the party who avoided practicing immoral acts were in a small minority.

  9. That is a good point Bill. I had forgotten about Oskar Schindler when I made that statement. I retract my previous statement.
    I think it was influenced by viewing to many prison programs recently and being reminded about the Aryan Nation and KKK.

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