New negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians may begin next week, with much talk of a "new chapter" in the seemingly intractable conflict. A new chapter, perhaps, but who is writing the book? Any public discussions about the "peace process" is tense, in part because there is no widely shared understanding of the history and politics of, even an appropriate terminology for the conflict. That's as true in the United States as in Palestine and Israel. I never gave much thought to the question until I was30 years old, in the late 1980s. Before that, I had a typical view of the conflict for an apolitical American: It was confusing, and everyone involved seemed a bit crazy. With no understanding of the history of the region and no framework for analyzing US policy in the Middle East, it was all a muddle, and so I ignored it. That's one of the privileges of being in the comfortable classes in the United States, you can remain comfortably ignorant. But as a frustrated journalist with a newfound freedom to examine the politics of new-found freedom to examine the politics of news media in graduate school, I began studying law and human rights, in the domestic and international arenas. I also started digging into the issues I had been avoiding. In the case of Palestine vs Israel, I began reading about the roots of the conflict, how the United States was involved, and how US journalists were presenting the issues. I came to this inquiry with no religious commitments, I felt no cultural or spiritual connection to either national group. I don't speak Hebrew or Arabic, and I had never traveled to the Middle East. I had no personal relationships that predisposed me to favor one group over the other. Like any human, I was not free of bias, of course. As a relatively unreflective white man rooted in a predominantly Christian culture, I was raised with some level of anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism, for example, and no doubt that affected my perceptions. But based solely on my personal profile, I didn't have a dog in that fight, or so I thought. After a couple of years of studying the issues, I realized that the categories of "pro-Israeli" and "pro-Palestinian" didn't fit me. When people asked me where I stood on the issue, I would say that I supported international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a US citizen, I asserted that my primarily obligation was to evaluate
the legality and morality of my own country's involvement in the conflict and the region. The more I learned, the more I realized I lived in the imperial power of the day, and it became clear to me that imperial policies are designed to enrich the few while ignoring the needs of the many, at home and abroad. I became a critic of US policy based on careful study that included, but was not limited to, mainstream sources. I could no longer accept the conventional story and the policies that flowed from that story. Today, the situation in Palestine and Israel is as grim as ever. Decades of Israeli expansion and the Palestinian leadership's failure to build a vibrant movement to challenge that expansion or, perhaps, to let such a movement emerge on its own have narrowed the prospects for a just peace.