04/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Mideast Conflict in 27 Words or Less

Originally appeared on

It may be nothing more than a measure of the momentum of Holy Land diplomacy these days, but lately I've taken to wondering which will be found first: a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or a cure for cancer.

The association, I now realize, is not entirely incidental. There is, in fact, some resemblance between the art of Middle East peacemaking and the science of treating malignancy. It is guaranteed to hurt. It is not guaranteed to work. Even if it does work, the sufferer will never again be the same. The ongoing treatment is guaranteed to leave the sufferer with lingering scars.

There will always be those who say that the treatment is both dangerous and dead wrong. The process, you can be certain, will be one of doubt, profound loneliness, an enveloping lack of understanding, of unmet and perhaps unmeetable needs. And there is also this: You can only know the right answer in retrospect. The wrong answer, meanwhile, can kill.

Of late, and thanks in large part to Facebook, I am suddenly back in touch with friends who were once as close to me as blood, but from whom I've been separated by geography and chronology for far, far too long.

This has gotten me to thinking about how to explain what it's like here, this Holy Land that in many ways resembles the world but manages always to retain its identity as a parallel universe. Beyond that, there is the matter of trying to make comprehensible why it is that the people of this sacred place are so bad at making peace, and so consistently and so creatively horrible to one another.

This week I came across something that finally helped. It was written by Rob Eshman, the editor of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. He happened to be considering the Oliphant cartoon of the goose-stepping, hideous and headless Jewish state, but his essay includes an observation that bears a great deal of repeating: The essence of the Mideast conflict in a total of 27 words:

"There are two sides in the Middle East conflict: Jews and Arabs who want compromise, and Jews and Arabs who want to demonize and eradicate their neighbors."