If peace is dying, maybe it needs palliative care?

In a recent profile by Brian Bethune, “rockstar doctor” David Agus argued that the medical world has been fighting cancer the wrong way. Rather than looking for the “cure” for cancer, he believes that the best outcome for patients would be to concentrate on “managing” cancer – prolonging life and reducing the effects of its symptoms.

The end of illness? – Health – Macleans.ca.

We need to admit our mistakes and radically reorient ourselves, Agus says. In chorus with a growing number of chronic disease specialists, Agus thinks it’s time to forget the lessons erroneously drawn from the victorious war against infectious diseases, time to realize chronic illness is different. It is not discrete parts that can be targeted with drugs or surgery like a colony of alien bacteria, but the whole system. Cancer is a verb, he repeatedly and strikingly stresses: the body of a leukemia patient is “cancering.”

And with most types of cancer, we are scarcely likely to win a war, not if victory is defined as a complete cure. But if we look at the body as a system, with a few simple lifestyle changes, plus new technologies already in the pipeline, three inexpensive medicines, and a change in the way we store and share medical information, we can achieve a different sort of victory: prevention, delay, control. The end of cancer, the end of all illness, Agus says, is in sight.

(Note: my doctor friend tells me that Agus’ opinion is not quite as controversial or groundbreaking as Bethune made it out to be.)

On a tangentially related note (bear with me for a second), Ari Shavit wrote an op-ed in Haaretz last week, making a compelling case for the fact that we will not see an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal for at least a decade.

A new peace is needed – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Now the old peace is dead. Really dead. The Islamic revolution in Egypt has removed the southern anchor of that promised peace. The murderous oppression in Syria has neutralized its northern guarantor, and the gradually warming relationship between Fatah and Hamas eliminates its central axis.

Anyone who observes the reality that has emerged around us now understands what was not fully understood a year ago: That the Arab awakening has killed the diplomatic process. In the coming years, no moderate Arab leader will have enough legitimacy or power to sign a peace agreement with Israel. What we’ve yearned for since 1967 and what we believed in since 1993 simply isn’t going to happen. Not now, and not in this decade.

Even aside from the many points Shavit raised, a peace deal is not going to happen any time soon. The Palestinian leadership seems irreparably divided and even Hamas seems to be fracturing. A divided people, some of whom are still committed to violence, cannot make peace or even have a state. Political science 101: a state requires monopoly on use of force. The Palestinians do not have that.

Shavit’s solution is what he calls a “new peace”:

… a peace that won’t be imminent, but gradual. A peace that won’t be final, but partial. A peace that will not necessarily be based on signed agreements. A peace that will learn lessons from the death the old peace and will adapt itself to a new, stormy, historic reality.

This new peace won’t be the peace of our dreams. It won’t be the peace that puts an end to the conflict. It will not even be a peace that ends the occupation.

But perhaps this new, modest peace will enable us to forge a path through the storm, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somewhat abate it.

Walter Russel Mead expands on this idea:

Pulling the Plug on the Peace Process? | Via Meadia.

The US and other outside powers have almost always been more enthusiastic about the peace process than either the Israelis or the Palestinians.  Israelis aren’t sure they can trust the Palestinians to keep the peace once they have returned all the land and recognized a new state; the Palestinians don’t want to make the concessions (like giving up the ‘right of return’) that peace requires. We end up bribing and cajoling both sides to take part in a process that in many ways serves our interests more than it does theirs.

… To argue against sinking more and more political capital into this increasingly quixotic quest was to be “against peace.” But in fact, it is those who push deeply unrealistic solutions to real problems who raise expectations, fail fantastically, stoke discontent and cynicism, and prevent progress on the ground. Shavit’s prescription for a more modest and realistic approach is part of the answer.

But we need to do more. Newt Gingrich and others to the contrary, the Palestinians are a real people. Palestinian nationalism may not be hundreds of years old; indeed it was formed in part by the experiences of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict — including the cynical use and abandonment of the Palestinians by other Arabs. The Palestinians are a fact and their feelings matter.

The time may not be ripe for a peace agreement, and conditions may be too adverse for a meaningful peace process to survive. But there is much to be done to reduce the suffering on both sides that the unresolved conflict entails. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians remains an important American interest; preparing the foundations for a peace that offers both peoples a road to a more secure, prosperous and dignified future comports with our values as well as our interests.

Keeping the old peace process on life support looks less and less like the best way to promote that enduring interest. It’s time to rethink our approach from the ground up.

As usual, Mead hit the nail on the head. Did you see the link to the Agus part at the beginning?

The idea behind the “peace process” has always been to “cure” the conflict. Whatever plan was invented – the Oslo Accords, the Roadmap etc – was always premised on bringing the two sides together, negotiating and voilà! Peace. Hoever, despite 20 years of intermittent “peace talks”, The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has not gone anywhere.

Maybe it shouldn’t be treated as an infection, but a cancer. This is, to a large extent, what has been happening already in the West Bank. Security cooperation keeps the violence down and builds the Palestinians’ ability to self-govern, water cooperation improves the water shortage issue, Fayyad fights corruption and builds infrastructure and peace becomes a tiny bit closer.

If both sides were forced to stop challenging each other to make “bold concessions” and became obliged to make smaller gestures, a lot would have to change. Israel would no longer worry about ripping up settlements and displacing hundreds of thousands, but the Israelis would need to disincentivise living in settlements and start relocating citizens elsewhere. The Palestinian Authority would have to stop blaming Israel for everything, start cleaning up its ranks, allow free debate and public scrutiny of its institutions and, most importantly, end the incitement to violence of its population.

Well, maybe that’s too much to hope for, but it shouldn’t have to be (that’s what really needs to happen). Either way, in the long run all of these initiatives to magically create a resolution overnight seem to do more harm than good. Maybe its time to stop talking about peace tomorrow and start talking about improving the situation for everyone.

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