(Tom Toles)

It is long past time when a productive conversation about blame-apportionment in the Middle East is possible.

Even on the particular question of the recent killing of 60-some Palestinian protesters and the wounding of a couple thousand more, there is heated argument about blame. The Israelis’ position, and apparently the American one too, is that Israel acted with admirable restraint. They ask: What are you supposed to do when people become so desperate about their circumstances that they will walk through tear gas armed with wire-cutters toward armed soldiers, other than shoot them? The very question reveals what is wrong with the answer.

Whether the Palestinian crowd was really civilians, or paid recruits or agitators or whatever, when a large group of people feel they have no better option than to walk through tear gas into live ammunition, this tells you there is a grievance that needs to be addressed.

And blame aside, there is one grievance there is no excuse for perpetuating. Palestinians, after 70 years, need to be part of some state — either their own, or Israel. Permanent statelessness is not defensible, and 70 years with no prospect in sight is permanent. And even if you assign all blame and all fault to the Palestinian side, they have been beaten, and beaten badly. When a people lose a war, they do not lose their right to be part of a state.

What about the Kurds, one might ask. Even though there is no Kurdish state, Kurds are part of some states, and hold citizenship, even if inferior. And after Saddam Hussein started killing Iraqi Kurds, he was charged with killing his own citizens. Whose citizens are the Palestinians?

This stateless circumstance may be defensible for a while. Not permanently. Not anymore.

The argument about the Palestinian position in peace talks is meaningless, as there are no peace talks. Israel won the war. Israel is under no particular obligation to negotiate peace terms. Backed by its superpower ally, the United States, it can dictate them. But permanent statelessness is not one of the options. Can we at least agree on this?