In general, today being pro-Israeli is considered a right-wing position, while being pro-Palestinian is considered left-wing. In fact both are ultimately left-wing, though they clearly represent different kinds of left-wing politics. The characteristic pathologies of each side are either common to radicals of both leftist and rightist flavors or unique to the left.
First, the pro-Israeli position is not traditionally right-wing. The traditional right in every country with a visible Jewish minority is anti-Semitic: Pat Buchanan, Jean Marie Le Pen, Jörg Haider, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The early Zionists and their allies were liberals and socialists concerned with the rights of Jews, just like the American civil rights movement was with the rights of blacks.
In fact, it’s largely an accident that the most rabid pro-Israelis in the US and Europe are right-wing, owing to several triggers, including the particular form of Evangelism that came to dominate American fundamentalism, the rise of American neo-conservatism, and the shift in the mainstream European right from hating Jews to hating Arabs.
But the pro-Israeli position is ultimately derived from an equal rights movement, and still talks like one. Telling a supporter of Israel that Israel discriminates against Arabs elicits the same reaction as telling an American civil rightist that blacks discriminate against non-blacks. Suggesting pragmatism in Israeli foreign policy elicits the same reaction as touting realism to a Western leftist.
Meanwhile, pro-Palestinians have just as much claim to leftism. Their position derives primarily from anti-imperialism. Israel in their view a colonial state dominated by white people (who, incidentally, have no compunctions about discriminating against Mizrahi Jews) that occupies a third world state and kills its civilians based on flimsy pretexts.
While part of this concern is humanitarian, the anti-imperialism left has always cared about whites killing non-whites than about non-whites killing non-whites. Israeli atrocities are relatively well-known because they happen close to the first world, like the Serbian genocide and unlike Burmese atrocities, or for that matter American atrocities in Latin America. However, this obvious bias can only account for part of the focus on Israel, since Chomsky and Said seemed to be silent on Serbia.
Some of the two sides’ pathologies are more or less universal among political movements. Allegations of media bias are a good example: the best way to know someone’s politics is to ask him what he thinks CNN’s bias is. Finding excuses for the movement’s own side’s atrocities is another.
But most pathologies are uniquely left-wing, or at least were before the right appropriated them. The civil rightist nature of Zionism leads its supporters to view any opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic, including opposition on pragmatic grounds. Martin Luther King said that pragmatism in the case of one particular march was misguided; hence pragmatism is misguided everywhere.
At the same time, the anti-Imperialist nature of pro-Palestinianism ensures that pro-Palestinians view every Israeli act as oppressive. Killing civilians is one thing; assassinating terrorists at zero civilian casualties is another. In their quest to portray Israel as a dirty aggressor, they often end up justifying Hamas as a liberation movement, or extrapolating from Israel’s collaboration with Ahmad Yassin in the 1970s that Israel engineered everything up to and including Hamas’s rise to power.
On all traditionally conservative issues – immigration, police power, gender, the military – the standard line is to appear realistic and, as a result, tough. It’s only on Israel that right-wingers start talking about root causes and eschew any form of realism. Even the justifications for violence are indistinguishable from Trotskyist apologetics.
At the same time, the pro-Palestinian left uses general anti-imperialism to inspire it to hold entirely nutty positions about Israel. Some go as far as saying that it’s an illegitimate state; many others just talk about the heroism of suicide bombing. And to date I haven’t seen any pro-Palestinian commentator attribute Israel’s problems to its incompetence rather than concoct grand conspiracy theories.
Look, Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization. You don’t negotiate with it because you want to, but because you have to since that’s who the Palestinians elected. Self-serving bullshit about who’s braver, or who gets the shorter end of the media stick, or who started the conflict, produces among the stupidest debates I’ve ever seen.
And ranting about general goals makes just as much sense as proposing as a matter of policy that the US colonize Alpha Centauri by 2020. Think of not killing civilians as a parameter you have to work anti-terrorism policy within. But talking about the details of how to get two parties that hate each other to stop murdering each other’s civilian populations is crucial.