Week In News: Gaza And Israel Conflict Intensifies

The problems of finding a lasting peace in the Middle East almost make solutions to America's problems seem easily attainable. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the difference between America's momentary problems and Israel's existential contradictions.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Let's bring in our analyst James Fallows, who's with us most Saturdays. Jim is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. Good to have you, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: As we just heard from Anthony, a sense that this crisis really could get worse.

FALLOWS: I think so. And what I think about as I reflect on this news and some other international developments is there are different kinds of public problems the world deals with and our country deals with. The routine news is dominated by things like budget fights and the so-called fiscal cliff and all the rest of that. And you know down deep that although these will be fought over bitterly and they'll be solved in better or worse ways, depending on your taste, one way or another, these things can be resolved.

On the other hand, there were some just large contradictions in the world where it's very, very hard to see what the answer is going to be. And I think in the case of Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East, for the years since 1967 war, there has been this contradiction in tension. On the one hand, most people inside Israel and around it know that sooner or later, the Palestinian issue has to be resolved and addressed.

But day by day, week by week, year by year, the steps that Israel feels necessary to take for its own security make that all the more difficult. And really, the only breakthroughs come with some acts of extraordinary statesmanship. I happened to be there for one of them, which was the Camp David agreements with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter, but those moments are rare and you can't really rely on them.

RAZ: And when you mentioned contradictions, I mean, things like building settlements, but at the same time, understanding, you know, many would argue that eventually they're going to have to withdraw from some of those places - most of those places, not all of them.

FALLOWS: Yes. People often discuss the other contradiction that Israel faces, of whether, in the long term, it can be a democratic state, including all the people, including non-Jews living in its territory or the kind of Jewish state that it was originally founded to be. These tensions would be a challenging in any circumstances. And I think in the domestic politics right now of Israel and the surrounding changes of the Arab Spring and Egypt and other places, they become all the more intense.

RAZ: I want to stick with this theme of contradictions, Jim, and move to another part of the world, to China. This week - and you've written about this - the Chinese government unveiled the seven members of the new standing committee of the Politburo, which is the official - and these are essentially the most important leaders in China with a whole set of their own challenges.

FALLOWS: It's true. And there were many aspects of this transition that were strange. For example, until the very moment when people walked on the stage, nobody was really sure whether there were going to be seven of them or nine of them or in what order exactly they'd be introduced. So there was lots of the non-transparency of Chinese politics. There was a deeper issue, which was related to the kind of challenge and contradiction I was mentioning in the Middle East, which is that people who have looked at China recently know that on the one hand, it really has to reform its governing system.

Everything else about the country is more mature, if you will, than its system of government. Its people are more ambitious, better educated, broader minded. Its economy, of course, is trying to develop. And so the kind of authoritarian system that it has really can't go on for another generation or two and match this population. On the other hand, just as it has to reform, it's very difficult to see how it is going to reform. And so it must do something, but it's very difficult to see how it can do, and that's the version of the tension that applies in China.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thank you.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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