Last month, I wrote a piece about discrimination against Israel by the United Nations, specifically, by the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, otherwise known as the Durban Conference.


In that piece, I called on the U.S. government to boycott the Conference planned for 2009 because, in my opinion, it may promote anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.


After that piece was published, one of our readers asked me if it was possible to talk about the crisis in Gaza from the perspective of Palestinians. I initially found this to be a difficult endeavor since I could not imagine  seeing the issue from anything but an Israeli perspective-in which essentially all the countries around it are committed to its destruction.


My impression has always been of Israel trying to make concessions and at the end of the day the Palestinians rejecting any solution that required them to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist.  It would seem crazy for Israel or any other nation to seriously negotiate under such circumstances.


Also, it is my impression that while it may be necessary for some in the U.S. to look at the conflict from a Palestinian perspective, the rest of the world – including organizations like the UN and most of Europe – see it only from a Palestinian perspective.


But I am a lawyer and was taught to look at any issue from both sides.  This essay is an attempt to do just that.  Many view any discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the viewpoint of Palestinians as an act of betrayal against our Israeli brothers and sisters.  It is not.   Maybe by looking at both sides of the war, the global community can help usher in a new era of peace in this troubled region


War is always a horrid affair.  Sometimes it is necessary, but even then, it is a tragedy, as it is in the Gaza Strip.


The problem with assessing the Gaza war is where to start.  With the latest Hamas rocket attack?  The Israeli blockade?  Or the 1967 war and Israel’s seizure of Gaza from Egypt?


The people of Israel deserve to be secure, free from threats of military invasion and terrorist attack. But a conflict which stretches back decades-with historical antecedents going back thousands of years-is not as black and white as we might like.


There is much to admire in Israel:  The creation of a new nation state out of the ashes of the Holocaust, development of a liberal society in the midst of brutal autocracy, and a consistent friend to the United States and fellow democracies throughout the decades. Yet Israel’s founding in 1948 did displace hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom ended up in Gaza.


The 1967 Six-Day War was a great victory for Israel, but created a far larger Palestinian problem.  Israel seized both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands which today contain nearly four million people who do not want to live in the Jewish state. Nor does Israel want to make them citizens.  Today, Palestinians therefore exist in a netherworld without real economic and political rights.


Moreover, Israel’s settlement policy looks to the average Palestinian like an attempt at colonization.  In 2005, Israel removed 8,000 settlers, backed by military outposts for their protection, from the midst of nearly 1.5 million hostile Palestinians in Gaza. But settlements continue to expand in the West Bank.


Israel’s problem, recognized by many Israelis, is that it cannot simultaneously be both democratic and Jewish if it rules the occupied territories.  Since the Palestinians have a higher birthrate than Israelis, there eventually will be more Palestinians-including 1.4 million Israeli Arabs-than Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River.  Some form of Palestinian statehood appears to be the only solution.


Yet today radicalism is deeply entrenched among the Palestinians.  The result is terrorism and a Palestinian leadership that routinely disappoints.


The collapse of the middle can be seen in Gaza.  When the incompetent and corrupt Fatah organization faltered after Arafat’s death, Hamas won the 2006 election, which was foolishly demanded by the United States.


A veritable civil war ensued, with Hamas winning in Gaza.  The West sought to isolate Hamas, which refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, but the policy backfired.  Hamas burnished its nationalist credentials at Fatah’s expense.


Hamas forces and other militants attacked southern Israeli towns with mortars and rockets; Israel retaliated militarily and established a withering blockade of Gaza-an act of war under traditional international law.


The two sides reached a ceasefire last June, but it formally ended on December 19 with both sides blaming each other.  On December 27, Israel initiated air attacks followed by a ground invasion.


Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and another 5,500 wounded.  Countless numbers had been left hungry, homeless, and without electricity.  Roughly one-third of the dead are children.


Such a hideous toll was inevitable from fighting in such a densely populated area, whether or not Hamas consciously used civilians as human shields. While Israel has a right to defend its own citizens, many Palestinians would argue that its reaction seems disproportionate, a form of collective punishment.


The only long-term answer is a negotiated settlement ending attacks on Israel and leaving the Palestinians with their own independent, self-governing lands.  But the Gaza war appears to have enhanced Hamas’ stature.


Which suggests that peace is as far away as ever.


Israel has an essential role to play in bringing peace to the region, but the biggest problem is a Palestinian leadership which has consistently ill-served the Palestinian people.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that after decades of war and occupation most Palestinians lack any positive vision of the future.


Michelle D. Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst. and the president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice.