Tuesday :: Dec 30, 2008

The Israel-Palestine Problem: The Quest for a Political Solution - 2

by eriposte

I've been reading reactions and commentary on the topic and I'd like to include some quotes today (emphasis mine, throughout this post).

GWU Political Science Professor Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) has an excellent post on "Israel, Gaza, and Arab regional divisions" worth reading in full. An excerpt:

...Almost every Arab media outlet, even those bitterly hostile to Hamas, is running bloody images from Gaza.  But as with the 2006 Hezbollah war, Arab responses are enmeshed within deeply entrenched inter-Arab conflicts, dividing sharply between pro-U.S. regimes and the vast majority of expressed public opinion [...]  In general, the responses have mirrored the faultlines which have dominated Arab politics for the least few years -- seen most vividly in the sharp Arab media divide during the early days of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. [...] One significant difference in the regional camps surrounding Hezbollah 2006 and Hamas 2008 is Jordan, which was firmly in the Saudi-Egyptian camp against Hezbollah in 2006 but is walking a more careful line today because of the unique issues posed by the Hamas-Jordan relationship. [...] Meanwhile, most popular movements are lambasting the Israelis, Arab leaders, and the U.S., and -- even more than in the Lebanon war -- public opinion seems to be firmly on the side of Gaza rather than Riyadh and Cairo.

In a separate post "Speaking of Gaza", he points out:

Two points of note.  First, the Arab media seems to be dividing along now-familiar lines, with al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya exemplifying two very different approaches.  If the bombing campaign is the preface to a wider Israeli offensive in Gaza, it will interesting to track whether a divide in the Arab media emerges similar to the one during the first ten days or so of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. In that conflict, al-Arabiya and much of the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian semi-official media downplayed coverage of the war and largely blamed Hezbollah, while al-Jazeera went into full regional crisis mode.  Today, I've been seeing blanket coverage of Gaza on al-Jazeera while on al-Arabiya's website this morning not one of the top five news stories dealt with Gaza.  That's only an early indicator, but given the current political lines of conflict in the region, and Israeli diplomatic preparations for the offensive with Arab leaders, this may well happen again. 

Second, keep an eye on Cairo.  Egypt has been at the heart of the Arab anger over the evolving crisis.  It's been the one enforcing the blockade, ignoring a rising chorus of public criticism at home and in the wider Arab world. Egyptian and Arab media and political forces have been lacerating the Mubarak regime for months over its enforcement of the blockade of Gaza. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood  upped the ante by calling for a highly unusual public protest today to be led by Supreme Guide Mohammed Mehdi Akef -- announced in a blaring red banner atop its official website.   Most likely, this will just be another symbolic protest, but it contributes to a crisis atmosphere and there's no telling how the various forces will react. 

Gershon Safir at the blog Informed Comment: Global Affairs has a longish post "War Without End?". He cautions Israel's leadership against prolonging their assault through an analysis of various factors and says:

...The suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza is becoming ever more appalling and unbearable. [A long history of errors and miscalculations by all sides has led up to this situation, but that is not my immediate concern here. This is a moment for sober thinking by Israel's leaders.]  The narrower goals of the Israeli operation--with the telling name "Cast Lead"--are the humiliation of Hamas, the degrading of its military capacity, the restoration of the cease-fire in Gaza, and the rehabilitation of Israeli deterrence that was left in tatters after the summer 2006 Lebanon War. But broader goals have also been mentioned, though in vaguer terms. Among them is the hope of producing a long-term change in Hamas’ behavior or even of eliminating it. To attain such goals, Israeli leaders repeatedly assert, this operation will last a long time. That would be a grave mistake for the following three reasons. [...]

Hamas is not about to change, but Israel now has the opportunity to act in a way that is realistic and might limit the suffering inflicted on the civilian Palestinian population. Olmert and Livni have both stated that they are fighting Hamas, not the Palestinians of Gaza. To show this, rather than just state it, Israel should now stop its military operation for a stated period while indicating that they are doing so to give Hamas a chance to return to a de facto cease-fire. At the very least, that would demonstrate the alleged good will of an Israel seeking to defend its citizens, rather than harm the citizens of Gaza. If Hamas ignores or rejects that opening, the gap between Hamas and the real interests of the Palestinian civilian population would become even more visible. [...]

The strongest argument in favor of such an approach is that all the available alternatives--including the currently stated Israeli policy of seeking ‘to educate’ or eliminate Hamas--lead nowhere and can only yield disastrous and counterproductive results, along with unnecessary human suffering. Israel has made its point. Now it should know when to stop.

Daniel Levy at Prospects for Peace writes compellingly on "What next on Gaza/Israel and Why Americans Should Care ". He discusses in brief the various events that preceded and led to the current mess and points out:

...Here’s the bad news folks – America is involved, up to its eyeballs actually. Today, after Israeli air-strikes that killed over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, the Middle East is again seething with rage. Recruiters to the most radical of causes are again cashing in. If Osama Bin Laden is indeed a cave-dweller these days then U.S. intel should be listening out for a booming echo of laughter. Demonstrations across the Arab world and contributors to the ever-proliferating Arabic language news media and blogosphere hold the U.S., and not just Israel, responsible for what happened today (and that is a position taken, for good reasons, by sensible folk, not hard-liners). America’s allies in the region are again running for cover. America’s standing, its interests and security are all deeply affected. The U.S.-Israel relationship per se is not to blame (that is something I support), the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is – and thankfully we can do something about that.


In the summer of 2006 an escalation between Israel and Hezbollah led to a Lebanon war whose echoes still reverberate around the region. There were well over one thousand civilian casualties (1,035 Lebanese according to AP, 43 Israelis), thousands more injured, and other fatalities including the Israeli government which never recovered its poise, what little American credibility remained in the region (Secretary Rice was literally forced to return to Foggy Bottom as allied Arab capitals were too embarrassed to receive her) and much Lebanese infrastructure. That time it took 33 days for diplomacy to move and for a U.N. Security Council Resolution (1701) to deliver an end to fighting. The U.S. actively blocked diplomacy, Rice famously called this conflict “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” – it was no such thing, and the Middle East itself did not know whether to laugh or cry (the latter prevailed). 

Just as in 2006, Israel needs the international community to be its exit strategy - and there is no time to waste. Even what appears as a short-term Israeli success is likely to prove self-defeating over a longer time horizon and that effect will intensify as the fighting continues. Over time, immense pressure will also grow on the PA in Ramallah, on Jordan, Egypt and others to act and their governments will be increasingly uneasy. Demonstrations across the West Bank are calling for a halt to all Israeli-Palestinian talks and for Palestinian unity.

If the U.S. is indifferent or still under the neocon ideological spell then Europe, the rest of the Quartet, Arab States and other internationals must act – with a variety of players using leverage with Israel and Hamas to de-escalate. Escalation poses dangers at a humanitarian and regional-political level...

At Haaretz, Israeli writer David Grossman asks "Is Israel too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?"

....The line of self-control and the awareness of the obligation to protect the lives of the innocent in Gaza must be toed even now, precisely because Israel's strength is almost limitless. Israel must constantly check to see when its force has crossed the line of legitimate and effective response, whose goal is deterrence and a restoration of the cease-fire, and from what point it is once again trapped in the usual spiral of violence. 

Israel's leaders know well that given the situation in the Gaza Strip, it will be very hard to reach a total and unequivocal military solution. The lack of a solution might result in an ongoing ambiguous situation where we have already been: Israel will strike Hamas, it will strike and be struck, strike and be struck, and will become unwillingly enmeshed in every trap a situation like this entails, and will not attain its true and essential goals. It might very quickly discover that it is swept up - a strong military power, but helpless to get itself out of the entanglement - into a maelstrom of violence and destruction. 

Therefore, stop. Hold your fire. Try for once to act against the usual response, in contrast to the lethal logic of belligerence. There will always be a chance to start firing again. War, as Barak said about two weeks ago, will not run away. International support for Israel will not be damaged, and will even grow, if we show calculated restraint and invite the international and Arab community to intervene and mediate. 

It is true that Hamas will thus receive a respite with which to reorganize, but it has had long years to do so, and two more days will not really make a difference. And such a calculated lull might change the way Hamas responds to the situation. The response could even give it an honorable way out of the trap it has set for itself. 

And one more, unavoidable thought: Had we adopted this attitude in July 2006, after Hezbollah abducted the soldiers, had we had stopped then, after our first response, and declared we were holding our fire for a day or two to mediate and calm things down, the reality today might be entirely different....

Laura Rozen quotes leading Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea:

...This isn’t a sophisticated, strategic game of chess being played here; it’s more like backgammon: You throw the dice and go wherever they lead you to. If Hamas succeeds in firing between 200 and 300 Kassam rockets every day over the course of weeks, as the most pessimistic scenario predicts, there won’t be any choice but to enter Gaza with massive numbers of ground forces and to evacuate tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes, if not more, and to bring them to central Israel. But there are other scenarios as well.

...In practice, the goal of the operation is to force Hamas into accepting a new temporary cease-fire, whose rules are little more stable and more amenable to Israel. This is the very same mode of cautious thinking that engendered the limited IDF operations in Lebanon up until the fiasco of 2006. Not more than that and not less. Peace isn’t not going to reign now for 40 years. Israel doesn’t have a horoscope the ensures it 40 years of quiet. ...

Barnea has more here.

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz have an analysis piece claiming Hamas is likely seeking an Israeli ground invasion. They add:

Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political bureau, has been calling for a cease-fire for two days now. However, communications with the organization's leadership in Gaza are hampered because all its leaders have gone underground for fear of Israeli assassination attempts, while Israel's air strikes have disrupted the Strip's communications networks. Paradoxically, the same measures that have hampered Hamas' military response are also impeding efforts to end the fighting. 

Israel will insist that any truce include a complete, long-term halt to the rocket fire from Gaza. In exchange, it will apparently agree to reopen the border crossings at some point, though no final decisions have been made. Some ministers want to continue the military operation, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, are more cautious. 

The diplomatic clock is ticking relatively slowly because both Europe and the United States are all but closed for Christmas and New Year's Day. Meshal has been trying to get the Arab League and Senegal, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to push for a cease-fire. So far, international criticism of Israel has been relatively muted despite the many Palestinian casualties. Even in the Arab world, not everyone is crying over Hamas' losses. 

I have to say, if the Israeli leadership's goal is really just a temporary cease-fire with Hamas, the current bombing campaign is over the top. Then again, given the glaring incompetence and poor judgment that characterized the actions of some of these leaders in the "Second Lebanon War", there is no compelling evidence that the people currently at the top are visionaries intent on winning hearts and minds, or more importantly, long-term peace for Israel. Massive bombing of a region with civilians nearby (effectively under the influence of extremists) was inevitably going to result in a loss of the propaganda war - and they seem to not to care about this (perhaps because they are also in the middle of their election campaign). They also seem not to care that their actions unnecessarily risk the stability of the more moderate regimes in the Middle-East, that would have preferred an alternative and more measured military response from Israel (via Laura Rozen, an Arab-American analyst opines on the geopolitical machinations of two different interest groups (one Sunni and the other Shia) in the Middle East possibly trying to use Hamas to topple moderate Arab regimes). These are signs of a leadership that is less concerned about long-term peace in Israel and more concerned about appearing "strong" to Israeli citizens.

eriposte :: 8:26 AM :: Comments (0) :: Digg It!