The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Erasing the Mistake of Gaza

As the current Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip continues, with any hopes for a cease-fire now dashed, bewailing over the breakdown of the six-month Egyptian-brokered truce was universal. Finger pointing quickly followed by both camps involved, each placing the brunt of the blame on the other.

Israel and its supporters condemn the long-standing practice by Hamas of launching rocket attacks against civilian targets and argue their neutralization is paramount for Israel’s safety. The Arab world and others counter the Israeli response to defend itself is disproportional to the threat Hamas represents.

The accusations and justifications of both sides crumble under scrutiny. More to the point, this entire episode is no breakdown or retreat but merely more of the same, sad stalemate that is the Middle East peace process. The only difference is that political concerns regarding their respective constituencies have caused leaders on both sides to redirect their focus inwards. Both have found war a more expedient solution for their present situations.

The massive Israeli air strikes over the past four days certainly do dwarf the two or three hundred rockets launched by Hamas during the same period. Israeli forces have killed over three hundred and fifty Palestinians and wounded nearly fifteen hundred more, many of them civilians, as opposed to only four Israeli casualties, three of which were civilians.

Yet this snapshot comparison fails to consider the protracted period of months and years over which Hamas rockets fired from Gaza have been harassing southern Israel. As many as 700,000 civilians are in rocket range. Seventeen Israelis died this year from attacks originating out of Gaza.

True, the accuracy and effectiveness of the rockets is questionable but the very randomness of their trajectories suggests that Hamas would be quite pleased if every one fired killed civilians. Intent and not results are the litmus for judging them on this matter. They have directed over ten thousand such missiles against Israel since 2001. The relatively passive responses used by Israel prior to this point, such as blockades, were having no effect.

At the same time, Israeli sentiments that the army “should keep pounding [Hamas] until they beg for mercy . . . all of Gaza can be erased” are equally misplaced.

It would be difficult for Israel to mobilize the forces necessary for a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza and even if they could, the success of such an assault is doubtful. Indeed, some theorize Hamas would like nothing better than an invasion of Gaza. Hamas has smuggled weapons in through tunnels from the Sinai for the past eighteen months and this would provide an opportunity to use them against Israeli soldiers.

Even if Israel could “erase” Hamas from Gaza, it still would be a long way from being safe, as Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, pointed out Monday in the New York Times.

In Lebanon, analysts believe Hezbollah now has thirty to forty thousand Russian-made rockets – twice the number it possessed for its 2006 war with Israel – and could re-commence doing to northern Israeli towns and cities what Hamas has been doing in the south.

However, most intimidating to Israeli Jews, is the fact that ethnic Arabs will likely make up the majority of Israel’s citizens by no later than 2050. Combined Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian territories could outnumber Israeli Jews in as little as five years.

Conversely, a victory by Hamas is far from a guarantee of its continued hegemony in the region. Egyptian President Mubarak looks askance at the prospect of a neighboring Islamic State in Gaza. He has blockaded the territory from its southern end, even as other Arab nations have pressured him to open borders.

That war is politically advantageous at present for Israel’s leaders is obvious. The country holds elections in February and polls indicated a likely victory for the hard-line Likud Party. Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the Labor Party and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the Kamid Party are both vying to be the next Prime Minister and war helps move their image right of center. Polls taken since the Gaza offensive began show them closing the gap with Likud.

However, war may well also be politically advantageous for Hamas, as Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and a former Princeton professor, pointed out yesterday in the Washington Post. Hamas “has been losing support internally and externally” among Palestinians for the past two years, according to him.

By their acceptance of a truce, Hamas acted counter to their credo and tradition of armed resistance. It caused them to become less distinguishable from the rival Fatah Party, particularly since the truce yielded no specific benefits, such as freed prisoners or an end to blockades. While war may not cause everyday Palestinians to view them as heroic freedom fighters, Hamas might well have been doomed to political mediocrity without it.

The current Israeli offensive against Gaza means no real reversal in the Middle East peace process, just as its end, however that may come about, will signify no real progress either.

For any real change to happen, the first step is for Hamas to dismantle its rocket launchers and desist in any further attacks against Israel. The pilots in the military jets currently raining death and destruction on Gaza may be Israeli but Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was on the mark when he said, “Hamas is abusing the people of Gaza by using their homes as a base for terror operations.”

For real long-term change, the international community largely accepts the idea that a “two-state solution is the right way forward,” as expressed by White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe. “Two states” implies that Israel must recognize the right of Palestinians to a homeland and self-government. However, it also implies the long-overdue recognition of Israel’s right to exist by the vast majority of the Arab world.

Neither fighting nor ending this war will constitute real change in the Middle East but it does represent real death and suffering by innocents on both sides. Erasing Gaza is not going to happen; nor is erasing Israel. Israel and Hamas both need to get busy erasing mistakes drawn by political expediency instead.


Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

Anonymous said...

Please, give me link to download XRumer 7.0!!!

Always yours,
miss MW