MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
The tragedy unfolding in Gaza is a miniature of the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As usual, because of internal political reasons, extremism and activism have been allowed to rule the agenda and "national unity" has drowned out voices of moderation and considerations of long-term policy.
The murder of two Israeli infants in the Israeli town of Sderot, inside the Green Line by a Qassam rocket attack was the trigger for a vast Israeli military operation that has cost scores of lives and resulted in widespread injuries and damage to property. The operation, dubbed "Days of Repentance" is not over by any means, and aims to capture a large "security zone" in the Gaza strip. Palestinian sources list all of the casualties without exception as "civilians," but Arab sources such as Al Jazeera document numerous instances of attacks on armed Palestinians fighting the Israelis, Hamas and other terrorist leaders, or Palestinians who were engaged in launching Qassams, even while echoing unsubstantiated Palestinian claims that most of the dead were civilians.
The Israeli right wants us to believe that the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot are a result of Sharon's disengagement plan, while the Hamas pretends that they are a reaction to this or that Israeli action. In fact, the Hamas had been preparing Qassam rockets in Gaza for some time, unhindered by the PNA and virtually unremarked by the international community. The Qassam attacks and the Israeli reaction are an inevitable result of a perpetual internal political competition to determine who can be the most extremist and the most inhumane to "the enemy" and to gain leadership in the struggle against "the enemy."
Though the plans of the Hamas to disrupt any possibility of a peaceful settlement have been public knowledge for a long time, nobody took any steps to rein them in, even though steps against terror groups are a key condition of the Roadmap. The PNA was not interested in doing so, because confrontation with "heros of the resistance" would make the PNA/PLO lose its status as the "legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people." This dillemma leads to Kamikaze-style politics in which the Palestinian leaders and people find themselves backing "resistance" that they did not originate and probably do not really approve, even though they know it is harmful to their cause. The protests of minor leaders that these attacks are harmful to Palestinian interests are virtually unheard. Samir Rantissi, an adviser to the Palestine Authority admitted:
Everyone seems to have understood this a long time ago (except Yasser Arafat, who insisted that the rockets just made noise) but nobody in the Palestinian Authority, including reform advocates like Mohamed Dahlan, was willing to do very much about the Qassam rockets or the suicide bombings.
The Israeli government is not really interested in forcing the Palestinian Authority to take steps against the Hamas and other extremists, because if there were a truly moderate Palestinian leadership and a cessation of terror, the Israeli government would have to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. The EU is not interested in suppressing the extremists, because because if there were a truly moderate Palestinian leadership and a cessation of terror, there would be a chance that the US - led peace process would be crowned with success. There is no percentage in that for the Europeans, who have been largely shut out of the peace process. The US would get all the credit. The US did not seriously pressure the Palestinians to act against the extremists and fulfill the provision of the roadmap, either out of deference to the wishes of Ariel Sharon, or because as is highly likely, US officials are too incompetent to understand what is in their own interests. Consequently, US pressure is limited to sending Colin Powell or the State Department Press Secretary to wave their finger at the Palestinian Authority and wring their hands about needless loss of human lives, a dog and pony show that should not fool anyone.
Every attack bolsters the prestige of the Hamas and gives them a better chance to get a share in the government of Gaza after the Israelis leave, or a better chance of leading Palestinian society after the demise of Yasser Arafat. In the long run, the terror must wreck the Palestinian National Authority, because the PNA is a creation of the peace process, and becomes increasingly irrelevant as it becomes increasingly obvious that there is no longer any hope for the peace process. The attacks in Israel are also consonant with the Hamas ideology, which insists that there is really no difference between "green line Israel" on the one hand, and Gaza and the West Bank on the other. They are all "Occupied Palestine," though the Hamas promises a temporary tactical truce ('hudna') if Israel withdraws from Gaza and the West Bank completely.
Like the Qassam rockets themselves, the Israeli reaction was devoid of any military or other strategic value, as pointed out in Ha'aretz. After Israel withdraws from Gaza, as it almost certainly will, the Hamas will be free to return and launch Qassams or anything else at will, if there is no political solution. In any case, they can eventually get Katyusha rockets with a longer range, or develop their own longer-range Qassams, which they are already doing. Not only does it do no good - the Israeli operation also does harm. Having first gained prestige from the attacks, the Hamas then gained from radicalization of Palestinian society that is caused by the Israeli response. Right-wing pundits can pontificate that Israel is not responsible for the casualties:
Nonetheless, each Palestinian child and each Palestinian civilian killed or maimed by the IDF is a victory for the Palestinians. In this war, he who kills the least people will probably win. As policy or military strategy, the IDF operation in Gaza is probably an unmitigated disaster.
The attacks make it increasingly difficult for Sharon to implement the disengagement plan. Evacuation from Gaza under current conditions would look like capitulation to the diktat of the Hamas. No wonder that Sharon and others in the Israeli government were furious. Sharon reportedly proposed an artillery bombardment, and had to be restrained from this plan by cooler heads.
Before the Israeli attack, the hawkish Debkafiles "analysis" Web site insisted that the IDF had no solution for the Qassams. Debkafiles proclaimed :
Debkafiles was talking about the same IDF and security apparatus that rescued the hostages in Entebbe, and that can pick off terrorist leaders in Syria or shoot the head off Ahmed Yassin with a missile. Astute analysts like the Debkafiles should have known better than to be so pessimistic about the capabilities of the Israeli security organization. Or perhaps they were purposely issuing a challenge?
The operation with the large forces, the harsh response, the use of drones, and the creation of the buffer zone, all the things that Debkafiles wanted, and insisted wouldn't happen, all came to pass exactly as prophesied. Everyone got it right except the "experts" at Debkafiles. It was no spin at all. Debkafiles gets a big fat 0 in the self-appointed prophecy 101 course. It is hard to believe that Debkafiles' crystal ball was so badly shattered that they couldn't see it coming. That is what happens when "analysis" is based on political bias rather than fact.
The name of the Israeli operation is "Days of Repentance" in English, but in Hebrew it is called "Yemei Teshuva." Teshuva can mean repentance, but is can also mean an answer, retalitiation or a military solution. The right had charged, and the Hamas wanted to demonstrate as well, that the IDF had no military "answer" or solution for the Qassam rockets. Sharon could not leave the challenge unanswered. His reply was "Yemei Teshuva," days (or perhaps months) of "answer."
Politically, the affair of the Qassams is a great success for everyone who matters. Sharon has confounded his critics on the political right and can appear as a super-hawk who is restrained by the IDF. The Palestinians are rallying behind their own extremists. The Hamas has lots of new Shahids, who are presumably busy being entertained in paradise. The IDF can chalk up successes against "terrorrists." The Palestinians can complain about Israelis killing civilians. Reformists have taken the pressure for reform off Arafat in a show of national unity. The EU got a chance to criticize Israel, very important for improving its standing relative to the US in the Arab world. Everyone has benefitted except the dead kids, and, to paraphrase James Baker III,The kids they didn't vote for us anyway.
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Replies: 10 comments
At the end of the day, nobody is going to benefit from the violence that is now occurring in both camps. The Qassam launchers under the auspices of Hamas wish to provoke Israel in retaliation and in this they are succeeding.
They know that if Israel kills Palestinians it would create support in the world for their cause. They just go to the UN with a hue and cry and at once Israel is condemned by a large majority in the world body. This, of course, adds legitimacy to their continued violence against Israel which is their purpose in their self-defeating stand of trying to demoralize Israel in the UN.
The US seems to be treading a very thin line in their attitude towards Israel's fight against Hamas terror. They ask Israel to use restraint. Where is US restraint against suicide attackers in Iraq? A threat to US existence is not even in doubt.
Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 10/05/2004 06:01 PM CST
Well I think that you completly miss out the point here, It is not Hamas that is deploying hundreds of tanks in Israel or using apachis and F16's lets be logical a little , we all know how terrorist is the Israeli governement except that no one describes it as that, there were more than 65 palestinians killed in these operations in three days, the only responsible is the Israeli governement and the people who has elected it if Israel realy wants to end violence it should stop the causes that make people rally behind extremists.....be just in your judgements
Posted by this world is injust @ 10/05/2004 07:44 PM CST
It occurs to me that a more important issue is being missed in this debate which focusses on the current casualty rate. If Hamas is able to survive the withdrawl from Gaza and hopefully subsequent withdrawl from the West Bank, it is likely to be the primary source of instability in the region. With the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel will have a reasonable expectation that Palestine is responsible for acts of violence launched from within its own territory. However if Hamas remains intact, and by appearing to have drive Israel out of Gaza etc heightens its standing, it will seek to prosecute its war aims of eliminating the state of Israel all together. Were this too occur and Hamas laucnhes attacks into Israel from Gaza or elsewhere, then Israel could assume this to be a defacto declaration of war. In many respects this would be a much simpler scenario for israel to handle and one where the IDF could legitimately deploy all its military resources to bring hostilities rapidly to an end. Given the chaotioc state of the PNA it is hardly likely to be able to match Isreal's military capabilities within the next few decades, and thus could not mount any meaningful defence. Were this scenario to unfold the level of casualties amongst the Palestinians would be extremely high indeed given the density of developments in Gaza. Further if war did erupt then Israel would not be obliged to factor in "civilian" casualties much into their planning.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/05/2004 09:48 PM CST
I'm sorry to say this, but it does not take any outside effort to have Israel appear demoralized. For a nation which claims to seek liberation for its people, hypocrisy, sadly, is running rampant. How could the oppression, murder and massacre of Palestinians be considered "defense" and "retaliation" while desperate responses by a few palestinians are considered "terrorism" ....in my opinion, state-sponsored terrorism, that which Israel is guilty of, is much worse than terrorism committed by a few. Simply looking at the facts, nearly 4x the number of palestinians have died since 2000, than israelis. This does not make any of it right, and i wish there existed a simple and fair solution, however, no matter how the media tries to distort this fact, this conflict is the furthest from balanced and Israel cannot be looked at as "the victim" - that is simply absurd! - o and as for the actions of the US gov't ...i agree, they're not exactly showing much restraint, but at the same time, they are not expecting that from Israel anyway...best friends (who happen to have the same ends in mind) let each other do whatever they want...no matter how immoral, inhumane or unjust.
Posted by sawsan @ 10/06/2004 06:34 AM CST
I have been reading DEBKAfile's article this afternoon and it is pathetic that something like that can be considered intelligence. It is just a rudimentary attempt of spin aimed to justify brutal action against civil population. I've never seen an inteligence report talking from the standpoint of a relative of victims still unearthed. They acuse the IDF of what they do, spin as an american spin doctor. If they want to provide intelligence they should say that no army in the world is able of stopping Qassams from Jabaliya without killing a percent of innocent population, suffering in the process casualties and dishonour for him and for his country. It is evident that an accepted authority is the only one who can do. But it is difficult for them to find strategies of security once they rule out peace as a posibiliy. Then only bloodbath is an option and thus his melodramatic pseudo-intelligence speach is aimed to it. Message for Rod : If you were you would, and the ones who are they do. This is the key.
Posted by Aleph @ 10/11/2004 08:44 PM CST
It siometimes seems that we have all forgotten to ask why is that the Palestinians seem unable to develop another peaceful strategy to promote their national ambitions. By we I mean not the contributors to this dialogue but the greater world beyond.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/11/2004 09:30 PM CST
I agree that a civil pacific movement Ghandi-like would have had more chances than this absurd tactic of total war but Ghandi is famous because there are very few like him. Both palestinians and israelians are trying to do an imposible thing because II WW shows that a civilian population cannot be intimidated by random deaths. It was seen in Barcelona, London or in Berlin that once the planes went everybody goes out in high espirits. You can threaten 10 people but if you threaten 10 000 they will be not bent. Not to say millions.
Before judging palestinians we must understand that they live side by side with a living proof that terrorism sometimes works. It is not a secret that jewish armed groups succeeded and palestinians have been mimicking this for decades. When this was reinforced with civil action during the first Intifada they were close to succeed too. However, the clumsy palestinian delegation in Oslo accepted the step-by-step concept without any final territorial layout. This give the iniciative to extremists of both sides who wanted to improve the position of his side before the discusion of final agreement arrives (or impeed the agreement). And here was the turning point because when Hamas that has been always against Oslo starts to kill isreali civilians, Israel blamed the NPA (Al-Fatah). From then on, the strategy of Hamas and the strategy of the block settelers-Likud converge. The attacks against NPA demonstrate that Oslo was a swindle in the eyes of palestinian population and the hegemony of Al-Fatah started to fade. Some people in Al-Fatah created Al-Aqsa brigades in a futile attempt to save its reputation. And here we are. As I said above both sides are commiting a horrible mistake trying to bend the other side by killing civilians, in the case of Israel by killing them carefuly to not kill too many and in the case of Palestinians killing only a few because they cannot physically kill more. The palestinian population, descendants of poor peasants who have only know violence and do not think that Israel is able of anything else, deliver themselves to the most horrible feelings of hate because the alternative is despero and for a human beeing the former is more attractive than the latter. Only Israel can brake this by showing that good feelings on the palestinian side can achieve something which is far from being evident. Instead of that, they have embarked themselves in the Bush fight against terrorism. There is too a certain suicidal feeling in this because is no way they can build Eretz Israel except doing things that they are not morally able to do. Probably this will last for generations until the rest of the world achieves a level of organisation that allows a sustained pressure on both sides to stop de nightmare or until both sides manage to infect the whole planet with his hate (what is very close to happen). Notice that at this point, peace will mean a civil war in both sides.
Posted by Aleph @ 10/15/2004 09:05 PM CST
Aleph is mistaken in his / her comparison with Barcelona, London and Berlin after the air-raids. Much of what is presented to us today is wartime propoganda about civilian action after the planes left. Further the scale of the bombing of these three cities, and many others, far exceeds anything that the Palestinians have been subjected to. In truth in WW2 civilians, if they survived, emerged exhausted and dazed, and far from jubilant.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/18/2004 08:41 PM CST
Before the civilian structure can control the warriors, peace must exist. In the current environement in the ocuppied territories there is no peace and only fanatic groups without fear can develop any public activity. In this context ask for civilian behaviour is ilusory. And this is currently the main goal of Israel : stop peaceful people in the palestinian side to have any role. We can blame palestinians for following so close Sharon's script but we must agree he also should be blamed.
Posted by Aleph @ 10/25/2004 03:56 PM CST
Dear Aleph - I disagree with you and think that what you believe it a commonly held misunderstanding. The Palestinians have since the 1920's set a very specific agenda, which the PNA follows closely. Sharon responds to that, he has no idea how to break out the cycle of violence and engage in a process that will deliver a meaningful peace settlement. But the same could be said of the bulk the present Israel body politick. Even Rabin & Peres were confounded by the failure of the PNA to develop a robust civilian government which could control its security forces.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/26/2004 09:38 PM CST
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