Positive Developments In Gaza

Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but I’m surprised not to have seen anyone comment on this article from today’s New York Times.

GAZA — Seven months after Israel started a fierce three-week military campaign here to stop rockets from being fired on its southern communities, Hamas has suspended its use of rockets and shifted focus to winning support at home and abroad through cultural initiatives and public relations.

The aim is to build what leaders here call a “culture of resistance,” the topic of a recent two-day conference. In recent days, a play has been staged, a movie premiered, an art exhibit mounted, a book of poems published and a television series begun, most of it state-sponsored and all focused on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. There are plans for a documentary competition.

This seems to me to be a very promising development. As the article notes, there’s little doubt that the abatement in rocket attacks will be viewed by some as vindication for Israel’s misguided invasion of Gaza in January, but if this is successful — and I think it will be — it will strongly demonstrate the strategic folly of the invasion. Between the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and India’s path to independence from the British Empire, there’s very powerful evidence to support the efficacy of nonviolent dissent. Given the intensity of scrutiny and passions on both sides of the debate, I think there’s little room for something like this to go unnoticed.

If Hamas and Palestinians in Gaza can stick with this plan, it seems to one of two things could happen. First, draw down of tensions met with with loosing of the Israeli blockade could build positive momentum leading towards a peaceful two-state solution. Obviously, a lot needs to happen — and crucially, Israel needs to stop settlement activity elsewhere — but reversing the trajectory is an important step. Alternatively, if Israel mainatins the status quo, its position will grow increasingly untenable, and perhaps, could result in greater pressure from the West to make concessions. Considering Israel receives some $3 billion in direct aid from the United States, there’s cause for hope that Western pressure could produce real change. I realize there are a lot of big “ifs,” but there’s one less than yesterday.

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Israel Rebuffs UN Human Rights Investigation

Wanted to post something on this yesterday, but I didn’t. So now you’re seeing it today.

JERUSALEM, April 15 (Reuters) – Israel does not plan to cooperate with a U.N. agency’s investigation into alleged war crimes by Israeli troops and Hamas militants during fighting in Gaza, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

The investigation by a Judge named Richard Goldstone, a “highly regarded South African jurist and international humanitarian law scholar,” and also importantly, a Jew. What’s more, Goldstone has said his inquiry will also examine possible breaches of human rights by Palestinians.

There are a lot of ways to react to this, but first, let me say this is probably exactly like what certain Bush Administration policies played abroad — anything from refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol, to snubbing the security council, to torture, to wiretapping, etc. On a less immediate level, actions like this undermine Israel’s much vaunted moral authority, straining further relationships with Western countries who Israel relies on for military, financial, and diplomatic support. Additionally, it’s not clear that a clean report from the UN would win the affection of moderate Palestinians, but giving the impression that there’s something to lose will certainly help extremists make the case that Israel is a malign force in the region.

Finally, I can’t help but react on a personal level that Israel’s sheer bellicosity is embarrassing as  a Jew. It was striking to read a Passover prayer calling that Israel, understanding the misery of oppression, lead all nations as a peaceful light, and juxtapose that with behavior like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s campaign call for loyalty oaths from Arab-Israelis or the strategic privation of Palestinians.

Saw That Coming

As yours truly — and I was not alone — predicted, Israeli action in Gaza has ultimately served to bolster support for Hamas.

Hamas would get 28.6 percent of the vote compared with 27.9 percent for the rival Fatah faction of Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas if elections were held today, according to the survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre.

It marks the first time that an opinion poll has placed Hamas in front of Fatah, which it ousted from the Gaza Strip in deadly fighting in June 2007.[…]

Now, presumably, it will be argued that Palestine is unfit for statehood because their leaders are terrorists. There goes the democracy argument. (Among other things, this issue shows just why ideas like a “League of Democracies,” is so daft.)

Paved With Good Intentions

So upon logging on to facebook, I saw this little tidbit in my news feed.

missilesI think this raises an important point; lots of hawkish Israeli supporters like to point out that Hamas intends to harm civilians. Indeed they do, and that is indefensible. Still, it’s worth noting that no matter Israel’s stated intentions, they’ve killed over 1,000 Gazans (315 of whom were children) and injured over 4,700 since the start of the offensive in late December. At some point, hawkish Israeli supporters will have to reconcile the fact that the consequences of Israel’s actions animate a great deal of the hostility it receives. You’re simply not going to be able to live peacably with your neighbors when you’re bombing their children, no matter how good your intentions are or how convinced you are of your moral rectitude.

Strategy Vacuum

Apropos of my post yesterday prior post arguing the “hold me back” approach suggests Israel has no actual strategy in Gaza, I learn of this from Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch (via Kevin Drum).

Asked three times by audience members, [Israeli Ambassador to the United States Sallai] Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals….As to a political strategy tied to the military campaign, nothing. No guidance as to whether Israel would re-occupy Gaza, or on what terms it would accept a cease-fire. No thoughts as to whether the campaign would cause Hamas to fall from power or help the Palestinian Authority regain political power.

….In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. “In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path,” noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.

Some observers have been willing to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, owing to the decidedly differing circumstances between Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, but it still seems to me that absent complete eradication of Hamas followed by good-faith steps towards peace on Israels behalf, the lingering resentment and embarrassment of occupation will only lead to more problems down the road. Whether this will be a vacuum filled by groups more extreme than Hamas, or whether we’ll see a reversion back to the more moderate Fatah, who knows. Either way, this particular mission was spectacularly ill-conceived.

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Oy

Israel has moved ground troops into Gaza. On CNN at the gym, an Israeli Major seemed to be suggesting that the offensive could go on for a protracted length. This is really, really bad.

Officials have stated repeatedly that the aim is not to fully reoccupy Gaza. But it was clear that the military was leaving the door open for a long-term operation; a spokesman said Saturday that the ground push “will continue on the basis of ongoing situational assessments.” And it remained an open question whether Israel would try to eliminate the Hamas government.

Considering the degree to which the Muslim world has ralied around the cause of the Palestinians already, it hardly seems prudent to occupy parts of Gaza when the main gripe against Israel has been that they are indeed occupiers. Perhaps more troubling is the belief that Hamas can somehow be eradicated. Hamas is the militant organization at the moment, but it draws strength from perceived Israeli oppression. I’m not quite sure how a ground invasion with the possibility of long-term engagement is going to lessen the desire amongst Palestinians to be rid of illegal settlements and a near de facto blockade that has crippled any Gazan economy. The most likely scenario of a protracted occupation will be a protracted insurgency that Israeli’s — much like Americans vis-a-vis Iraq — will tire of and ultimately force a withdrawal that will allow Hamas to claim victory. Further, the greater need for outside assistance will open more space for Iran to exert influence throughout the Middle East. Needless to say, this isn’t a desirable outcome.