AN ALTERNATE VIEW TO BEN-MEIR’S ON ISRAEL’S RESPONSE TO HAMAS BY MASSIVELY ATTACKING GAZA
Stephen M. Sachs, IUPUI, January 7, 2009
While I agree fully with Ben-Meir’s critique, in “Changing the Reality in Gaza,” of Hamas’s actions in restarting rocket attacks into Israel, including the group’s apparent failure to foresee the likelihood of Israel’s making a very strong response (and hopefully this was a miscalculation, and not a consideration of likely gain, if the Israelis did overreact), I take a very different view of how the reality in Gaza, and indeed the Middle East as a whole, is likely to be changed. Israel has a right to protect itself and its citizens from attack (as do all peoples, including the Palestinians). Because the Israeli attacks are so disproportionate to the Hamas attacks – with tremendous harm to innocent civilians, constituting serious human rights abuses – the odds are extremely strong that Israel’s Gaza offensive will prove to be counter productive.
If history is any guide, the Israeli offensive will only temporally set back Hamas, and will strengthen it in the long run. Further, even if Hamas were fully removed from Gaza as an organization, it seems unlikely that all rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza could be stopped by the current Israeli policy, which for a long period has failed to achieve that most desirable goal. Indeed, an unfortunate impact of Israeli overkill, is that it tends to justify the rocket attacks in the minds of many, and makes Hamas seem to be a legitimate protector of Palestinians.
To understand the problem, one needs to put it into the broader context of developing Israeli-Palestinian relations, as part of the web of interactions of the whole region. For a long time, Israel has been escalating its efforts to put down, counter and prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel and its legitimacy. Many of these actions have had short term deterrence effects, but the long term result has been to further and further radicalize more and more Palestinians. The Israelis hope that battering Hamas will strengthen a more moderate Abas, and the Palestinian Authority. I believe that it will turn out that the Gaza attacks tend to isolate Abas and the PA, as they are seen to be able to do very little to protect people, or bring peace. I understand the Israeli frustration. But the Israelis, and those who would support Israel’s legitimate aims of attaining peace and security, need to realize that while power, of which military force is one aspect, must be an element in politics and diplomacy, policies that consistently rely upon the stick, while offering very few carrots, can not succeed. Such a course generally does, and has in Israeli-Palestinian relations, created increasing desperation and anger within the Palestinian community. Moreover, it has contributed significantly to the rise of extremist forces throughout the Middle East, and beyond. This latest incursion into long repressed and tortured Gaza, increases the anger around the Middle East, strengthening militant anti-Israeli groups, and Iran, while weakening Arab governments that have been more moderate on the issue of relations with Israel. In the face of a rising Iran, significantly boosted by U.S. over reliance on military policy – and that badly carried out – in Iraq, Israel has a common interest in finding a reasonable peace, with many Arab nations, who have taken an initiative in that direction, begun by Saudi Arabia. The Israeli incursion in Gaza is seriously undercutting the possibility of reaching such a settlement, and unless the Gaza attacks are followed by a very different set of Israeli-Palestinian relations – that the odds are very strong that the attacks will not create – that possibility will very likely become more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the actual and apparent human rights abuses tend to weaken support for Israel in Western countries, undermining Israel’s diplomatic, economic, and possibly even military, position.
What is needed is a new approach to the situation that builds peace, by providing many carrots, and holding sticks in reserve, to use with restraint, as needed. The building of the trust necessary to achieve peace is a long process, paved with many difficulties. As North Ireland’s long road to peace demonstrated, one cannot expect to end all violence in a single step, when there is such a history of mutual injury to overcome. The way is through finding ways to have less violence, by slowly building a basis for an active peace, and marginalizing the extremists. Good policing – and that is how it should be seen, even when military personnel have to execute it – has a necessary place in preventing and countering violence, but it needs to be carried out proportionately and judiciously. Peacebuilding, to be successful, has to bring people hope that they can live better. In North Ireland, the peace process brought with it an improving economy and rising employment, that helped the process to move forward and increase security. Since Oslo, the quality of life of most Palestinians has seriously declined. To achieve peace, Israel, the international community, and enough Palestinian leaders empowered (or emancipated) by the Israelis to do so, have to reverse that situation. It is to be hoped, that when this dark moment in Gaza ends – and the sooner that happens the better – enough people on all sides will be sick enough of destruction, to begin building something much better, before much worse tragedy engulfs the region, and likely the world.