Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Israeli Security & Working with Opponents

The sad deterioration in the Gaza situation--from the perspective of Gaza residents once again imprisoned and under Israeli attack as well as from the perspective of Israeli citizens under Hamas attack--in comparison with a short month ago is too obvious to need belaboring. This video from Real News sums it up.
The essay from Haaretz that follows is important not just in its bottom line but for the detailed nature of its Israeli perspective - not the pro-regime perspective Americans are familiar with from the narrow range of images in our media, not the perspective of dominant Israeli politicians but the perspective of an Israeli who has thought deeply about Israeli national security.

Talk to Hamas
By Nehemia Shtrasler

In the winter of 1991, Saddam Hussein bombed Tel Aviv. For a month and a half, long-range missiles landed on the city. People panicked and many fled to Jerusalem, while the leaders issued pompous statements about the terrible blow the Iraqi dictator was about to receive. But nothing happened. We did nothing. In February-March 1996, buses exploded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and dozens of people were killed in suicide bombings in the streets and restaurants. People who went to the grocery store did not know if they would return. Those who went to a restaurant or disco were seen as risking their lives.

Shimon Peres, who was then prime minister, realized that the suicide attacks would destroy him politically but could do nothing to prevent them. Sure enough, Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections.

In 2001-2003, terror struck in the heart of Israel again. The suicide bombings emptied the shopping centers, tourism halted, businesspeople went bankrupt and received no compensation. The economy plunged into a deep recession amid rising unemployment. Even then we did not enter an all-out war in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

So it is wrong to argue that the state has abandoned Sderot and the western Negev. If this is abandonment, then Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were abandoned as well. The truth is more prosaic: Power has limitations. The Israel Defense Forces cannot solve everything. Netanyahu may say there is a simple solution - "to move from attrition to the offensive" - but the reality is more complicated. The IDF acted on the outskirts of Gaza's densely populated territory and two soldiers were killed. Had the army pushed deeper, the number of fatalities would have risen sharply. International pressure would have risen as well. The United Nations has already condemned us, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian arbitrator, canceled his visit to Israel, and scenes from the beginning of the second intifada in October 2000 returned to the West Bank. The Qassam and Grad rockets continued falling even when the IDF was inside Gaza, and yesterday Hamas hastened to declare victory.

Another irritating lie in the Israeli discourse insists that it is appropriate to make Gazans' lives a living hell, so that they will put pressure on their leaders and end the firing of rockets. This thesis was behind the first Lebanon war, but that fallacy didn't work either, even when hundreds of thousands of Lebanese were forced to flee to the north. That was also the thesis behind the Second Lebanon War. But despite the Lebanese population's extreme suffering, it didn't work then either. It is certainly not working in Gaza. There things are horrifically bad. Poverty is awful, the number of fatalities is huge, the hospitals are collapsing from too many wounded, unemployment has reached the extraordinary level of 60 percent, and most of the population subsists on food provided by United Nations organizations.

People in such a difficult situation have nothing left but their self-respect. In these days "all of Gaza has become Hamas," a former Fatah security officer who is far from being a Hamas supporter, told Haaretz. Al Jazeera is broadcasting to every home the horror pictures of the deaths of dozens of children and women. In this situation, hatred triumphs and the only hope is the desire to take revenge. The rocket launchers are thus the heroes who gain the people's sympathy, and support for Hamas is not getting any smaller - it's growing.

So there is no escape but to talk to Hamas. We cannot choose our enemies. We embraced Yasser Arafat after saying for dozens of years (in the words of Yitzhak Rabin) that "we'll meet the PLO only on the battlefield." Indeed, signing an agreement with Hamas is risky. An agreement could weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Israel sees as a fitting partner. But it also harbors hope. We could make a cease-fire arrangement consisting of stopping the rocket fire in exchange for stopping the assassinations. We could agree on a prisoner exchange and bring Gilad Shalit home. We could even alleviate the economic siege in an agreement that would prevent transferring weapons and explosives via the Rafah crossing. All this is attainable, and is many times preferable to continuing the bloodbath, which would only raise the walls of hatred and revenge higher.

Once we didn't want to talk to the PLO and Arafat. Then we humiliated Abbas and didn't want to give him any achievement during the disengagement. Now we don't want to talk to Hamas. So the struggle will continue - until a catastrophe occurs, on their side or ours. Only then will the leaders be forced to sit down and talk around the negotiating table.

No comments: