Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gaza: What Lesson Will Israel Learn?

Multiple global actors are exploiting helpless Gaza to test hypotheses related to their broader political concerns, giving great importance to the outcome of the dispute over the future of the people of Gaza. One hypothesis is the Israeli elite’s Battered Wife Hypothesis:

H1 = If collective punishment is sufficiently harsh, it will force the population to give its support to the oppressor.

If the outcome of Israel’s treatment of Gaza between Hamas’ January 2006 electoral victory and the end of its December 2008 attack teaches the Israeli elite the lesson that barbaric force pays off, the implications for Mideast peace—for Palestinian justice, for Lebanese security, for Syrian hopes to gain back the Golan Heights and settle their dispute with Israel and the U.S., and for preventing an Israeli/American attack on Iran will be put in jeopardy.

In contrast, if the Israeli ruling elite learns the lesson that brutality is both further radicalizing Hamas and simultaneously granting it monopoly ownership of Palestinian nationalism and thereby only undermining Israeli security, then the war may push Israel toward a historic compromise with the Palestinian people. Such a compromise would not be the end of Mideast history. Some thoughtful Israelis fear their country is so subject to its own extremists that it will be unable to walk this path unless pushed very hard by its friends. Moreover, Palestinian infighting will continue and Israel will have intense interest in its outcome. But achieving this compromise will focus the attention of Palestinian radicals on the tough job of governing and open the door of all in the Mideast to engage in the profitable business of working with rather than against Israel. It will also take the wind out of the sails of outsiders such as Ahmadinejad’s neo-conservative war generation of aggressive nationalists and the Salafi jihadists who gather under bin Laden’s flag.

Therefore, the lessons that the Israeli elite take away from their savage little Gaza war merit the closest tracking. It is not just that Gaza is connected to all the rest of the conflict between the West and Muslim societies but that Gaza is the canary in the mine because its predicament is contained, artificially created, relatively easily resolvable and because Gaza is so helpless to fight back that Israel, like other outsiders, feel they can get away with using Gaza as a political laboratory.

It is hard to imagine how failure to suppress tiny Gaza could teach the lesson that force works; if it fails in Gaza, how could anyone expect it to succeed in Iran or Pakistan or Afghanistan? But should Gaza be effectively suppressed and Israel or American leaders make the leap from Gaza to Iran or Afghanistan or Pakistan, then we are fated to repeat on an even more disastrous scale the horrors of the last seven years.

Evidence of lessons being learned:

1) Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on February 1:

We will never sign an agreement with Hamas.

In other words, Israel will never sign an agreement with the Palestinian political party that won Palestine's only democratic election. This is not only the statement of a man who continues to believe in the efficacy of force but a man who would rather cut off his own nose to spite his face and destroy his own country than admit he was wrong.

2) A commentator wrote in the Jerusalem Post on January 27 that:

Israel has not been ignoring the need to find what pundits call a "political solution." Without getting into the blame game, the fact is that negotiations have been conducted, unsuccessfully, for the past 15 years.

If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved in the short term, it has to be managed. But how? The rationale of the disengagement strategy was that, since the conflict seems unsolvable and since the status quo is untenable, Israel might as well get the Palestinians off its back. If only. We left Gaza, but Gaza did not leave us.

The truth, of course, is dramatically at variance with this version of the historical record. First, Hamas was cheated by Israel and the U.S. out of its January 2006 electoral victory. Second, Israel did not leave Gaza: Israeli civilians were pulled out, but Israel remained very much the harsh warden of the Gaza prison. Gazans were in absolutely no sense given liberty. Such blatant distortion of the historical record invites one to learn the lesson that violence against Muslim political activists is the only option.

More evidence as I happen to notice it…

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