Israël-Hamas : violence is not the only way
It is polite, for diplomats, to call for « restraint » from Israelis and Palestinians, and to condemn in the same breath Israel’s raids and Hamas’s rocket attacks. Not being a diplomat, I can try to go a bit further.
First, an observation : December 27 was the most lethal day between Israelis and Palestinians since 1967, that is, since the occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, we’re not dealing with just one more episode in the long and bloody history between these two peoples.
We’re dealing with a strategic choice decided upon by a curious team : a prime minister who has resigned (Ehud Olmert) and who is waiting for a corruption trial ; a minister of foreign affairs (Tzipi Livni) who is an underdog candidate in the February legislative elections and must show that she « has balls » ; a defense minister (Ehud Barak) who screwed up his historic chance to achieve peace, and who finds himself back in this job by chance, by virtue of the implosion in flight of his predecessor during the 2006 Lebanon invasion.
For these reasons of enormous internal fragility, Israel could have avoided falling into the trap of Gaza, could have avoided inflicting on itself and inflicting on Palestinians this war about which not a single Israeli strategist has the slightest illusion with regard to its chances for success – if by success we mean the objective of eliminating or at least sapping Hamas’s influence and ability to do harm.
Certainly, there were those damned rockets falling on Israel, regularly lethal, which made the cease-fire impossible to extend, and which required a reaction before the February elections. But didn’t they serve merely as a bait to attract Israel into a battle from which the Islamists will know how to benefit ?
With Hamas, Israël got it all wrong
If we back up a bit, we can wonder why the Israelis and the countries that support it have gotten everything wrong with the Palestinian Islamist movement.
The story didn’t begin with Hamas’s rockets. The Israelis, initially, looked favorably on Hamas’s emergence, hoping it would compete with Yasser Arafat’s PLO. That was before they realized that this was an implacable and extremely disciplined enemy that gained doubly in influence by its social works and by its kamikazes. A just peace would no doubt have made it possible to cordon off Hamas in the role of a marginal opposition. That proved to be impossible.
When Yasser Arafat died, Hamas was stronger than ever, reinforced by the failure of the Oslo peace, the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s repeated reversals vis-à-vis Lebanon’s Hezbollah. In the absence of any foreseeable political solution, Hamas naturally won the January 2007 Palestinian elections, taking everyone by surprise.
Since then, the gears of confrontation have been engaged. The West and Israel have isolated Hamas, and transformed Gaza into a hell on earth, submitting its inhabitants to what must be called collective punishment for having voted the wrong way. This short-sighted strategy had the effect of strengthening Hamas’s grip on the unfortunate inhabitants of Gaza.
Violence... and other ways
Does the equation reduce to a confrontation to the death between two implacable enemies ? It’s not so simple... Some are trying to find a way out of the impasse by ways other than violence, which only generates hatred for future generations.
Thus we have seen former American president Jimmy Carter brave condemnations and go to Damascus in 2008, in order, in the end, to bring Hamas to sign a text breaking with the movement’s ideological posture. And an officious French emissary, retired diplomat Yves Aubin de la Messuzière, began a discreet dialogue with Hamas in Gaza, in order to test the movement’s evolution – at first encouraged, than disavowed by French diplomacy.
On December 16, Yves Aubin de la Messuzière published a declaration in *Le Monde*, in which he called Hamas’s leadership « pragmatic » and appealed for a « dialogue without accommodation » with it. He pleaded for a quick international effort as the end of the cease-fire drew near and, he was right to add, the Israeli electoral period’s risks of one-upmanship as well as, indeed, those of the approaching end of the term of Mahmoud Abbas, the weak president of the Palestinian Authority.
The rest of the world turns on the answering service
The hoped-for response was lacking, particularly in Paris, where the Sarkozy-Kouchner duo has given a more markedly pro-Israeli tone to French policy. One high-level diplomatic initiative might perhaps have defused the crisis that has just broken out. But who would have taken the risk of displeasing Israel ? Not Paris, and not Washington, right in the middle of a transition... Not the U.N., either, determined to stay in the background. The world turned on the answering service while the fire smouldered.
The new wave of violence is pushing back for a while any outlook for mediation. When the fracas of arms has ended, leaving the problem intact, or rather worse, there will have to be discussions. The Mideast file has just ratcheted up a few notches in the already long list of priorities that await Barack Obama after January 20. Will he know how to show himself capable of innovation ?
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
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