Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some lessons so far from the latest Gaza mini-war

The last I looked at the news, there was a cease-fire in the latest Gaza war. Who knows whether it will last? It's another violent and depressing chapter in the long transition from the now-seemingly-dead possibility of a two-state solution to an Israel that includes the West Bank and Gaza and will face a choice between remaining a democracy and remaining a majority Jewish state.

Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, makes the following useful observations about the beginning of this round of conflict last week (The latest Gaza catastrophe Aljazeera English 11/18/2012)

The assassination of Jabari came a few days after an informal truce that had been negotiated through the good offices of Egypt, and quite ironically agreed to by none other than Jabari acting on behalf of Hamas. Killing him was clearly intended as a major provocation, disrupting a carefully negotiated effort to avoid another tit-for-tat sequence of violence of the sort that has periodically taken place during the last several years.

An assassination of such a high profile Palestinian political figure as Jabari is not a spontaneous act. It is based on elaborate surveillance over a long period, and is obviously planned well in advance partly with the hope of avoiding collateral damage, and thus limiting unfavourable publicity. Such an extra-judicial killing, although also part and parcel of the new American ethos of drone warfare, remains an unlawful tactic of conflict, denying adversary political leaders separated from combat any opportunity to defend themselves against accusations, and implies a rejection of any disposition to seek a peaceful resolution of a political conflict. It amounts to the imposition of capital punishment without due process, a denial of elementary rights to confront an accuser.

Putting aside the niceties of law, the Israeli leadership knew exactly what it was doing when it broke the truce and assassinated such a prominent Hamas leader, someone generally thought to be second only to the Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniya. There have been rumours, and veiled threats, for months that the Netanyahu government plans a major assault of Gaza, and the timing of the ongoing attacks seems to coincide with the dynamics of Israeli internal politics, especially the traditional Israeli practice of shoring up the image of toughness of the existing leadership in Tel Aviv as a way of inducing Israeli citizens to feel fearful, yet protected, before casting their ballots. [my emphasis]
As Falk points out, Israel is legally an occupying power in Gaza bound by the laws governing such occupations. But:

It is truly alarming that now even the holiest of cities, Jerusalem, is threatened with attacks, but the continuation of oppressive conditions for the people of Gaza, inevitably leads to increasing levels of frustration, in effect, cries of help that world has ignored at its peril for decades. These are survival screams! To realise this is not to exaggerate! To gain perspective, it is only necessary to read a recent UN Report that concludes that the deterioration of services and conditions will make Gaza uninhabitable by 2020.
That UN report (p. 16), Gaza in 2020: A liveable place? (2012) finds:

In the absence of sustained and effective remedial action and an enabling political environment, .... the daily lives of Gazans in 2020 will be worse than they are now. There will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline, and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory for most. The already high number of poor, marginalized and food-insecure people depending on assistance will not have changed, and in all likelihood will have increased.

To ensure that Gaza in 2020 will be "a liveable place", on-going herculean efforts by Palestinians and partners in such sectors a energy, education, health, water and sanitation, need to be accelerated and intensified in the face of all difficulties.
Robert Fisk in We are all Israelis now: its brutality, unlike Syria's, is fought in the name of the West's war on terror The Independent 11/20/2012 suggests that Hamas fell into a trap that the Israeli government set for them:

It’s odd, the way they all get away with it. Lord Blair, whose 92 Business Class trips to the Holy Land have produced a peace beyond all peace, is now talking about how it’s in everybody’s interest to have a truce – is his face getting a bit skeletal, or is that my imagination? – and a truce, I suppose, we shall have, well over 100 Palestinian and three Israeli dead too late. But is it all worth it? Was the murder by Israel of Hamas’s military leader Ahmed al-Jabari in fact not staged to provide an excuse to bomb all those new missiles that Hamas has acquired?

That wise old Israeli owl Uri Avneri – he is 89 years old – thinks this is just the trap that Hamas fell into by launching its preposterous "Gates of Hell" rocket attacks in revenge for Jabari’s death. The whole Operation "Pillar of Defence" was about destroying Hamas’s weapons – not about the largely ineffective missiles themselves. ...

One of the new Israeli lines on the war runs like this. Israel kills "terrorists" by the score along with a handful of “collateral damage” innocents – and the world rages against Israel. Yet isn't the Syrian regime killing Syrian innocents by the thousand every month? Where are the mass protests, the venting of wrath at Bashar al-Assad? What hypocrisy! But of course, this is in itself a hypocrisy. We know the old "Hama rules" of Syria; no one asks us to support them. And comparing Israel’s brutality to that of the Assad regime is playing the old Lord Blair game: we weren't perfect in Iraq – but we weren't as bad as Saddam.

No. Israel claims to hold the same values as the supposedly moral West. It says that it is fighting "terrorism" in our name as well as its own. It says it is fighting like us. It is playing by our Western rules. We are all Israelis now; that is what we are meant to say.
Helena Cobban in Obama admin wilfully blind on Gaza crisis? Just World News 11/21/2012 reminds us that the US position has become more and more uncritical toward Israel over time:

Time was, back in the old days, when there were people in the White House and in positions of influence in the State Department who understood the broad dynamics of Middle Eastern politics and who had a well-grounded sense of what, broadly speaking, the American people's interests in the region were. Back in the day, "even-handed" used to be a term of praise for U.S. officials involved in the sometimes complex work of negotiating issues between Arabs and Israelis.

Oh boy, how that has changed. With the rise of AIPAC's influence over all relevant branches of the U.S. administration (except for some remaining small pockets of resistance in some portions of the Defense Department), kowtowing to Israel became the order of the day. "Even-handed" even came to be understood as a slur expressed against those who were insufficiently zealous in the cause. Too deep and granular an understanding of the dynamics of a region that is host to some 300 million Muslims and just 6.5 million Jewish Israelis came to be seen by everyone in the self-referential bubble that is Washington as a clear career-ender. (Exhibit A: Amb. Chas Freeman, and the humiliation meted out to him in March 2009. But there are numerous other examples, too..)

A self-imposed blindness became the order of the day in Washington.

And today, that blindness matters.
Because, as she notes, the Arab Awakening has significantly shifted the political perspective of countries like Egypt on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

And she takes a dim view, a little too dim perhaps, of past American peace efforts. But at this point, it does seem pretty clear that official Washington has given up any hope or real effort toward a lasting peace settlement, two-state or otherwise:

For 39 years now, ever since the Geneva Conference of December 1973, Washington has successfully maintained its monopoly over all Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy. The record of this tenure has been especially poor regarding the crucial Palestinian strand of the effort. Over the past 39 years, the Israelis have implanted 500,000 settlers into the occupied Palestinian territories. They have maintained total control over all of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. They have killed several tens of thousands of Palestinians-- between Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank-- and have displaced hundreds of thousands more from their ancestral homeland. They have completely transformed the human geography of Jerusalem. They have refused any attempts by the eight million or so Palestinians living in exile to return to their homeland. Palestinian acts of violence over that period have killed some hundreds of Israelis.

Every so often throughout the past 39 years-- and especially in the aftermath of a flare-up of tensions-- Washington would trot out some version or another of a new "peace initiative", or even (heaven forbid!) a peace "process", involving the Palestinians. All of it was flim-flam, smoke and mirrors whose main effect (and in some cases, also the intention) was to give the Israelis more time to continue their colonial taking of the Palestinians' land and resources. [my emphasis in bold]
Juan Cole also points to the new role of Egypt in Morsi Emerges as Key Power Broker in Gaza Conflict Informed Comment 11/21/2012:

Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the same Muslim Brotherhood that gave birth to Palestine’s Hamas movement, has emerged as a key broker in the Gaza crisis. President Obama is said to have called him for the third time in 24 hours on Tuesday!

Morsi sympathizes with the stateless Palestinians, who are being kept without a state and without basic human rights by the right wing Israeli government. But more, he sympathizes with Hamas itself, which the US and Israel have branded a terrorist organization. Because the US has put Hamas on the terrorist list, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cannot talk to the government of Gaza (which seems rather stupid), and Morsi is therefore a key interlocutor. ...

... Morsi as president makes part of the big difference between Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008-09 and today’s assault. In 08-09, the Palestinians had no real support from Egypt and of course the Israeli government and the Bush administration had it in for them. Hosni Mubarak and his right hand man Omar Sulaiman hated Hamas. When Israel attacked Gaza, they quickly closed the Rafah crossing and Egyptian troops actually shot dead two Palestinians trying to flee into Egypt from the bombing.

Egypt, at some 82 million (nearly the size of Germany), is the most populous Arab country, and it is still something of a thought leader for the Arab world. It has the biggest and best army in the Middle East, though there are virtually no Egyptians who would welcome war.
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