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A lot of the Facebook discussion I’ve seen on Gaza is overly simplistic. It leads to a conclusion I favor — Israel has to stand down — but taking a black-and-white view just makes dialogue impossible. My being for peace means that I’m also for peace-making, and peace-making demands an environment of mutual respect. Real mutual respect, in turn, requires understanding of people’s positions.
This article from Slate is the best single thing I’ve read on the situation in Gaza. Here’s four paragraphs to whet your appetite to click that link:
In 2012, there’s barely been a week when at least a handful of rockets haven’t been fired from Gaza into Israel. Every month or so there is an escalation, like during one six-day period in June when 162 rockets landed in Israel. “No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the foreign media on Thursday as he authorized more intensive strikes in Gaza.
Netanyahu is surely right. Israel’s response to these ongoing rocket attacks is justified. But being justified isn’t the same thing as being smart. The truth is Israel has been engaged in a low-grade war with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip for five years now, with no plan besides a misguided military strategy for how to end it.
To try to contain the threat, Israel has relied largely on periodic air strikes on weapons storage facilities and targeted assassinations of militants, which sometimes result in civilian casualties that radicalize the Palestinian population. It bombs the smuggling tunnels that run underground between Egypt and the Gaza Strip and are used to smuggle in civilian goods and weapons. The tunnels exist because of the strict blockade Israel enforces around the territory, choking off anything like normal commerce.
In four years, Israel’s playbook hasn’t changed. Nor did the Palestinian rockets ever truly end. But in the intervening years the world has changed. Most significantly, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who could ignore anti-Israel sentiment in his country, is gone. His successor, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, may have more sway with Hamas, but he also has less power to resist Egyptian calls to sever ties with Israel.
As with many conflicts (Northern Ireland comes to mind), extremists on both sides are often in a kind of cynical partnership, each hoping for atrocities that will polarize their supporters and strengthen their domestic political hand. The acts of Israeli extremists (including Netanyahu) strengthen those of Palestinian extremists in Hamas, and vice-versa.
What Israelis and their fervid American supporters have to realize is that their geopolitical situation is worsening. When you find yourself having to root against Arab Spring for your parochial reasons, you have a problem. Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, and others are on the rise — meaning that the Hamas strategy of playing to its global audience is more and more likely to work. Peace is still possible, but not through creating a desolation.
I’ve had conversations with Israeli Jews in the LA area who consider the notion of the U.S. curtailing — that means cutting back, not necessarily cutting off — its support for Israel to be impossible. I’ve told them that they are fooling themselves — in the long term, a strategy of depending upon another country to always put one’s own country’s interests first is a dead end. To the extent that such a strategy is successful, it depends on being seen as an unfailingly moral actor — and that is the impression of Israel that Hamas is, by plucking the right strings in the Israeli political leadership, undermining right now. Eventually, as it stands, it is going to work.
Supporters of Israel who feel that (1) the U.S. will never abandon them no matter what they do, and (2) that U.S. support alone is sufficient for Israel’s continued survival, feel no constraint when it comes to policy. (As the article notes, when people are shooting 1400 rockets across your border, you do have a legitimate right to self-defense — but that doesn’t make it wise.) Most people who don’t have a direct stake in the fight seem to perceive that what has to happen now is that Netanyahu has to be influenced to stand down — and I think that they’re right. How to do so while continuing to support Israel’s right to exist within secure borders? I’d love to here people’s thoughts on that.
The current Israeli leadership was stupid enough to join with single-issue voter/megadonor Sheldon Adelson and try to intervene on Romney’s behalf in the just completed election. I don’t know what has to happen in order to wise them up — or wise up the people who voted them in — but sooner or later I think it’s going to happen. Their strategy of making opposition to Israeli policy part and parcel with opposition to Israeli existence is, sure enough, a way to raise the stakes — but in so doing it takes Israeli existence much less seriously than it should. It gambles the existence of Israel on a bad bet regarding internal U.S. politics. It’s dumb, it’s vile — and, worse than either, in a sense, it’s unnecessary.