Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Israel’s Dilemma In Gaza
By Hasan Abu Nimah
Israel has been engaged in war on its southern front with Gaza and the Egyptian security forces. The August 18 attack near Eilat on an Israeli bus carrying soldiers, resulting in deaths and injuries on both sides, must have been a shocking breach of Israeli security and self-confidence.
The status quo, prevailing for years, with Palestinian, Arab, international acquiescence, is that Israel can continue to punish the population of Gaza with a harsh illegal siege; attack Gaza causing loss of life and destruction at will; punish international activists who venture to extend a helpful hand to Palestinian victims of ongoing Israeli aggression; and colonise occupied Palestinian land with full immunity and impunity.
Israel can use force, but force should not be used against it even in self-defence. Israel can commit violations of human rights, but no one should be allowed to respond or retaliate except by begging international mercy and sympathy.
The attack last week is a reminder that this sharply lopsided equation is untenable. Israel cannot continue to inflict enormous harm and injustice and at the same time guarantee its own security.
So far, the Israelis have been relying on their quite unchallenged military superiority, international support as well as its victims’ submission to control the scene. They blocked every effort towards negotiating a meaningful peace settlement. They continue to harass the Palestinians and deny them their inalienable rights. At the same time, they are assured by a decade-old unanimous Arab position that “peace is the strategic choice” of the Arab states, meaning that whatever Israel does or commits, neither the Arabs nor the Palestinians will lift a finger to face Israel.
Even the most legitimate right of people, any people, guaranteed by international law, to liberate themselves from the yoke of occupation has been dropped from the Arab political lexicon. When it comes to the Palestinians, resistance means terrorism, a crime that has been so widely condemned and legally pursued that no victim of aggression dares to talk anymore about self-defence or resistance, lest they should be instantly labelled as terrorist and be punished accordingly.
With this, with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas making endless declarations that the Palestinians will never resort to resistance, and with a disabled international system, why should there be any Israeli concern about the consequences of its brutality and aggression?
But relying on brute force has never been an assured recipe for security. Israel has been in a state of war since its forced establishment on the ruins of Palestine 63 years ago. Neither its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan nor its 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestinians had any real effect on reducing the belligerency and hostility.
Israel did not want its peace agreements to translate into peoples’ peace, to restore justice, or to create convincing and acceptable conditions for the people in the region. Rather, the peace agreements for Israel were meant to neutralise and to politically and military disarm any adversaries so that Israel could continue with the implementation of its ambitious Zionist schemes of occupation, expansion, colonisation and regional hegemony.
The Israeli response to the Eilat attack was as irrational and as foolish as its military adventures have always been. Neither Hamas nor any other resistance group in Gaza was held responsible for the attack. Yet Gaza has to suffer the Israeli revenge, as a readily available, easy, target where the Israeli leaders could hit at will to regain the depleted confidence of their people.
If this may help temporarily overcoming a crisis, it does not provide any long-term solutions.
Again, the exchange of rockets and firepower has been ended by renewing a ceasefire between Hamas and the Israelis. There were ceasefires before, which Hamas strictly observed but Israel constantly violated. This new one, which may clearly respond to the keen interest of Israeli and Palestinian sides, may last for a while, but it will never be a substitute for peace, assuming Israel respects it this time.
It is too early to predict with any certainty how this current burst of hostilities, which involved Egypt at a very crucial phase of its revolutionary transformation, will end. What is certain is that a de facto peace imposed by one force is going to lead to neither peace nor security.
Sooner or later, in the absence of a political framework for a just settlement, any incident could trigger a regional confrontation with unforeseen, dangerous consequences.
Israel, which faces a real dilemma in Gaza, is now escalating the situation with Egypt. If it was easy for the Israelis to take Hamas, or the Palestinians, for granted, it will not be as easy with the Egyptians, with angry crowds already demanding breaking diplomatic relations.
The apology offered by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak had no effect in reducing the tension, simply because it was not genuine. It added insult to injury by regretting “the deaths of Egyptian officers” - as if their death had been the result of an unrelated accident - rather than specifically apologising for killing them.
The Gaza blockade, on the other hand, did not seem to have succeeded either in weakening Hamas or in demoralising the million and-a-half siege victims. They are no match to the superior Israeli military power, for certain, and yet they still can retaliate by firing missiles at Israeli targets and causing fear, alarm and occasionally casualties.
Israel’s options to deal with the situation are very limited. The Israeli army, which was forced to leave Gaza to rid itself of a heavy security burden, cannot reoccupy Gaza. Another Operation Cast Lead is not feasible either. It will harm Israel more than it could possibly do the population of Gaza whose suffering over the years could hardly be further aggravated.
The only option is continued collective punishment and air raids. This is the perfect recipe for heightened frustrations, rising calls for resistance and incidents that could escalate into regional wars.
An unrestrained Israel represents an existential threat to the safety and security of all the peoples of this region. It is time for the rest of the world to recognise that indulging Israel’s folly may be politically convenient in the short run, but the cost will only increase with time.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 24/08/2011