Sunday, 4 January 2009

Invading Gaza to Achieve Something

EXCERPT: To make progress on the issue of Gaza, avoid the easy return to yet another meaningless truce that ignores the fundamental issues and restores an arbitrary status quo ante. It has been Tel Aviv that has insisted on violence as the way to settle disagreement since the January 2006 Palestinian election, and violence will remain the tool until Palestinian grievances are addressed.

TEXT: If the crucial historical fact about Gaza to keep in mind is that Israel subverted Hamas' electoral victory, the crucial point for the outcome is that a truce will accomplish nothing. If endless colonization of Palestine and low-level warfare between Palestine and Israel is the goal, then a truce is a great way to achieve it. If peace is the goal, then an agreement to stop shooting solves nothing.

As long as Hamas plays by democratic rules, Israel has demonstrated that it will not - it will use economic warfare and the arming of Fatah and the general enclosure of Palestine behind prison walls to prevent Hamas from governing. Without addressing the grievances of the Palestinians, without letting them out of their concentration camp, an Israeli offer of a truce is pure hypocrisy - a trap for Palestinians who have no bargaining chip except the threat of violence to persuade Tel Aviv to pay attention and negotiate sincerely. And if a truce includes an international force to prevent Palestinian violence without also preventing Israeli violence, then it is all the more hypocritical.

In 2006 Tel Aviv freely chose violence as its policy toward Hamas. We will never know whether Hamas would have played by democratic rules over the long-term if it had been allowed to govern. lifting the blockade was a part of the June cease-fire agreement that was not implemented by Israel and the international community. Israel continued its duplicitous behavior toward Hamas during the most recent ceasefire, continuing the economic blockade that it had agreed to lift.

Subversion of the 2006 Palestinian election results by Israel set in motion a cycle of violence that is well known, albeit all-but-forgotten by Americans. The key details as described by the Vanity Fair expose are:

Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)

But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.Some sources call the scheme “Iran-contra 2.0,” recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan. There are echoes of other past misadventures as well: the C.I.A.’s 1953 ouster of an elected prime minister in Iran, which set the stage for the 1979 Islamic revolution there; the aborted 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which gave Fidel Castro an excuse to solidify his hold on Cuba; and the contemporary tragedy in Iraq.

Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup.

Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of “engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory.” He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. “It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen,” Wurmser says.

The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. “There is a stunning disconnect between the president’s call for Middle East democracy and this policy,” he says. “It directly contradicts it.”

To escape from the cycle of violence set in motion in 2006, a truce should include some steps in all of the following directions:

1. freedom of the people of Gaza to obtain food, medicine, and energy from the outside world;
2. open border crossings;
3. freedom to travel to the West Bank and the rest of the world;
4. the provision of economic aid;
5. the ability of Hamas to set up security;
6. protection for the people of Gaza from Israeli attacks balanced with protection of Israelis from Palestinian attacks.

All does not have to be done completely or instantly, but at the very least steps (perhaps according to some incremental plan with, say, built-in rewards for good behavior) need to be taken in practice to demonstrate that the principle of addressing Palestinian grievances is accepted.

Those who accuse Hamas of terrorism are simply trying to prevent a solution. The accusation is pointless (note, I did not say, "false"). We could also spend the next decade arguing about the degree to which flying F16s on bombing runs over densely populated cities or arming a defeated political party to attack and overthrow a victorious political party or conducting economic warfare against a whole population is "terrorism." In the context of trying to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the discussion is simply a waste of time. The particular tactical methods used by one side or the other to force the opponent to do something are not the issue: the issue is the use of force! And surprise, surprise: both sides do it. That's a funny thing about force. When one side uses it, so does the other.

Those who want a solution can easily be identified. They are those who address the issue of replacing force with compromise, not those who bicker about the relative morality of one weapon over another; they are those who focus on resolving fundamental grievances, not those who call for return to some arbitrary and unjust status quo ante.


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