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Gaza, Meretz and the Bankruptcy of Israeli Politics

In case you didn’t know, Meretz’s call for a military strike against Gaza reminds us we’re in the middle of an election campaign.  It also reminds us of the utter bankruptcy of the national political process.  If you speak forthrightly about what must be done for peace, you lose votes.  If you pander to nationalist-security sentiment, you may not gain votes (especially if you’re Meretz), but you won’t lose them.

Every reasonable person both inside and outside Israel knows what will stop the rain of Qassams descending on southern Israel.  Hamas has told them what it wants: lifting the siege.  If Israel agrees to end its depraved policy of suffocating Gaza, then Hamas would renew the tahdiya and there would be, if not peace, at least calm.  In the long term of course, Israel would have to negotiate at least indirectly with Hamas for longer-term & more comprehensive peace agreements.

Hamas, of course, rejected renewal of the ceasefire on Israeli terms, which essentially gave Israel peace and Gaza ongoing misery.  The rocket barrage unleashed since the end of the ceasefire is unpardonable, especially since the longer it lasts the more likely it will lead to the death of an Israeli civilian.  But if Israel listened to reason and common sense, it would realize the siege hasn’t worked and won’t work (not to mention that it is morally indefensible and a violation of international law); and would lift it.  Then there would be no missile barrage, hence no military incursion.

An indication of the delusional thinking affecting Israeli politicians is this statement:

Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzahi Hanegbi [said]…”If the Qassam [rocket] fire does not stop, the Israel Defense Forces will fight you with the same might with which it fought Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War,” said Hanegbi (Kadima), speaking to Army Radio.

Hanegbi is under the illusion that threatening Hamas with what Israel served up to Hezbollah is a deterrent.  Someone ought to tell him the news: the IDF failed in Lebanon just as it will fail in Gaza.  The only people the IDF frightens is unarmed civilians.

It is, of course, politically bankrupt for Meretz to call for an incursion.  It signals that even the left has lost its bearings in Israeli politics.  If you can’t speak plainly and clearly and find a place in the political process, what is that process worth?  The process has led to disaster after disaster.  The coming operation, if it does not end with the deaths of Israeli soldiers and Gaza civilians, certainly will do absolutely nothing to end the Qassam barrages.  They may stop for a day or a week.  But they will resume as they always have after this type of military action.  It will be the same old cycle of misery and failure into which Hamas and Israel have sunk themselves.

While I find myself sometimes in strong disagreement with Brad Burston, he’s hit the nail on the head in this week’s Haaretz column, with his own characterization of this imminent offensive, Can the First Gaza War Be Stopped Before It Starts?

He quotes Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, former IDF Gaza commander, with some sensible ideas about ending the Qassam fire. The fact that they are sensible means, ipso facto that there will never receive serious consideration by the Israeli powers-that-be:

The state of Israel must understand that Hamas rule in Gaza is a fact, and it is with that government that we must reach a situation of calm.”

Israel must also understand that Hamas is a pragmatic organization, Zakai continues. “The moment that the organization understands that Qassam fire is contrary to its interests, it will stop the fire.

“We need to work in an integrated manner. The situation is a complex one…”An integrated approach, on the one hand, includes demonstration of military might…and on the other hand, also using a carrot, to cause Hamas to understand that refraining from firing exactly serves their interests.

In Zakai’s view, Israel’s central error during the tahadiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce that formally ended on Friday, was failing to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip.

He believes that Hamas would have – and still would – accept a bargain in which Hamas…would halt the fire in exchange for easing of the many ways in which Israeli policies have kept a choke hold on the economy of the Strip.

“…The carrot is improvement of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and to expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing. That’s something that’s simply unrealistic.”

In the end, Israel must realize that “we can’t impose regimes on the Palestinians. We can’t cause the Palestinians [to decide] who will rule over them. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. This is a fact. I do not believe that the state of Israel should cause another ruler to come to power in Gaza borne on the bayonets of the IDF.

“It’s just like after the disengagement. We left Gaza and we thought that with that troubles were over. Did we really think that a million and a half people living in that kind of poverty were going to mount the rooftops and begin singing the Beitar hymn? That is illogical.”

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alex Stein December 26, 2008, 12:15 AM

    If the siege was the sole problem, why were Hamas firing rockets before the it was in place?

    In an interview with Yediot yesterday, by the way, a Hamas spokesperson told the Israeli interviewer that the siege hadn’t been effective, that they were able to smuggle essentials via the tunnels. He even joked about it: Egyptian cheese isn’t as tasty as tnuva, but we’re getting used to it. Strange comments coming from the spokesperson of the group in charge of a territory supposed about to break out into mass famine.

  • Alex Stein December 26, 2008, 12:21 AM

    I also object to the “reminds us we’re in the middle of an election campaign.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe you have a vote in the Israeli elections. Imagine if an Israeli wrote a similar sentence about an American election campaign.

  • Richard Silverstein December 26, 2008, 12:55 AM

    @Alex Stein: C’mon, you can’t believe what you yrself are writing, can you? Just read Sara Roy in LRB if you want to stare at some cold, hard figures about Gazan suffering. The Hamas spokesperson was showing some bravado in the face of utter disaster.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about regarding Hamas rockets & the siege. The siege began just after Hamas won the PA election. That’s quite a while ago. I haven’t kept track of whether Hamas was firing rockets before then or not.

    As for yr faux outrage over my comment about the Israeli elections, again I don’t know what you’re on about. I have just as much a right as you or any Israeli to make a judgement about whether Meretz’s statement is political posturing for the sake of an election campaign. Are you really serious? If so, you’re really scrapin’ the bottom of the barrel.

  • Alex Stein December 26, 2008, 1:03 AM

    Rockets were fired before Hamas came to power, a fact which you can easily verify for yourself, as you and I both know. That’s an important fact irrespective of the extent of Gazan’s suffering. It’s again revealing that you suddenly plead agnosticism.
    And don’t twist my words: of course you have as much right as me or any Israeli or anyone around the world to comment about whatever you want. But you don’t have the right to precede your comments with “we”.

  • Richard Silverstein December 26, 2008, 2:12 AM

    @Alex Stein:

    you don’t have the right to precede your comments with “we”.

    “Reminds us” referred to my readers. You don’t take offense that I would refer to them in that way do you? Did you think I was referring to Israelis & including myself among them? If so, you misread me.

    As for Hamas rockets, whatever happened before Hamas won the election has precious little to do with what’s happening now. You as well as I know perfectly well why militants are firing rockets. “You don’t need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.”

  • amir December 26, 2008, 2:15 AM

    if Hamas listened to reason and common sense, it would realize the rocket attacks have not worked and won’t work (not to mention that it is morally indefensible and a violation of international law) to bring an end to the siege.
    Every reasonable person both inside and outside Gaza knows what will stop the siege descending on Gaza.
    All the Hamas has to do is renounce its covenant, recognize Israel, release Gilad Shalit and stop all rocket attacks and other acts of violence and terror on Israel and then it will enjoy peace and prosperity.

  • Alex Stein December 26, 2008, 2:33 AM

    Well it does actually. If Hamas fired rockets before the siege, and continued firing them after the siege, then it means that the siege is not the only factor driving their policy. I think that’s important to recognise. We could also ask why they aren’t firing rockets at the other (albeit lesser) party to the siege, i.e. Egypt.

    As for your use of we, I wasn’t aware that you and your readers were in the midst of an election campaign. Forgive me.

  • bar_kochba132 December 26, 2008, 6:08 AM

    One needs to look below the surface of public declarations to understand what is really going on. It is interesting to note that many in what you would consider the Far Right in Israel OPPOSE a large-scale military operation in Gaza for the same reason I believe that MERETZ supports it…the ultimate idea behind such an operation is to overthrow the HAMAS regime in Gaza and put Abu Mazen’s FATAH people back in the saddle there. The MERETZ people then feel that Abu Mazen would then have a mandate to reach a “peace agreement” with Israel, which he doesn’t have now since the Palestinian territories are now speaking with two voices-HAMAS in Gaza and FATAH in the rest.

    For the people who think that HAMAS’ policy “doesn’t make sense”, it actually does from their point of view if you listen to their statements to their own people…they view themselves in a war of attritition with Israel and they believe they are winning the war. Their late leader Sheikh Yassin said Israel will disappear by the year 2020. Nasrallah and Ahmedinejad have said similar things. They think they are winning because Israel’s own Prime Minister, Olmert, said “Israel is doomed if we don’t give the Palestinians a state right away”. He also said “Israel is tired of fighting and winning”. The Lebanon II War confirmed this in their eyes. Both Israelis and Arabs view it as an outright defeat for Israel. Also, don’t forget that Israel’s legendary “tough” general, Sharon, ordered the IDF to push the Jews out of Gush Katif and then to run away from the place, as they see it. They also see Israel’s powerlessness regarding Gilad Shalit and Israel’s unprecedented release of live prisoners (Kuntar) in return for the dead bodies of Goldwasser and Regev. Thus, they feel they can keep up their policies of limited warfare indefinitely. Don’t forget that they demand the crossing points be open and yet they attack them at the same time! It will be interesting to see if things remain hot in Gaza up until the election. Will Israelis accept their defeat and put in a government that promises more unilateral withdrawals, as Kadima has, or will there be a turn to the Right?

  • Peter H December 26, 2008, 1:15 PM

    Alex is right that there have been other factors affecting Hamas’ calculations on rocket fire from Gaza; IDF attacks on Hamas figures in the West Bank, inter-factional Palestinian competition, avoiding perception of caving under Israeli pressure, etc.. However, I do think that the economic siege is a key issue right now, since it makes it impossible for Hamas to govern Gaza effectively and undermines Hamas’ standing with Palestinians. See this piece in the current issue of Bitter Lemons by a Gaza-based journalist.

  • Richard Silverstein December 26, 2008, 10:19 PM

    @bar_kochba132: Wrong as usual. Meretz has in fact come out against precisely the type of full scale invasion & regime change operation which you claim they favor. Meretz is in favor of a limited incursion merely to punish Hamas for their rocket firing. They are not in favor of overthrowing Hamas or a full scale takeover of Gaza by Israel.

    a government that promises more unilateral withdrawals, as Kadima has

    Again you have it precisely wrong. Livini has learned her lesson fr. Sharon’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal that such things do not work. She would never withdraw from the Territories unilaterally or w/o a solid agreement w. the PA. Saying that she would is either pure ignorance on yr part or a deliberate lie.

  • Richard Silverstein December 26, 2008, 10:24 PM

    @Alex Stein:

    If Hamas fired rockets before the siege, and continued firing them after the siege, then it means that the siege is not the only factor driving their policy.

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? You can find anything you wish to find in Hamas’ behavior. The truth of the matter is that they’ve said why the rockets are falling. Israel has not honored its part of the bargain in the past ceasefire by easing the checkpoint crossings. THerefore Hamas will not participate in a new ceasefire until Israel either ends the siege or follows through on its previous agreement.

    I note today that the IDF allowed the checkpoints to open for the first time in ages. It may be that the Israeli gov’t has gotten Hamas’ msg. (though you apparently haven’t).

    My readers & I are deeply concerned about the Israeli election campaign. Since Israel IS in the midst of an election & we are interested in it, we too are vicariously going through the experience. So yes, I use the term “we” in talking about the elections (though not to claim myself as an Israeli or Israeli voter).

  • Richard Silverstein December 26, 2008, 10:27 PM

    @amir:

    Every reasonable person both inside and outside Gaza knows what will stop the siege descending on Gaza.

    All the Hamas has to do is renounce its covenant, recognize Israel, release Gilad Shalit and stop all rocket attacks and other acts of violence and terror on Israel and then it will enjoy peace and prosperity.

    Gee, could it be that Hamas isn’t only interested in “peace & prosperity???” Perhaps they’re interested in Palestinian national rights? Perhaps they’re interested in ending the Occupation? Perhaps they’re interested in ending the violence against Palestinians? Perhaps they don’t believe that by ending the missile barrage they’ll get any of those things.

  • Alex Stein December 27, 2008, 12:52 AM

    Richard – once again, Hamas explains their behavior, and you accept what they say, without any critical though whatsoever. We’re back in Mumbai again. Needless to say, when the IDF explains its behaviour, you start saying you don’t trust the IDF etc etc. That’s a double-standard.

    Btw, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard even Hamas give a reductionist explanation that it was solely about the siege, but feel free to correct me. And if it was just about the siege, why aren’t they firing rockets at Egypt?

    As for the opening of the crossings, I’m afraid it seems to be to ensure that there won’t be a humanitarian crisis during the expected IDF operation next week.

  • Richard Silverstein December 27, 2008, 1:23 AM

    @Alex Stein:

    once again, Hamas explains their behavior, and you accept what they say, without any critical though whatsoever.

    I resent that statement profoundly. Just because you disagree w. my views doesn’t grant you the ability to know whether my judgment is based on anything other than critical thought. Hamas has just as much credibility in my book as the Israeli government. That is to say, that neither rate very highly. But I am certain that if Israel lifted the siege there would be no rockets. And I judge this based on the fact that when Hamas has been motivated to do so, it has rigorously & mostly successfully enforced previous ceasefires. On the other hand, Israel has felt free to violate ceasefires whenever it is in its interest, just as it has felt free to refuse to implement provisions of previous ceasefires (like keeping the crossings open).

    I don’t trust the IDF because they lie. Period. And there are scores of examples of it in blog posts here. I don’t like liars even if they are representatives of as august a body as the Israeli army.

    I find your disingenuousness & attempt at provocativeness to be quite insufferable at times. They’re not firing at Egypt because that country isn’t occupying them and killing their inhabitants. They’re not firing at Egypt because that country is attempting to act as an honest broker in ceasefire talks and talks to free Gilad Shalit.

    And pls. don’t come back & claim that maintaining a closed border, as Egypt does is the same as the Israeli Occupation. It isn’t & you know it isn’t. All you’d have to do is use 20% of your own capacity for critical thought to answer yr own question. So why do you ask me to explain what should be obvious to you?

  • amir December 27, 2008, 2:08 AM

    You must know that during the whole tahadiya there was sporadic rocket fire inti Israel which was quite tolerated by Hamas. Was anyone arrested, tried and thrown off a building in connection with those acts.

  • Alex Stein December 27, 2008, 3:25 AM

    Your capacity for critical thought is extremely limited, Richard. That’s why the readers you claim appreciate you so much hardly ever wade into our discussions to defend your positions (the serious interventions of Peter H excluded).

    “But am I certain that if Israel lifted the siege there would be no rockets.” One would expect at least a touch of humility when making predictions about the future. Leaving that aside, there were rockets when there was no siege. Also, if it’s just about the siege, then Egypt would be targeted, wouldn’t it? As you say, it’s not just about the siege: it’s about the occupation etc. So it’s a bit more complicated than you put it.

    It’s also worth noting that Egypt isn’t that unhappy about the prospect of a limited Israeli attack on Gaza, which – sadly – has started this morning, as it’s angry over Hamas intransigence over internal Palestinian reconciliation and – to a lesser extent – the ongoing Shalit negotiations. Again, given that your capacity to deal with these complicating factors, I’m not surprised that you don’t bother mentioning these things.

  • bar_kochba132 December 27, 2008, 8:09 AM

    Richard stated:
    —————————————————-
    Hamas has just as much credibility in my book as the Israeli government. That is to say, that neither rate very highly.
    —————————————————–

    I suggest you remember this statement when you quote statements by the IDF or SHABAK or government officials attacking supposed criminal acts by “settler thugs” or other right-wingers but they don’t provide any proof or ever make any arrests.

    I would be interested in what you think of the comment I made above that tries to understand why HAMAS attacks the crossings when they are open. How is that meant to get Israel to end the siege? (Israelis have been killed in attacks at the crossing points).

  • Marc December 27, 2008, 5:42 PM

    @Richard:
    “I don’t like liars”
    As far as I can see here you are using a title “Tikun Olam” taken from the Jewish Sages (Rashi-Baba Metsia 34b-among other places) and using it as a basis to attack the position of Torah Judaism. That seems dishonest to me. Those Sages and the ones of today wouldn’t agree with many of the positions you take here…

  • Richard Silverstein December 28, 2008, 1:55 AM

    @Alex Stein:

    …The readers you claim appreciate you so much hardly ever wade into our discussions to defend your positions (the serious interventions of Peter H excluded)

    My readers don’t feel they have to come to my defense and I don’t ask them to do so. And it is either ignorance on yr part or merely a lie to say that readers do not criticize commenters with yr views or that they do not support my own.

    the prospect of a limited Israeli attack on Gaza

    You’re sitting their in Israel & you have the chutzpah to call 270 dead & 1000 injured in a mere 24 hrs. a “limited attack.” What utter gall you have.

  • Richard Silverstein December 28, 2008, 1:57 AM

    @amir:

    during the whole tahadiya there was sporadic rocket fire inti Israel

    Yes, & during the whole tahdiya there were consistent violations from the Israeli side as well. It was supposed to ease the siege. Did it? No.

  • Alex Stein December 28, 2008, 6:59 AM

    Richard – as was quite clear, I wrote the comment before the full details of the attack had emerged. If that’s how you want to score your points, feel free.

  • amir December 28, 2008, 2:06 PM

    Have you seen a copy of the agreement reached?

  • amir December 29, 2008, 12:48 PM

    270 dead & 1000 injured in a mere 24 hrs. is a very limited attack.
    No need to apologize Alex. There are 15,000 Hamas fighters. In the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war there were close to 3,000 Israeli dead soldiers. Entire platoons and companies were wiped out and Israel didn’t surrender. If Israel is serious about winning this war, it’s going to take A LOT more to bring it to an end favorable to Isael.

  • Peter D December 29, 2008, 1:29 PM

    amir, your comparison of bombardment of civilian population of Gaza with a real war between two regular armies is absurd. If Israel were fighting a regular army it would have been totally different. Even calling the current situation a “war” is grotesque. A shameful and cowardly pummeling, more like it.

  • karnak December 30, 2008, 8:31 PM

    there is one thing I still do not understand from a lot of posts here.
    Why should Israel lift the siege of Gaza.
    Gaza is a Palestinian entity and the same way, Israelis can not go through Syria or Lebanon, why should Gazans have good go through Israel.
    Gaza is, although not on paper an independent entity.

  • karnak December 30, 2008, 8:37 PM

    Peter D
    YOu are very right. Arabs are no longer interested in real wars, they understand that it is costly and not even profitable.
    They have come to realize that they get a much better deal by having militias hidden in the midst of civilian population fighting Israel, that way they can go to the media any time claiming of disproportionate reaction or massacre and have the whole world going after Israel.
    But at the end, wouldn’t it be easier for Arab countries, 100x more populated and God knows how much bigger to accept a piece of land without a Muslim majority.
    If Arabs simply cared more about their wellbeing and less about Israeli misery.

  • Peter D December 30, 2008, 9:17 PM

    karnak, come back when you’re ready to talk anything else but the usual Israeli talking points. Dozens of policemen killed int he first day of bombardments were not hiding among any civilian population, for example. Islamic University near which 5 sisters were killed was not a military target. Etc.
    Besides, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? So, next time Hizballah or Hamas bomb Kirya and hit some civilians in Tel Aviv I expect you to denounce cowardly Jews for having an army base in the midst of civilian population.