November 19, 2012

Gaza's gifts

It is intolerable for Israel's major population centers to be under attack. Ideally, Israel wants a cease-fire with Hamas, with international guarantees, or at least some outside verification, which will further elevate Israel's claims for the next time around. Israel's military offensive to neutralize the rockets and missiles being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians also has broader and less direct implications.


As well, this is not the first time a right-wing Israeli government elevates Hamas at the expense of the more moderate PLO, now embodied in the Palestinian Authority as headed by Mahmoud Abbas. During the 1980s, Israel did not mind the ascendance of Hamas as a way of hampering the PLO's operational and political strength.

In addition to making Israelis more secure -- at least in the short term -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaps further political advantage by diminishing Abbas and reducing the Palestinian leader's capacity to sustain a moderate course that might eventually compel Israel to finalize territorial compromises leading to a viable Palestinian state. Such an agreement and such a state used to be an Israeli goal, but under Netanyahu these are reduced to mere rhetorical flourishes. Beyond further cutting down Abbas, the Gaza operation also distracts attention from any potential peace initiative heading into the second Obama term. These may not have been considerations in his decision to counter-attack now, but they must definitely be seen as fringe benefits.


Were Egypt to succeed in brokering a cease-fire before the Arab League's ministerial delegation arrives in Gaza on Tuesday, Netanyahu will be spared that propaganda challenge, and he can avoid an Israeli ground invasion. The new, Islamic-based Egyptian regime will have a renewed stake in keeping the Gaza-Israel border secure, Turkey (which has turned on Israel since being rejected by Europe) will be further pushed out of the spotlight as a peacemaker, and all without the presence of Abbas.

Right after congratulating President Obama on his re-election, and just before attacking targets in Gaza, Netanyahu resurrected the immediacy of an Iran strike by reminding the public that Israel can do that on its own if necessary. The Gaza operation sends a reminder to all within and outside of Israel that he has the resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect Israel. This may promote effective deterrence against Iran, and it also helps him with the Israeli voters he needs to court ahead of the January 22 election.


The Gaza offensive may embolden (or better, compel) Abbas to proceed with his imminent bid for elevated status at the United Nations, but Israel will also be able to point to the current hostilities as proof that (1) this is no time to further undermine stability, (2) there seems to be no consensus on who speaks for the Palestinians, and (3) the goal of peace is a myth being used to harm Israel and advance a terrorist agenda. These may not be so convincing anymore on a logical level, and the Palestinians can secure their UN status despite the West's opposition, but such arguments do appeal to Netanyahu's primary audience of weary Israelis and the neo-conservative, trigger-happy wing of the U.S. Republican Party.

Had Netanyahu done a bit more to cultivate and empower Abbas, he might have a negotiating partner with the capability to deliver in ways that help Israel and the Palestinians -- and that marginalize Hamas. It is inconceivable that Netanyahu prefers rocket attacks to taking a calculated risk for sustainable peace, but he's betting to stop the rockets and keep painful territorial concessions at bay for a few more years. Or, at least, until February -- then he can restart the drumbeat on Iran.

1 comment:

  1. Figuring out the laws of unintended consequences is an a posteriori experience. Ask yourself the question, Why now does hamas launch the largest number of rockets at this time( largest since march or april of this year)? Does hamas want to give bibi a boost in the polls? Does it want to diminish abu mazen? Hard to say. Too many players with too many motives. Just to add fuel to the fire. Hamas is an offshoot of the muslim brotherhood. Gazans afiliate more with the egyptians than they do with the west bank palestinians. I wondering if these rockets were intended for egypts new president to make a staged entrence on the international scene as peace maker, thus giving him legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Clearly ,up until yesterday , he was the international presses's media darling. Now he is following in the footsteps of previous autocratic leaders of the middle east. Then again, the west has tolerated dictators before.