In terms of immediate results and consequences, there are ostensibly two logical reasons for the Israel Defense Forces to invade, bombard, "boom" and blockade the Gaza Strip and arrest Hamas politicians on the West Bank: to recover Corporal Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted just over a week ago, and to stop once and for all the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. These are the declared objectives of Operation Summer Rains.
At the broader strategic level there are two additional, more complex rationales for the operation. One, undeclared and tentative, is to destroy the Hamas infrastructure and eliminate the Hamas leadership, thereby presumably bringing down the current Palestinian Authority government. Some Israeli security circles defined this objective shortly after Hamas was elected on January 25, reasoning that the rise to power of a fundamentalist, anti-Semitic movement dedicated to Israel's ultimate disappearance justified an Israeli decision to preempt at the earliest opportunity.
A second, fairly obvious strategic rationale is to strengthen Israel's deterrent image after a series of setbacks and in so doing "prove" that last August's disengagement from Gaza was a profitable move from the standpoint of Israel's security. This would then render more supportable PM Ehud Olmert's plan to carry out another, larger round of disengagement in the West Bank. It might also save his government.
It is not at all clear how any of these objectives will be achieved using Israel's current tactics in and around Gaza. The current "fog of battle" can of course be explained as a deliberate attempt by the government to spread confusion and chaos and transmit the message that Israel has "gone crazy", thereby intimidating Hamas and other Gazan militants into cooperating. Alternatively, the Olmert-Peretz-Livni government, lacking the requisite experience in national security decision-making, is simply piling mistake upon mistake, leaving the IDF confused as to its real mission and achieving nothing beyond the misery it is causing innocent Palestinians in the Strip. Thus far, with Israel having gained little but also endangered little--there have been no Israeli losses in the operation and the rest of the world has proven remarkably tolerant and understanding of Israel's position--it is simply too early to pass judgment on either the wisdom or the outcome of this operation.
Nonetheless, a number of insights would appear to be relevant at this juncture. For one, at both the military and political levels we recall the dictum that Israel learned, or should have learned, in Lebanon: in chasing terrorists into a chaotic void like Gaza, it's easy to go in but hard to get out. In the present case, it is particularly difficult to define a workable exit strategy when the objectives of the operation are not entirely clear and our capacity to attain them at a reasonable cost is in doubt.
How and when will the IDF withdraw if it does not recover Corporal Shalit? And how will the Qassams falling on Sderot be silenced by this operation, bearing in mind that Qassams were fired from Gaza with relative impunity for years before last August, when the IDF still occupied parts of the Strip? The doubts regarding an exit strategy may explain the very limited nature of the IDF's incursion thus far.
Then too, Israel's decision to revert to military force reflects, in Israeli eyes at least, the conclusion that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas is as "irrelevant" as President Mahmoud Abbas: neither knew that Gaza-based Hamas and other militants would invade Israeli soil last Sunday morning, and neither has proven capable of exercising authority in Gaza. In this sense, Haniyeh's belated decision to okay the Prisoners' Document looks more like the hurried acquisition of a personal life insurance policy than anything else: having displayed his powerlessness for all to see, Haniyeh at least wants to ensure that Israel does not assassinate him if and when it decides to escalate the operation.
On the other hand, any Israeli attempt to manipulate the Palestinian political situation so as to bring about the downfall of the Haniyeh government and its replacement by moderates is almost certainly doomed to failure. This is another lesson that we should have learned from Lebanon: stay out of our neighbors' politics.
The current dilemma and its ramifications for future disengagement in the West Bank should concern anyone who supports the idea of Israel continuing to dismantle settlements. One can still make the case that leaving Gaza was good for Israeli security: the IDF handles routine security around the Strip with a fraction of its former contingent, and the current operation is far easier and more internationally justifiable precisely because we removed the settlements and withdrew to the green line, thereby highlighting the "casus belli" nature of the attack on Kerem Shalom. But the Palestinians have refused to accept our contention that disengagement created new "rules of the game" in Gaza, and many Israelis see only Qassams and abductions as a result.
Olmert's exaggerated hype of the next phase in the West Bank as creating final, recognized borders and his failure thus far to present a detailed and workable plan for that phase have cost him both Israeli and international support. Regardless of the outcome of Summer Rains, it's time for the government to present disengagement for what it is--no more, no less: a demographic and national imperative that solves some security problems and creates others; a vital exercise in conflict management until we can get back to conflict resolution, with everything still on the table. Certainly, one key aspect of the next phase of disengagement should be obvious by now: we can and should remove settlements from the West Bank--but not, under current Palestinian political circumstances, the IDF.
Finally, it behooves Israel and its supporters to understand what the Shalit abduction means for Palestinians, above and beyond everything else: the chance to free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Whether or not that happens soon--judging by past precedents a prisoner exchange for Shalit, if it happens, will take months if not years--Olmert should at some point in the future exploit an opportunity that justifies a gesture to the PA/PLO to begin releasing prisoners. That is the most expedient way to buy Palestinian good will when we need it.- Published 3/7/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The way Israel has been responding to the attack on the Israeli military post near Kerem Abu Salem/Shalom is raising a lot of questions about the Israeli strategy in dealing with the Palestinian situation, especially, but not only, after Hamas' victory in the January parliamentary elections.
In the period between that election and this most recent escalation, Israel seemed to have been in a holding position to test the possible changes within Hamas and the political and military behavior of the movement.
But Israel didn't make any dramatic changes in its policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian side. This was partly because Israel was enjoying the benefit of a Palestinian government that on the one hand was adhering strictly to a ceasefire and at the same time sparing Israel the embarrassment of having to deal politically with the Palestinian Authority.
In this way, Hamas is similar to Israel. Both incline toward unilateral policies and practices over a bilateral process based on international legality that calls for a complete end to the occupation, something Israel cannot live with, in return for final peace and mutual recognition--something Hamas cannot live with.
The recent Israeli escalation however, whether intentionally or not, has dragged Hamas back into a confrontation with Israel. The escalation of Israeli attacks in the last few weeks--including assassinations and the killings of civilians--exposed Hamas' self restraint and its adherence to the ceasefire to growing criticism from certain elements both within and without the movement.
The resumption of the movement's military activities has now created a new situation. When Israel arrested the ministers and elected legislators of Hamas it seems to have been sending the message that Israel will not allow Hamas to play a political and a military role at the same time.
The capture of the Israeli soldier, furthermore, has created an internal dynamic within Palestinian society that is making it increasingly difficult for Hamas to release the soldier without getting something in return. The families of the prisoners, a sizeable and influential sector in society, have high expectations and are consequently exerting pressure not to release the soldier without a release of Palestinian prisoners.
But it is not just the families of prisoners. Palestinians in general find it difficult to understand that Israel, which holds some 10,000 Palestinians, is unwilling to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Many Palestinians perceive this as part of a racist mentality on behalf of the Israeli government.
In political circles and among analysts, Palestinians are asking themselves if Israel is using this crisis as an excuse to bring to an end the existence of the Palestinian Authority. For Palestinians, the PA is not only important because of the public services it provides, but also because the PA is a significant achievement of the Palestinian people in their struggle and preparation for the establishment of an independent state.
There are reasons to make Palestinians believe that Israel is no longer pursuing the two-state solution. Israel seems to have pictured a future for Gaza that is different from the future of the West Bank, where the wall is dividing up territory. In the last two to three years, furthermore, Israel has tried to push the PA to become solely a provider of services, rather than fulfilling any political role, while Israel maintains overall sovereignty and security responsibilities.
Such a scenario, however, places obstacles not only in front of the Palestinians and their aspiration for independence, but also in front of Israel. Ultimately, Israel is not interested in returning to a direct occupational role. In addition, if that is the plan, it marks in a way a failure of the strategy that was developed by Sharon and which aimed at creating a status quo that is neither occupation nor a two-state solution.
In this complicated situation where the two respective publics and leaderships seem to be at a loss, it is increasingly important for the international community to enter the fray. Leaving the two parties to their own devices will only aggravate the situation on the ground and minimize the number of positive and peaceful options for the future. Palestinians in Gaza have in the last week been living a security and humanitarian nightmare of a kind they have not experienced before. That will not contribute to the peace and security both peoples are interested in.- Published 3/7/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
The big question
by Eyal Megged
The big, or perhaps eternal question, is: what do the Palestinians want? Beyond the events of the moment, beyond the headlines, the documents and the polls, beyond abductions and the response to abductions--what do they really want?
I meet every few months with leading intellectuals from all currents of thought in the society that lies beyond the fence--and every meeting leaves me confused. At one point, the wave they are riding is a single state for the two peoples; at another, the issue is a struggle for civil rights as in South Africa rather than a struggle for national liberation. At yet another meeting, they revert to the classic two-state formula. And now, in the spirit of the new Palestinian government, hudna (ceasefire) is the magic word. Give us '67 and receive in return a hudna for 60 or 70 and even 80 years ("in any case Israel won't exist longer than that").
A hudna is better than peace. Hudna means honoring rights. Hudna is mutual respect. And the land will be at peace 80 years, as in the Book of Judges. Sounds good, doesn't it? But wait a minute: what does '67 mean? That we give up Maaleh Adumim or Pisgat Zeev, too? Reconciliation that begins with the uprooting of tens of thousands from their homes--is this a good way to begin? I ask.
What, only we are allowed to be uprooted? They reply.
And if we are following this train of thought, what about the right of return, are you giving it up?
We'll manage with '67, they reply, on condition that it comprises everything, up to David's Tower in Jerusalem, no nonsense. We'll resettle the refugees in the meantime within these confines. As for the future, God is great.
And if I want to pray at the Western Wall, or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or prostrate myself on the tombs of the fathers on the Mount of Olives?
With a visa, what's the problem? To go to America you also need a visa.
In other words, to sum up this summary, we have to forget about ending the conflict and forego everything that we were prepared to die for, in return for a ceasefire with "dignity".
Because it is not the fate of the abducted soldier that stands between us and our neighbors. Nor is it the Prisoners' Document--yes or no? Nor even the fence. And day by day, it is increasingly obvious that even convergence or realignment is not the issue--that even this cause, that until recently was ostensibly our heart and soul, even this fateful issue is evaporating and losing not only its magic but even, under the circumstances, its fundamental validity. As always, what is revealed is the heart of the conflict, the stumbling block that some see as the rock upon which our very existence depends.
What, then, do you learn from this? What can you learn from this constant turbulence, these endless reversals?
At the end of the day, at least on the surface, it appears as if the Palestinians want nothing. Or, put differently, they don't want to actualize any demand. They will always place the hurdle so that even if you stretch all your limbs you won't clear it. You can break one record after another--Olympic, world--and never clear it. This rule apparently also applies to negotiations over the fate of the abducted Israeli soldier in Gaza.
Is there method to this madness? Yes, there is, and it is simple: you don't ever forego a fantasy. As long as it is not realized, you stick with it, with everything. You never give up anything.
When you stick with a fantasy you remain a child. You don't take responsibility. Somebody else will take care of you. You demand, receive, ask for more, get on people's nerves, absorb a few blows and shut up, and after a brief pause demand again: the same demand as before, but with additions. Like the balloon known as the prisoners' document, which is one of those documents launched every year or two. Like every Palestinian document, whether originating with prisoners, refugees or pensioners, it will pay empty lip service to the 1967 borders but emphasize the right of return. Anyone who is repeatedly astonished by this law of nature either needs a reality check or is being dishonest.
This is not stated as a provocation to the left or to the Israeli public sector known as the "peace camp", which displays this blindness. On the contrary, it is stated in order to persuade them to look the truth in the eye and respond accordingly--change their basic approach; not lose hope.
I again argue that if we don't view the right of return as some terrible devil, then perhaps we can think of a creative way out of the conflict. To the best of my judgment, the obstacle to reconciliation is emotional: legitimizing the authentic Palestinian feeling for the entire land is the key to overcoming this obstacle. Mutual recognition, each of the right of the other, will not automatically flood our cities and villages with millions of refugees. We could, say, recognize the personal right and reject the collective right. We could permit free movement to individuals, as opposed to the clear delineation of the national entity. We could try all sorts of ideas before saying no.- Published 3/7/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Eyal Megged is an author and poet. He was awarded the Book Publishers' Association's Golden and Platinum Book Prizes for his novels Everlasting Life and Saving Grace. His autobiographical novel Woman Country was published last month.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
by Mahdi Abdul Hadi
In the past week, two different episodes occurred in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that showed an evolution in Palestinian society. The first episode occurred in Gaza on June 25 in the proximity of the Kerem Abu Salem/Shalom area. There, a group of young, angry and frustrated Palestinians, members of the Popular Resistance Committees, dug a tunnel to reach an Israeli military base and engage in a battle in which they lost two, killed two Israeli soldiers and captured 20-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit as a prisoner of war.
The second episode occurred in the Eastern Cemetery in Nablus on July 1. There, a group of young, angry and frustrated Palestinians, this time affiliated with Fateh, withstood a 20-hour Israeli military operation without rest, facing down tear gas, bullets, missiles and psychological warfare. Walid Shahruri, 16, fought on while wounded and did not answer even his mother's appeal for him to surrender. After the deaths of his colleagues, Nablus, with its more than 200,000 citizens, held a day of mourning in honor of their heroism.
These episodes could prove to be a new direction in the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation: they were not coordinated, nor ordered from higher up; they were not related and they were carried out by young people, not for the agenda of some leadership, but in the name of national aspiration and for their own fulfillment and pride in order to defy the culture of the occupation.
Young Palestinians constitute more than 50 percent of the population. The youths that fought in the two incidents cited above did so knowing they would not undo the Israeli occupation. They wanted to send a message by humiliating the Israeli military and thereby setting an example for others to follow in what might become a "third intifada", in the hope that this time it will not be hijacked by "big brothers", whether inside or outside.
The Israeli army's nose was bloodied and the inflated ego of this "undefeated army" was deflated by inexperienced youths who were born and raised under its boots.
That army is now bent on revenge and neither Amir Peretz, the Israeli minister of defense, nor PM Ehud Olmert can tame the beast. Hence the scenes we are witnessing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the Palestinian house, meanwhile, the political earthquake resulting from the victory of Hamas in January's parliamentary elections showed the people's desire for change and reform. The success of Hamas also contributed to the exposure of a divided Fateh movement and a corrupt regime. It thus helped the emergence of a new generation in the secular Fateh movement who are not beholden to the old guard.
In addition, the rise of Hamas brought Islamists closer to the grey area of governing and compelled them to "normalize" with secularists to develop a joint agenda.
After the January elections, Hamas and Fateh carried on as opponents at different levels, both inside and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory, OPT. This adversarial relationship reflected their differences in positions, interests and goals. In addition, Hamas had no experience in governing and Fateh could not accommodate itself as an opposition.
Israel, the EU and the US, meanwhile, forced three conditions upon Hamas for it to be internationally accepted as the Palestinian government: to recognize Israel, accept all previous agreements, and to renounce violence. The subsequent sanctions against the Palestinian Authority led to a severe closure, a freeze on the salaries of 160,000 Palestinian civil servants and an economic disaster in the making.
Hamas leaders succeeded in bringing in some money from Arab and Islamic states and Prime Minister Ismail Hanyeh established his Friday sermons in Gaza that directly reached the young masses, a move reminiscent of Latin America's Sunday Church sermons by revolutionary leaders.
Gradually, through the national dialogue based on the 18-point Prisoners' Document, Hamas reached an agreement with Fateh representatives to meet all the conditions set by the West and to form a coalition government willing to negotiate with Israel, with the roadmap as the basis to find a two-state solution.
This proved, however, to be in total contradiction with Israeli government goals, namely Kadima's unilateral "convergence" plan and the crushing of Hamas as a "terrorist organization". The latter came from the fear that Hamas' future evolution would see it successfully implement a program based on political Islam and eventually copy the tactics of Hizballah in Lebanon. Israel is using the Shalit episode as a pretext to implement these strategic goals.
These strategic goals also explain the Israeli practices in Jerusalem and the rest of the OPT in terms of the separation wall, closures, arrests, deportation of Legislative Council members and, recently, influencing the PA's decision to retire the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem because of his close ties with Islamic leaders in Israel and their role in preserving the Arab-Islamic sites in Jerusalem.
The Shalit episode has brought Egypt's role as a mediator to the fore. Egypt has its own security concerns vis-a-vis Gaza, and in particular the border at Rafah, and wants to soften the impact of Israeli military operations so as not to expand the crisis to the region, in particular Syria.
There are several consequences to the current events in Gaza. A positive scenario would see Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners like they released Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in exchange for two Mossad agents following the attempted assassination of Khalid Meshaal in Amman in September 1997. This exchange of prisoners would be under Egyptian mediation like the September 1997 exchange was under the late King Hussein's mediation.
Following such an exchange, Israel would find itself facing a Palestinian coalition government and Arab mediators (Egypt and Jordan). This could usher in, in spite of the culture of fear and mistrust, a long process of negotiations along the roadmap agenda. Though a seemingly positive scenario, Palestinians will continue to suffer under the Israeli military "stick" and the resumption of European "carrots".
A negative scenario would be the implementation of Israel's strategic goal, namely crushing Hamas, by allowing the iron boot of the Israeli army to trample its way through, assassinating some Hamas leaders and consequently ending the mission of the PA and in particular that of Mahmoud Abbas. This would lead us to the beginning of a third intifada in the mould of the examples set by Kerem Shalom and Nablus's Eastern Cemetery.- Published 3/7/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Mahdi Abdul Hadi is chairman of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), a think tank based in Jerusalem.
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