In the aftermath of last week's violent suppression of the Gaza flotilla, Israel now confronts a number of critical lessons. Whether and how it deals with them is of far-reaching importance for the coming months.
First and foremost, the Gaza blockade and the flotilla affair are a metaphor for a much broader problem. From Hizballah to Hamas, from southern Lebanon to the Gaza Strip, Israel has not found effective strategies for dealing with militant Islamist non-state actors operating from bases on its borders.
The economic warfare strategy expressed in the blockade has proven counterproductive; there are ways to prevent the entry of ordnance and strategic construction materials to Gaza without inflicting collective punishment on 1.5 million people, thereby strengthening Hamas. Military operations have provided a measure of deterrence against rocket attacks but have generated the "Goldstone effect" with its devastating consequences for Israel's international standing. Certainly no one in Israel wants to reoccupy the Strip--the only conceivable way of actually removing Hamas. Nor does holding all of Gaza hostage to the fate of a single Israeli soldier serve our needs. Maintaining these current failed strategies merely leaves Hamas with veto power, in the form of a few hundred or thousand rockets, over any peace process with the PLO that it doesn't like.
Finding better ways to deal with Hamas and Hizballah is not easy. But solutions will not be found until we acknowledge the failure of existing strategies. Since the economic warfare strategy--of which the flotilla affair is but one aspect--has involved a variety of international and regional partners (the Quartet, Egypt, even the PLO), they should be closely consulted regarding possible revisions. Better to do that immediately than to rebuff all demands for an international inquiry.
Then too, the almost inevitable tragedy on board the Mavi Marmara is a metaphor for additional ticking-clock situations that are bound to explode in our faces if we don't confront them in time. All of a sudden, everyone realizes that this was bound to happen and that the Gaza blockade should have been reassessed long ago. Where were they a week ago?
One such ticking-clock situation is our deteriorating status in American eyes: when Mossad Chief Meir Dagan tells the Knesset that Washington is beginning to look upon us as a strategic burden rather than an asset, he is sounding a warning. Is anyone listening? Another such situation is the projected political endgame to the Palestinian Authority's state-building project: will we really wait until August 2011, when the international community confronts us with the fait accompli of a recognized Palestinian state, before seeking ways to accommodate this direction of events?
Yet another important lesson concerns Turkey. Back in the days of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and rampant Arab nationalism, Israel was allied with Turkey and Iran. The three non-Arab Middle East states shared common security concerns regarding Arab aims. Thirty years ago, Iran became an Islamist republic and abandoned the alliance. Now Turkey has adopted a radically different approach that is giving it Islamist and regional-power status and expanding its relations with nearly everyone but Israel. While Israel, Iran and Turkey remain the strongest states in the region--not the least due to Arab state disfunctionality and the rise of militant non-state Islam--Israel is now the odd-man-out. With a little ingenuity and less hand-wringing over the "loss" of Turkey and the ugly rhetoric of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, we could exploit Ankara's new status to our advantage. Recall how then-PM Ehud Olmert embraced Ankara's offer to mediate between Israel and Syria in 2008, with positive results, however temporary.
The world's reaction to the bloody outcome of Israel's attempt to intercept the Gaza flotilla last week is generally understood by the right-wing government in Jerusalem as reflecting anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic prejudices so deeply embedded as to defy rational argument. This in turn seemingly justifies raising the ramparts of fortress Israel even higher, in a kind of paranoid vicious circle of isolation. Undoubtedly, in some parts of the world Israel can now truly "do no right"; I was struck last week during a visit to a European capital how easily some observers were convinced that Israel's naval commandos carried out a premeditated slaughter of innocent peace activists despite the overwhelming visual evidence to the contrary and the open admission by Israel's military chiefs that they had operated on the basis of faulty intelligence.
Yet it's pointless to blame anyone but ourselves for the mess. We will indeed have to use force in future to defend ourselves against genuine threats; we cannot let the flotilla fiasco deter us, but we'd better be aware where this will take us. In parallel, we need a leadership that is not afraid to reassess the most basic strategies and assumptions regarding Hamas in Gaza. Sadly, I doubt the Netanyahu government has the political motivation or resources to do this.- Published 7/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
When is the world going to say to Israel, enough?
When will the international community make clear that the situation in this part of the world is too dangerous to allow the Israeli government to act like a rogue state?
The moment is now. The world must insist that Israel cease to behave as if it is the one country that can act with impunity, above the law, with no regard for consequences.
What happened to the Gaza-bound flotilla was not an accident or an exception. It fits a consistent pattern of Israeli behavior of disproportionate actions, of disrespect for anybody's rights but their own, and of disregard for international law.
To Palestinians, none of this is a surprise. It is to be hoped that those who defend Israel internationally will now see the reality and act accordingly.
The timing of this outrage is utterly reckless. How do Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak suppose that such state violence advances the cause of peace? They make the excuse that they are combating terrorism, but the message of their own action is that force is everything.
How do they suppose this looks to those in Palestine who are engaged with US efforts to negotiate a lasting agreement between Israel and Palestine?
Our optimism was already tempered by our long experience of Israeli tactics. But we say to our people, let us do all we can to ensure that US President Barack Obama can at last bring Israel to agreement. That means working patiently to build the institutions of a Palestinian state while President Mahmoud Abbas engages with the US envoy, George Mitchell.
It means working daily to strengthen our economy, despite all the restrictions placed on us by the Israeli occupation, which disrupts the free movement of our farmers and traders trying to go about their business, offering no threat to anyone.
It means working weekly to improve law and order so that our streets are safer for our own people. Nobody can say we are not stable and well governed.
Working to build our own state in spite of occupation means putting up with daily humiliations, suffering the violence of Israeli settlers who set fire to Palestinian olive groves and incite riots wherever possible. None of this is easy to do when our opposition says such tactics lead nowhere because Israel understands only the language of violence.
Israel's attack on the Gaza flotilla makes it very much harder for us to see Israel as a partner for peace. Israel is fond of saying--falsely--that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. The question the world needs to ask is whether this Israeli government is behaving like a partner for peace.
Israel must now heed the United Nations' call for an end to the siege on Gaza. It must abide by the findings of an impartial, credible investigation into these killings, not ignore them, as it did with the Goldstone report into its military assault on Gaza last year.
It is clear to any reasonable person that Israel's version of the attack on the flotilla is not the truth. Any investigation must give full weight to the testimony of those attacked.
It is impossible to understand how Israel can behave so aggressively, right now, when all who believe in peace need to show, in all we do and say, that force is not the way, that violence must be rejected. A weak international response would be a gift to those who argue for violence.
The Palestinian leadership will not be deterred from our declared aim of building the institutions of state by next year. We are on course to achieve this. The World Bank has recently reported that we are making steady progress. But it also described the situation as precarious.
We cannot achieve our peaceful aim unless the world stands up to Israeli aggression and insists that the days of disregarding international law are over. The Israel that launched this attack in international waters is the Israel that has been in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions for more than 40 years.
The world must say, enough. If not now, when?- Published 7/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Needed: a shared strategy
by Ephraim Sneh
The cumulative evidence, the Marmara's own CCTV coverage, video photos from the actual naval operation, all strengthen the conclusion that the Gaza flotilla was a well-planned provocation. What angers me as an Israeli is the fact that the government of Israel walked right into this trap.
We could have dealt with the flotilla more intelligently. The angry and obsessive international preoccupation with the death of nine militants ignores the fundamental question that has to be asked. The angry reaction to the losses among followers of the Turkish jihadist organization IHH is an obvious example of the world's hypocrisy--the double standard invoked when addressing Israel. I did not witness this sort of anger when dozens of Muslims were torn to pieces by suicide bombers inside mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. I saw no such outrage when Afghan civilians became "collateral damage" in NATO attacks against the Afghan Hamas, a.k.a. the Taliban.
The central question is, why does everyone acquiesce in the existence of the Hamas regime in Gaza? We recall that Hamas took power in Gaza in June 2007 in a brutal and bloody armed coup, and has survived since then with the massive military and financial support of Iran. Hamas in Gaza is stockpiling thousands of missiles and rockets, some 3,000 of which have already been launched against Israel. Hamas rules Gaza with a heavy hand, brutally suppresses its political rivals, and is gradually imposing harsh Islamic religious law. If anyone believes that Palestinians in Gaza, whose welfare everyone is concerned about, love the Hamas regime, they should be reminded that not a single opinion poll has been taken in Gaza in the past two years that did not award Fateh of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) a significant majority of support over Hamas.
For the two countries bordering Gaza, Hamas rule there is unacceptable. For Egypt, this is a dangerous precedent of takeover by force on the part of an organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the nemesis of the Cairo regime. Every day that passes in Gaza under Hamas rule offers proof that the Brethren are capable of maintaining power for an extended period. This is a precedent that Egypt cannot easily accept.
For Israel, Gaza is an Iranian missile base situated three km from the nearest Israeli town and 60 km from Tel Aviv, where more and more missiles are being stockpiled for eventual launch against Israel.
But Israel and Gaza cannot be separated. Five functional sectors link them: commerce, energy, water, environment and health. In each of these sectors, mutual dependence prevents separation. Hence Israel cannot declare that what happens in Gaza no longer interests it, just as there is no possibility of managing the affairs of Gaza efficiently over time without close cooperation with Israel. This organization that rejects Israel's existence cannot govern in Gaza over the long run, even with outside support.
Hamas rule in Gaza is unbearable for the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen as well. Some 40 percent of the PA's citizens are living under the rule of a movement that seeks to eliminate it and turn all of Palestine into an Islamic emirate and promises eternal confrontation with Israel. This movement aspires to turn the Palestinian dream of a modern and sovereign state into a nightmare along the lines of Mogadishu under the "Shabab".
Actually, there is no siege of Gaza. All the political actors whose basic interests are violated by the existence of Hamastan in Gaza nevertheless allow Hamas to rule there. Egypt in effect permits a supply highway to deliver nearly anything through the tunnels. The Ramallah-based Palestinian government pays the 77,000 monthly salaries of PA employees in Gaza. Israel delivers, in addition to electricity and water, some 150 trucks loaded with equipment--not just humanitarian goods--every day.
There are almost no exports from Gaza and there is little production there. As long as a terrorist organization rules there, neither Israel nor Egypt will permit entry of shipments that the Hamas military arm is responsible for from a security standpoint. Here we recall that, prior to the Hamas coup in Gaza, 750 trucks entered Israel from Gaza daily, when Abu Mazen's Presidential Guard was responsible for security at the crossings.
The solution Gaza needs will only arrive when Hamas rule ends there. That can only happen by means of a joint strategy coordinated among Egypt, Israel and the PA. Possible interim objectives could include transfer of the border crossings to PA rule and establishment of an apolitical Palestinian civil administration that would manage the affairs of the Gaza Strip pending elections. But even these interim objectives are hard to achieve without first neutralizing Hamas' military force in Gaza.
This shared strategy is an urgent and appropriate topic for the talks being managed by Senator George Mitchell. Gaza must return to legitimate Palestinian rule and cease serving Iran's strategic interests.- Published 7/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF general, served in Israeli governments as minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A pathological state
an interview with Eyad Sarraj
bitterlemons: What did you make of last week's Israeli raid on the Freedom Flotilla?
Sarraj: It was a tragedy, but it was also good that for once the Israeli government worked to advance our cause by exposing its stupidity and racism to the rest of the world, killing innocent civilians from other countries. This was a very accurate exposure of the nature of the occupation and the pathology of Israeli society.
bitterlemons: You say the pathology of Israeli society. What do you mean?
Sarraj: There is a structural fault line in Israel in which the central tenet holds that Israelis are the eternal victims. Even when Israel attacks others, Israelis are convinced that they are actually the victims and are only defending themselves.
This pathology has convinced many around that world that Israel is indeed a victim and that the Palestinians are the guilty party and no more than terrorists. This time, Israel yet again aggressively killed people, and, like before, is trying to present itself as the victim. But I think the world is beginning to get a clear picture of what is actually going on.
Another element to the Israeli pathology is the complete reliance on the use of force, maximum force, at that. This is, above all, a symptom of weakness and insecurity. I think some Israelis are beginning to realize that this dependence on force is only hurting the country.
bitterlemons: You said the raid would help Palestinians. Do you see any signs of tangible results so far?
Sarraj: In the long-term, Israel will suffer because of it. Israel has long lived in the belief that it can break laws with impunity. That is changing. Israel has long had the unyielding support of the world, Europe and America in particular. But that is changing and with incidents like this, it will change even quicker. This will help the just cause of the Palestinians.
People can see that Palestinians were not involved directly in this incident but that Israel went and killed people anyway. This shows the true nature of the Netanyahu government and what it represents.
bitterlemons: Do you think the blockade on Gaza will be eased?
Sarraj: I think there are now serious attempts, not only to help the Palestinians, but to rescue Israel from itself. There are attempts in certain quarters to avoid this happening again while also trying to placate Israel's paranoia about its security.
bitterlemons: There is a suggestion that the European Union will propose some sort of international mechanism for inspecting boats and borders. Will this work?
Sarraj: I welcome European involvement in some kind of operation that will lift the siege on Gaza. But it is not acceptable if Europe is to act as an agent for Israel's security again. There needs to be freedom of access for individuals and goods from all exits and crossing points to Gaza.
bitterlemons: Is the Egyptian opening of the Rafah crossing a first step to an easing of the siege?
The Egyptians were affected like everyone else in the world and wanted to show their solidarity with Palestinians. The government too wanted to do something, without at the same time raising tensions with Israel. Right now, it is a restricted opening and we want that border to be open completely like it was before 2006.
bitterlemons: Some Israelis are suggesting that Israel should seal its borders with Gaza completely and leave only the Rafah crossing open. Is this a serious suggestion?
Sarraj: This is the old Zionist program to push Gaza to Egypt so Israel can concentrate on taking more land from the West Bank and leave the rest to Jordan. We have to be careful about this. We are one nation and we have the right of access to the West Bank just like the West Bank should have access to Gaza.
bitterlemons: What is the effect on Hamas of last week's raid?
Sarraj: This is now a challenge for Hamas to prove that it is not simply interested in controlling and ruling Gaza, but is prepared and ready to be a strategic partner in the region.
bitterlemons: Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What do you make of that?
Sarraj: I invite any Israeli to come and live in a refugee camp here and watch his father be unable to find work and provide for his family. I will go and live in Tel Aviv in the meantime. If Netanyahu finds that conditions here are so good, he can come and stay here.
bitterlemons: Are you fairly confident that the blockade on Gaza will at least be eased in the short term?
Sarraj: I think it is likely. The world is in uproar over the Israeli raid and the ultimate cause of that raid is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The way to prevent any similar tragedies in the future is to end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That can only happen by lifting the blockade and giving Palestinians a chance to look after themselves in freedom and dignity.- Published 7/6/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Eyad Sarraj is a political commentator and the chairman of the board of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.