In lieu of my own extended commentary, here is another installment of links to interesting articles and commentaries I’ve read over the past few days. One of the take-aways from what one reads is the futility—long-term—of the Israeli operation, but also of Hamas’s strategy, however one tries to understand it. I looked at a timeline of events of the past two weeks, to try to determine which side started the latest flare-up. Answer: both. Or neither. It was a tit-for-tat escalation started by whoever and with Netanyahu using the occasion to unleash the IDF on a “mowing the lawn” operation in Gaza, i.e. to take out rockets that had been smuggled into the strip (Fajr 5s) and cut Hamas—which has been getting too big for its britches—down to size. But the Israelis cannot remove Hamas from power and are not about to reoccupy the strip. And the longer they bomb and the more civilians are killed—and most are just ordinary people, “includ[ing] farmers, water sellers and the girl next door,” as Amira Hass details in Haaretz—, the more Hamas’s position is reinforced.
Among those who argue this is Aaron David Miller, in a piece in Foreign Policy on “How Hamas won the war,” even if Israel wins the current battle. Fatah is in disarray, Mahmoud Abbas and the PA have never been weaker, Hamas has increasing support in the region… And Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t mind having Hamas in the Palestinian saddle
It’s politically inconvenient to admit it, but given Bibi’s world view — which is profoundly shaped by suspicion and mistrust of the Arabs and Palestinians — he’s more comfortable in the world of Hamas than of Abbas. This is a world of toughness, of security, and of defending the Jewish state against Hamas rockets, incitement, and anti-Semitism. Hamas’s behavior merely validates Netanyahu’s view of reality — and it empowers him to rise to the role of heroic defender of Israel.
Netanyahu didn’t seek out a war over Hamas’s rockets, which threaten an increasing number of Israeli towns and cities. But he is truly in his element in dealing with it. Sure he’d like to destroy Hamas and negotiate with Abbas — but on his terms. Indeed, the world of a negotiation over borders, refugees, Jerusalem is a world of great discomfort for Netanyahu, because it will force choices that run against his nature, his politics, and his ideology.
Which is why Netanyahu is not about to do what Peter Beinhart recommends on “How to really hit Hamas,” which would be to bolster the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, and Salam Fayyad, not react with negativity to the PA’s UNGA bid, seek negotiations, etc. Une belle idée mais sans doute un vœux pieux…
A few non-left Israeli commentators are taking a not hard line on the latest flare-up. E.g. in Foreign Affairs last Friday, Ehud Yaari, presently a fellow at the not anti-Israel WINEP, explained “How to end the war with Gaza,” that a cease-fire should be brokered by (Muslim Brotherhood-run) Egypt.
On Ynet.com, Avner Fainguelernt—who is on the left, as I learned after reading him—has an op-ed arguing that Israel should “Try talking to Hamas,” that—and this is the lede—”Israeli leaders have tried out every single weapon in the world – except dialogue.” Fainguelernt is identified as “an educator and independent filmmaker, who was born and lives in a Gaza vicinity kibbutz [and] is the director of the Television and Cinema Arts Department at the Sapir Academic College and the founder of the Cinema South Festival in Sderot.” As it so happens, I saw a documentary three nights ago, at a film fest in Paris sponsored by the alter-globalization group ATTAC, on Fainguelernt’s film school, entitled ‘Sderot, Last Exit’, and in which he is the principal interviewee. I’ll have a separate post on this later.
Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston devotes his latest to “A plea to Israel from the right: End the Gaza war now.” The lede: “Prominent columnist Ben Dror Yemini, an outspoken critic of the Israeli left, urges Israel to make a move which no one expects – follow a unilateral cease-fire by inviting Hamas to peace talks.”
Along the same general lines, political scientist Nathan Brown, for whom I have the highest academic regard—he’s one of the best MENA specialists around—, discusses in TNR “The long road to a moderate Hamas,” arguing, entre autres, that Hamas could change incrementally and be nudged toward pragmatism.
I don’t buy it. On the matter of talking to Hamas, this cannot possibly happen—not in the foreseeable future—, as both Hamas and Israel reject out of hand the mere mention of direct talks, Hamas for ideological reasons—that go to the heart of what it is all about as a movement—and Israel precisely because of what Hamas represents as a movement. The Israelis could possibly change their attitude but only if Hamas makes the first, major move à la Anwar Sadat. But I doubt even the most wistful doux rêveur believes that this is at all in the realm of the possible. And then there is the matter of the PA in Ramallah, which remains the legitimate, internationally recognized Palestinian interlocutor. Direct talks with Hamas in the current context of intra-Palestinian discord would signal the end of the PA. And there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Israel will allow Hamas to pick up the pieces in the West Bank and occupy the Muqata’a in Ramallah. Don’t even think about it. As for Hamas’s supposedly “pragmatic,” “moderate” rhetoric on a long-term hudna (truce), this is eyewash. In return for such a wonderful deal, Israel would, so says Hamas, have to unilaterally withdraw from all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and accept the “right of return,” though with no end of conflict agreement or recognition of Israel by a (Hamas-run) Palestinian state, and in the absence of any direct negotiations. And during which time the (Hamas-run) Palestinian state could arm itself it to the teeth—and with rockets rather more sophisticated than Fajr 5s—, in preparation for the day the truce lapses, or is perhaps terminated prematurely à la Hudaybiyya. This is, to put it mildly, not serious.
Israel should, of course, withdraw from the West Bank and E.J’lem—with some minor border modifications—but this cannot and will not happen unilaterally. It has to be negotiated face-to-face—obviously—and with a sufficient level of trust on both sides. And be accompanied by a formal end-of-conflict declaration, with all outstanding claims settled, and agreed upon compensation for spoliated Palestinian property and assets from 1948. As for the right of return, forget it. Israel will never agree to it, not even symbolically. Ever. And nor should it. If the Palestinians draw an indelible red line on this, they will end up with nothing. Period.
In short, between Israel and Hamas there is no possibility whatever of anything more than a cease-fire—and where Israel makes no commitments not to intervene in the future if it deems it necessary. The status quo is as good as it gets. Pour la durée au moins.
Two nights ago I had an exchange with a friend who works on MENA for a major NGO, who was asking how I explained Hamas’s smuggling the game-changing Fajr 5s into Gaza, when they had to know that the Israelis would be observing the smuggling operation like a hawk and not sit on their hands about it. He was mystified by Hamas’s thinking, scratching his head trying to understand what was going through theirs. My terse response
I think Hamas imported the Fajr 5′s because they thought they could get away with it, that the rockets could indeed be hidden without Israel knowing about it and then be trotted out to bombard Tel Aviv on judgment day and taking the Jews totally by surprise. After all, if Hizbullah can get away with stuff like this – and seriously bloody the Jews big time as in 2006 – pourquoi pas nous? And the way things are going in the region these days – with the Ikhwan in power in Cairo and possibly soon to be in Damascus – they no doubt feel that history is on their side. One thing is for sure: these people [i.e. Islamists] do not have the same Weltanshauung as you or I. Their perception of reality and assessment of risk is rather different. The mere fact that they even exist is proof of this.
It is also apparent that they don’t mind getting the shit kicked out of them by Israel every so often. They think they can weather the storm, that the Israelis will never reoccupy the strip – which they indeed won’t – and that successive Israeli offensives only entrench Hamas further in power and increase its sympathy in the Arab/Muslim world. Like I said, they think history is on their side. The Hamasawis need to read Jabotinsky on the Iron Wall. And pay a visit to the US Congress.
More on the US Congress below. As for Jabotinsky, what Hamas and its useful idiot supporters and apologists outside Palestine seem not to comprehend is that the militant rejectionist rhetoric on Israel is music to Netanyahu et al’s ears. Aaron David Miller said as much above. It confirms the world-view of the Israeli right—and certainly of Netanyahu, whose father was a disciple of Jabotinsky—, that the Arabs will never accept the presence of the Jews in Palestine/Eretz Israel, so the only possible response is to build that iron wall against which the Arabs will bang their heads until, maybe after a century, they finally accept reality and recognize the permanence of the Zionist enterprise. That’s the Revisionist Zionist position. And Hamas and other rejectionists and one-staters are accomplices in it.
More on Hamas’s thinking. I really do believe that a good part of their self-confidence and intransigence is driven by Jew hatred. Like all Islamists—as well as many in that part of the world who are not Islamist—Hamas is contemptuous of Jews, viewing them as cowardly, craven, and all the rest. This view of Jews is deeply rooted in their ideology and culture, religious and otherwise. The rhetoric on Jews hardly differs from that of Europe pre-1945. This is, of course, hardly a revelation—anyone who has the slightest familiarity with the subject knows it—but many on the western left evacuate this reality. Ça dérange, so they don’t deal with it, or try to explain it away.
More social scientifically, a 1995 article by the political scientist David Laitin, “National Revivals and Violence,” provides a schema that helps in understanding what drives Hamas violence (as well as that of non-Hamas Palestinian groups). In writing about Spain and Basque separatists, Laitin observes that
Once violence begins, it will be sustained by three factors: (a) if the regional population perceives the tactical victories but is blind to the strategic losses, (b) if the costs of leaving the terrorist organization are high, and (c) if a “culture” of violence becomes institutionalized.
(a) and (c) clearly apply to the Palestinian movement. The momentary satisfiction of seeing the enemy terrorized—e.g. following waves of suicide bombings, as during the second Intifada—blinded many to thinking ahead as to the consequences this would have for them once the enemy inevitably riposted. Laitin continues
A stunning random “victory”, and the concomitant re-evaluation of the chances for independence by people from the region, will lead to a new tyranny – the tyranny of sunk costs… After new recruits join an illegal military organization, and after they commit a criminal act, it is extremely difficult, psychologically and for security reasons, for them to change their minds and return to political quiescence… This tyranny of sunk costs acts to sustain a movement long after its original goals, or even its original characterization of the “center”, are lost in the fog of commando actions and state reprisals.This action-reprisal-action cycle that escalates between nationalist movement and state authority (or other enemies of the regional movement) creates what can be called a “culture of violence”…in which ordinary people become callous to violence and begin to see it as part of “ordinary” life. The cultural expectation of violence helps perpetuate it, as it joins the set of plausible actions that anyone in society might use to fulfill one’s political agenda.
Mutatis mutandis, this would seem to apply entirely to the Palestinian case. And there are some serious sunk costs in Gaza.
Political scientist Barak Mendelsohn has a piece in Foreign Affairs on “Hamas’ Miscalculation,” on how they did think they could get away with striking Israel. In his analysis
two factors pushed Hamas to ramp up its bombing campaign: competition from Salafi groups and Hamas’ belief that its strategic environment had improved in the wake of the Arab Spring.
But Hamas miscalculated
The flaw in Hamas’ logic, though, was that it assumed that Israel would cooperate and not retaliate. Israel would not let Hamas shirk responsibility, though, and demanded that Hamas assert its authority over the radical factions. To reinforce the message, this year, Israel carried out a number of strikes on Hamas targets. Once it became a target itself, Hamas was even less able able to show restraint. It eventually resumed carrying out its own strikes on Israel, a move that was cheered by the Hamas rank and file, who, without such attacks, might have defected to the more radical groups.
Another of Hamas’ miscalculations was expecting Egypt to be supportive of its actions, which, when combined with Israel’s fear of alienating the regime in Cairo, would allow Hamas to escalate the conflict without it spinning out of control…But, the group was wrong again. Hamas’ closer ties with Egypt did not discourage Israel from fighting back.
Simply put, Hamas’ strategic environment was not as favorable as it thought. When it tried to push Israel’s boundaries, Israel pushed back. Now the group is in a bind. It needs a face-saving resolution to the fighting, one that would allow it to claim some achievement worth of the devastation inflicted this month on Gaza. Even after that, the group will still face the same old tension between its ideology of resistance and the responsibilities that come with governing. And all the while, its Salafi challengers will be lurking, challenging its commitment to the struggle against Israel. If Hamas wants to avoid future such escalations, it will need to crack down on these groups. But that would come with a price – in popularity and legitimacy – that Hamas seems unwilling to pay. Hamas must also finally make the transition from resistance movement to normal political party. It will probably take a push from Cairo for that to happen. Hamas’ alliance with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood offers the group some of the cover it needs to make the much-needed transition. And the Muslim Brotherhood is a good model for Hamas to follow, besides. Absent Hamas’ political transformation, no cease-fire with Israel will hold for long. The next round of violence awaits, just over the horizon.
Well, first we have to see how the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo evolves and whether or not it will be a model to follow.
Hamas has come in for criticism, albeit gentle, by at least a few in the pro-Palestinian camp. Rashid Khalidi, in an NPR interview on Monday, implied that Hamas was acting without regard to the suffering this would cause the people of Gaza
You have the iron dome system shooting down rockets. You have the complete inaccurately of many of the short range rockets. At the same time, everybody can see that the people who are getting hurt the most are Palestinians and that this resistance, so-called, is inflicting much more harm on the Palestinians than on the Israelis and is doing absolutely nothing to liberate Palestinian territory.
The calculus that it imposes on Hamas is also quite cruel. Either you sacrifice your own people, as they’re doing in effect, or you take what the Israelis are dishing out in the form of siege and blockade and so forth. It’s cruel, in particular, for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, which is in the middle between these two rather cynical players.
Hanin Ghaddar, the managing editor of the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon, had a good comment on Monday taking to task secular Lebanese and Arab apologists for Hamas. It begins
If one reviews the rhetoric of the liberal “resistance” supporters, especially after the escalation of violence in Gaza, you’d think that Hamas is a liberal or secular group, not an Islamic faction.
During the nearly two years of systematic and brutal killing by the Syrian regime of the Syrian people who are resisting tyranny, many Arabs preferred to remain silent, justifying their denial by fear of the Islamists. But suddenly, when Hamas decided to respond to the Israeli attack on Gaza, this reaction was cheered as the ultimate resistance. It didn’t matter who is resisting here and why. The Islamic nature of Hamas does not matter, only because it is against Israel.
This juvenile attitude of having one enemy, Israel, and justifying all other kinds of brutality and tyranny in the name of resistance is very common among many Lebanese and Arab leftists and liberals…
He could have added Western leftists too.
This post has gone on much longer than I had expected, so I’m going to split it in two.
To be continued…
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