As of Saturday morning, there had been several days of virtual dueling.

 
There is no better way for describing the mortars that have been fired toward Israel or soldiers patrolling near the Gaza border, and responses from Israeli tanks and aircraft.
 
There have also been fierce words of threat from both sides.
 
So far we've heard of one death in Gaza, but no injuries or property damage in Israel.
 
The duel is dangerous, if it gets out of hand, and escalates to casualties in Israel, then a repeat of what Israel has done in Gaza. The toll of the last tit for tat that got out of hand in 2014 was the deaths of 71 Israeli soldiers and civilians, perhaps 2200 Gazan deaths, and a great deal of property damage in Gaza that--together with damage from previous encounters--has seen very little repair.
 
The duel to date, in the context of what has gotten out of hand in previous duels, along with the spurt in West Bank violence that began in September of last year and now may have petered out, says a great deal about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
 
People speaking for both sides say that they do not want or intend an escalation, but tension continues.
 
Both sides are familiar with tension, and usually manage it without significant damage..
 
There are two likely explanations of why actions on the Gaza front began. One is that Gazan fringe groups wanting to excite action by firing mortars, with measured Israeli responses, then Hamas being unable to restrain its fighters from making their own responses.
 
Another explanation begins with Israeli activity against Gazan tunnels, viewed as threatening border settlements with the sudden attack by terrorists coming out of the ground.
 
Two tunnels have been discovered and sealed in recent weeks, and several have collapsed on the Gazans digging them. Israel may have developed technology capable of locating and responding to the tunnels, and a Gazan captured by Israel, who may have intended to be captured, has provided details of tunnel construction and location.
 
In connection with this, Israeli forces have entered Gaza to a depth of 100-200 meters, in search of tunnels and/or to clear areas to facilitate subsequent efforts against the tunnels or snipers.
 
Gaza's entire tunnel operation is a microcosm of Palestinian failure. The investment has been considerable, with no tangible military payoff. Damage to Gazan infrastructure has been more palpable than anything done to Israel, in the form of diverting construction resources to tunnel construction that had been allowed into Gaza for the reconstruction of civilian facilities. Now Israel has tightened its control over what goes into Gaza.
 
It's as difficult to guess what Donald Trump would do about Israel and Palestine as anything else in his campaign. One comment--move the Palestinians to Puerto Rico--scores about as wise as that of the British Muslim Socialist, anti-Semite, proposing to move Israelis to the United States.
 
I've heard from American Jews saying that Trump could deal with the issue as he has dealt with business opportunities. One suggests that an appropriate first step would be for Israelis to put Vote Trump signs on their front lawns.
 
The best indication of that person's lack of familiarity with Israel or the Middle East is the virtual absence of front lawns in this part of the world.
 
One can doubt that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump can do better than the long list of worthies who have tried since the British effort in the 1930s. The problem didn't succumb to one of the world's most experienced governments in colonial management, or to American figures up to and including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Kerry.
 
Until there is a Palestinian leadership willing to accept an Israeli presence pretty much where it is now, there hardly seems reason to try for a political accord.
 
It's helpful to recognize that the history of Israel with the West Bank has included a number of detailed arrangements--below the level of political accord--that have worked for both sides. 
 
The failure of such accommodations with Gaza, and the periodic upticks in violence with respect to the West Bank reveals the fragility of where we are. Not only are there no guarantees of being able to avoid full scale warfare between Palestinians and Israelis. Also unsettling are the points of crisis just over the borders, involving open warfare and mass exodus from Syria,  overloaded refugee facilities in Jordan, and significant conflict between Egyptian forces and Islamic extremists.
 
What's in it for Israel is continued efforts to manage tits for tat with Gaza, individual attacks from the West Bank and joint Israel-Palestinian efforts to deal with recruitment and planning attacks from the West Bank by radical movements. 
 
It ain't easy. It depends on security professionalism and political restraint, along with an Israeli willingness to escalate when appropriate.
 
American blather about a peace process has been less than useless, insofar as it adds to the dig-in-our heels rhetoric of Palestinians convinced that they have a monopoly of justice. What has been helpful, however, is American aid, along with Jordan personnel, to train cadres of Palestinian security personnel, including instilling in them a pragmatic concern for what can be achieved short of a political agreement.
 
Some of those security professionals have gone bad, and contributed to incidents of violence against Israelis. For the most part, however, personnel have operated professionally, and in coordination with their Israeli counterparts.
 
It ain't the Middle West, or stuff for outsiders with more ideology than knowledge about the workings of the Middle East.
 
We should also remind ourselves that the idealized Middle West isn't the real thing. For some years now it's been the rust belt, with levels of education and violence in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, St Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Buffalo, Toledo, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and some of their less desirable suburbs making parts of the Middle East seem pastoral, enlightened, and orderly in comparison.
 
It's now Monday. There's been a couple of days without mortar shells landing in the south. The message delivered via tit for tat seems to have worked, this time.
 
Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com 

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