The Region: Gaza - the play-by-play

If anything, what's happening proves the wisdom of last year's pullout.

barry rubin column 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin column 88
(photo credit: )
It's all rather logical, isn't it? Once you assume that there is no partner for peace, no hope of negotiations progressing (much less succeeding), no reason to believe that Hamas will moderate and no way that the few Palestinian moderates (far fewer than many believe) will affect anything, the continuation and periodic escalation of fighting is hardly surprising. First, a brief review of the facts for those who only pay attention when they issue some wildly inaccurate editorial or proclamation about what is happening: • Israel accepted a Palestinian state in all of the Gaza Strip and almost all of the West Bank in 2000. The Palestinian leadership refused even to negotiate on this basis. • All the Palestinian parties, both Fatah and Hamas, carried out a five-year-long war of terrorism against Israel. • Israel withdrew from all of the Gaza Strip and announced its readiness to withdraw from most of the West Bank. • The Palestinian organization fired about 700 missiles at Israel since 2000, killing about a dozen Israeli civilians. • Both Fatah and Hamas continued their efforts to attack Israel in every way possible. • For six years, the Palestinian Authority, for most of that period under Fatah leadership and for a lot of it under Mahmoud Abbas's reign, did almost nothing to stop anti-Israel (often anti-Semitic) incitement, and absolutely nothing to stop terrorist attacks or the mainstream view that the conflict can only end in Israel's destruction. • Fatah also continued its corruption and incompetence leading to a Hamas election victory in January 2006. • As a way to score partisan points, Abbas endorsed the prisoners' letter which rejected real recognition of Israel and endorsed continued terror attacks in the territories. • Hamas rejected this and then (though it is still not clear whether it did even this) accepted it only on condition that it made explicit the refusal to recognize Israel and to continue attacking Israel with terrorism. • Hamas then declared that its somewhat bogus cease-fire was ended and began open attacks on Israel, including the operation against an IDF position defending a village on Israeli territory, kidnapping a soldier, and kidnapping and murdering an Israeli civilian. Leading Hamas cabinet ministers had previously publicly proclaimed their endorsement of such kidnappings. UP TO this point, Israel showed (too much) restraint for political reasons. Finally, Israel launched an offensive into the Gaza Strip. And, of course, one Hamas leader complained that by doing so Israel had declared war on the Palestinian people! Again, the only thing surprising about this is that some people in the West still don't get it, playing a game of neutrality, pretending that there is still a peace process and fantasizing that there are any Palestinian moderates who matter politically. Yet if both Hamas and the great majority of Fatah are committed to war instead of peace and still engage in the dream of total victory, of course they are going to continue attacking Israel by every possible means. Meanwhile, they embody the story in an Arab proverb: He hits me, starts crying and runs to court to sue me. NEVERTHELESS, DOES this prove that the convergence policy so overwhelmingly endorsed in the last Israeli election is wrong? Absolutely not. For the unspoken assumption of those who say so is that if Israeli forces and settlers had stayed in the Gaza Strip, there would be no attacks and casualties. The point is that with the old policy the casualties and level of fighting would have been higher, attacks into Israel would be taking place equally or more frequently and missiles would still be flying across the border, though in smaller numbers and a more restricted range. It is also misleading to portray the cross-border attack and killing of two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of a third as some great victory for Hamas. Actually, the need to celebrate what is - albeit a tragedy for the families of Israeli casualties - a minor skirmish. The operation took a long time and a lot of Palestinian resources. Only if Hamas could repeat this kind of thing several times a week would it amount to anything in military terms. The real story is the decline in successful anti-Israel and terrorist operations. Compared to this, the Palestinians have suffered a huge reverse in international terms, lost virtually all their foreign aid and been divided to a greater extent than at any time in the last 40 years. If Israel was still in the Gaza Strip every day, none of this would have happened. Equally, the withdrawal and convergence policy was predicated on precisely the idea that Israeli forces would go back if necessary when Israel decided to send them, rather than be tied down in a daily war of attrition when the forces were vulnerable and badly scattered. No one in Israel seriously thought that the withdrawal would end Palestinian attempts to attack Israel, only that it would make them more difficult. If there was any failure on the part of Israeli policymakers, it was not the withdrawal or convergence idea but rather a reluctance to engage in a new style of active defense, including the use of air-power and targeted attacks on terrorists. And the Israeli army's performance in the Gaza Strip has shown that Israel still has the overwhelming upper hand when it wants to use it. Of course, the Palestinians are ignoring this balance of forces in their typical suicide politics. But that is why Israel shifted its policy in the first place. Whatever happens with the timetable for withdrawals on the West Bank, the important thing is that Israel has gained flexibility by accepting this new strategy in principle. The conflict will go on for years, probably decades, and in this context the choices made by prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as well as Israeli voters on the broad program for this era remain correct.