Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gaza Cease Fire: The State of Ambiguity

Israel’s leaders know that, given the state of the Gaza Strip, it will be difficult to achieve a total, unambiguous military victory. Instead, we are more likely to return to the state of ambiguity we know so well from Lebanon.-David Grossman, The New York Times

Prominent Israeli author and essayist David Grossman, writing during the outbreak of hostilities in Gaza, was prescient enough to sense the ambiguous state of affairs following the war (Grossman published another article following the cease fire in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz). There is no agreement among the warring parties, who don’t recognize each other. Their main demands remain unresolved: for Hamas, an end to Israel’s economic blockade and an opening of the crossing points; for Israel, an end to Hamas’ rocket firings and a closing of the tunnels through which weapons are smuggled.

Israel will state that it established deterrence and therefore won. It can point to the example of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which didn’t provide any support to Hamas beyond the rhetorical. Hamas will state that it is still in charge and therefore won. Hamas can also look toward Lebanon, where Hezbollah gained in political power following the 2006 war there. Time will tell whether these claims are true; both sides can look toward the ambiguous example of Lebanon in interpreting the ambiguous results in Gaza.

I’ve maintained that Israel had to respond militarily to Hamas rocket fire–and it most probably will have to in the future. At the same time, I’ve questioned the scale of Israel’s attack. The main problems are smuggling through tunnels near the Egyptian border and rocket fire near the Israeli border. Why wasn't a campaign of surgical strikes in these areas viewed as a sufficient response to the resumption of rocket attacks? The massive invasion of Gaza caused a humanitarian catastrophe among a civilian population trapped in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. I asked similar questions regarding the two wars in Lebanon, in which Israel initially and justly responded to border violations. What was the purpose, though, in driving toward Beirut?

So with this unresolved result, what next? I have three hopes: that, in their elections, the Palestinians will reject Hamas and the Israelis will reject Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party, in favor of pragmatic leaderships that recognize that only a political solution can solve the conflict–and that the only viable political solution is two states for two peoples.

I also hope and trust that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton will remain engaged in negotiations (I’m much more confident of that than I am of the warring parties picking sensible leaderships). The Bush administration thought that it could ignore the conflict for seven years and pick it up in the eighth. That approach cannot succeed, since the two parties are absolutely incapable of solving the conflict on their own. Left alone, the situation will always deteriorate. Israelis and Palestinians must be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward a more peaceful future.

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