The Lying Game: Failing in Gaza

The fighting in Gaza will continue for some time, as a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt fell apart. Despite the bellicose language Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has employed over the past week, it was Hamas and not Israel that rejected the proposal. This was, to be sure, the direct result of that proposal not meeting any of Hamas’ demands for a ceasefire and, because as one Israeli official put it, “…we discovered we’d made a cease-fire agreement with ourselves.” The dynamics of this turn of events are important and tell us much about how the ground has changed in the region. We first must ask why Hamas rejected the Egyptian proposal. They have been rather clear about their reasons:

  1. Hamas felt, quite correctly, that Egypt had essentially negotiated this deal with Israel, then presented it as a fait accompli to Hamas. In fact, they said they first heard about it through social media.
  2. Hamas has declared that they intend to come out of this round of fighting with some gains. In particular, they want to end the siege that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007, the release of all the prisoners who had been re-arrested recently after being freed in exchange for Hamas freeing Gilad Shalit in 2011, and the negotiation of a long term truce, as was agreed in 2012, but never acted upon. The terms of the proposal offered no such relief, or any real change to the status quo.
  3. Many among Hamas and other groups believe this proposal was deliberately put forth by Egypt as one Israel would accept and Hamas would reject, in order to legitimize further attacks on Gaza. The way things have unfolded, they may be correct.

Those reasons may show a certain rationality in Hamas’ refusal to accept a ceasefire. Wisdom and real concern for the innocents suffering under Israel’s bombings are far less apparent, however. In fact, Hamas’ refusal to accept the ceasefire completes the process of wiping from the memory of much of the world the fact that Israel initiated this round of fighting.

Rarely has Netanyahu been more accurate than earlier yesterday, when he said “[If Hamas] doesn’t accept the ceasefire proposal…Israel will have all the international legitimacy to broaden its military activity in order to achieve the necessary quiet.” Indeed, Hamas’ decision does exactly that. There will still be expressions of concern from various quarters, but for the most part, pressure on Israel to stop its onslaught from the US, EU, UN and even many Arab states will diminish essentially to zero. It is hard to imagine that the refusal is going to lead to a better deal. The only thing that might, and only might, do that is a massive uptick in civilian deaths from where the number is at now. Hardly something anyone would wish for. So, while Hamas may have had very good reason to reject this deal, it does not seem that rejection is a better option.

Indeed, one may argue that accepting the ceasefire deal with certain reservations may have put Hamas in a better position. At least the massive uptick in death and destruction in Gaza would have been stemmed, even if temporarily.

Egypt’s New Position

Hamas has issued a statement rejecting further Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire. They will now accept only Turkey or Qatar in that role. Those are, not coincidentally, the only two significant states who support the political goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the new Egyptian regime joins Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf States in despising.

Egypt has now demonstrated that not only has its position on Hamas hardened since the ouster of the Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi, it is even more antagonistic to Hamas than former President Hosni Mubarak. Given this, it is likely that the role Mubarak frequently played as a broker between Israel and Hamas is not one that the current General/President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi can assume, and this was a failed attempt to show that he could.

This will please Netanyahu, who is surely seeing the new Egyptian regime as much more to his liking than anything that ever came before it. But it is going to complicate matters for the United States, all the more so as Israel is not likely to accept Turkey or Qatar as an intermediary. Without Egypt as a broker, the US is going to have a much harder time stabilizing these periodic escalations between Israel and Hamas. This, again, may suit Netanyahu, who believes US President Barack Obama is much too quick to try to end conflicts. But it also makes Israeli decisions as to when to back off more complicated, as the US will not be able to give Israel a way out that shields its leadership at least a little from the political fallout of ending these operations while Hamas is still in control of the Strip.

Hamas’ Weakened Position

Hamas is facing serious isolation. Egypt was surely never very sympathetic to Hamas, even when Morsi was in office. It is now even more firmly in the US-Israeli camp. Hamas’ support for Syrian rebels and the slow thaw of relations between the United States and Iran has (to Netanyahu’s chagrin) cooled the Hamas-Iran relationship, and Qatar has had to back away to some degree from its support of the Brotherhood and its affiliates like Hamas due to pressure from other Gulf states. This is why, despite the forecasts by many that this latest round will end with the status quo more or less maintained, Netanyahu, and probably also Mahmoud Abbas, believes a severe blow can now be struck against Hamas.

Netanyahu believes, not without reason, that this can be done without resorting to the kind of all-out assault, and even re-occupation, which is being pushed by his right flank in Israel. Consider the Islamist group’s current position. It was already struggling to pay workers in Gaza and had been arguing with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah about who bears the responsibility. Egypt’s harder line has been stifling the “tunnel economy,” which was the only method for bringing many goods and supplies into Gaza that Israel would not permit to pass through its blockade. Hamas seemed to have nothing but rhetoric to offer to deal with the situation, and it was losing standing among the Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank.

Islamic Jihad and other, more radical Palestinian factions, which Hamas was generally preventing from taking violent actions against Israel from Gaza, were accusing Hamas of abandoning its revolutionary ideals. Add to this the loss of much of its support from the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, in the wake of the decline of the Brotherhood throughout the region, and it’s not hard to see why Netanyahu believes that, even if the outcome of the current fighting is merely an agreement to go back to the way things were, he will still come out a big winner.

He may be right. But it is more likely that Israel’s continued attacks will cause the various factions to rally together, as they have in the past, strengthening Hamas’ position. It is also more likely to exacerbate the already dire predicament Abbas is in, as he has cracked down in the West Bank to prevent anti-Israel protests during the fighting, sacrificing what little respect and confidence the Palestinians had left in the PA President.

To Cease or not to Cease

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions fighting in Gaza can certainly make the case that they have successfully stood firm under Israel’s attacks while demonstrating that they can shoot their missiles throughout Israel. The rockets being used in many cases were actually made in Gaza, along with what they have been able to smuggle in from outside. The fact that the locally made rockets include some of the medium range ones that have been penetrating farther into Israel than ever before is one reason Hamas is perhaps in less of a rush than one might think to stop the fighting.

The calculus, though, is cold and fails on a number of levels. The most obvious failure is the suffering of the people of Gaza. Over 190 Gazans have been killed, the vast majority civilians. These deaths do raise a great deal of anger among Palestinians against Israel, but to what end? There does not seem to be any victory, or even small gains, on the horizon for which these people are dying. When the fighting dies down, Israel will be the same villain in Gaza it always was, but people are surely going to wonder why the fighting went on for as long as it did with no gains in sight. And that is really the nub of it — there seems to be no hope for Hamas to achieve any of its goals, such as lifting the maritime blockade on Gaza or easing the border crossings. If they are hoping that other forces — such as those in Lebanon, which have lobbed a few projectiles across the border and to which Israel has responded quite forcefully — will be opening another flank against Israel, they are not paying attention to events in Syria and Iraq, which are occupying the efforts of Hezbollah and other parties that might be willing to engage Israel.

There simply isn’t an endgame that represents progress for Hamas. In 2012, when then-Egyptian President Morsi brokered an agreement, Hamas could claim a few minor concessions from Israel (which never really materialized once there was no pressure on Israel to follow through with them). There will be nothing of that sort here, but Hamas seems to be desperately clinging to the hope that it can extract something to base a claim of victory on.

That’s a terrible gamble. It is much more likely that the refusal to agree to a ceasefire is giving Netanyahu exactly what he wants: the chance to deliver a blow to a weakened Hamas regime in Gaza. Hamas has given Netanyahu the means to do this without having to overcome the global opposition that was apparent at the beginning of the current fighting. Their refusal is understandable. Israel has repeatedly failed to live up to prior agreements, and this entire thing does look very much like a setup cooked up by Egypt and Israel.

Still, it seems like the rejection of the ceasefire plays into Netanyahu’s hands even more than going along with it would have. Hamas was faced with two bad options. Some may say they chose the lesser of two evils, but they seem to have opted for the path of salvaging some pride while losing more innocent lives and gaining nothing.

The “Palestine Papers”: What Do They Mean?

Al Jazeera unloaded a bombshell on the US-brokered Israel-Palestine diplomacy today when they released the first wave of what they are calling “The Palestine Papers.”

These papers consist of some 1,600 internal documents (e-mails, minutes of classified meetings, maps and strategy papers) from negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis from 1999-2010. The revelations are staggering, largely in that they confirm what most serious analysts have been saying for the past decade: that these negotiations have been futile from the beginning owing to the severe imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians and the US’ failure to act as an honest broker.

Lead PLO Negotiator, Saeb Erekat

The revelations in the initial release include these:

  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to give over to Israel all the existing territory on which Israel has established settlements in East Jerusalem except for Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim). This was something Yasir Arafat had specifically refused to do in 2000
  • The PA was also willing to settle for only a token number of refugees returning to Israel and would agree to a 1:1 land swap of 1.9% of West Bank Territory in exchange for an equal quantity of Israeli territory
  • That Israel rejected these offers out of hand, while insisting that it was the Palestinians who were being intransigent
  • That the US told the Palestinians that they must cede the areas of the settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim or the Palestinians “won’t have a state,” fully adopting the Israeli position

The US, frequently said to have acted as Israel’s lawyer, simply was not even trying to balance the power scales in these negotiations, but only adding the weight of the world’s only superpower behind that of the regional power, Israel.

Israel, for its part, is convincingly revealed as not being interested in reaching a deal with the Palestinians without a complete Palestinian surrender; there was no hint here of compromise, even with the allegedly more moderate Kadima government. Tzipi Livni, indeed, seems assured that the Palestinians would eventually have to agree with her, since the alternative would be dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Let’s look at what these, and many other, revelations mean for each of the parties and for the peace process more broadly. Continue reading

Post Hacks: Jennifer Rubin and Caroline Glick, Separated at Birth?

There was a time when the Washington Post was understood to be one of the better mass media newspapers in the country, often regarded as on a level with the New York Times as a serious paper.

Media analysts (which is where I started this work, so I’d count myself among these) would assuredly contend that this was damning with faint praise. Still that regard the WaPo, as it’s often called on the internet, was once held in has been in sharp decline for some time now.  Their coverage of Israel, for example, just gave us a startling example of that decline, when the Post decided to hire Jennifer Rubin as blogger.

Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin (photo by Daniel Sieradski)

Rubin had previously written for the neoconservative Commentary Magazine and other outlets after leaving her career as a lawyer. Columnist Ali Gharib, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, says of her:

Rubin has a penchant for relentlessly sticking political opponents with negative labels… During the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, Rubin claimed that Obama’s “sympathies for the Muslim World take precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens.” Last year, Rubin derided Obama as “the most anti-Israel U.S. president (ever),” a judgment unequivocally repudiated by even the hawkish Israel lobby group AIPAC. Undeterred, this summer Rubin lamented, in a typically overblown overstatement, that the Israel “must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency,” insisting the following day that Israel will have to go it alone against Iran.

Rubin got called this week on that penchant for labeling, which some think is libeling. Continue reading

EU Ambassador in Jerusalem Post: Gerald Steinberg is a Liar

The following letter appeared in the Jerusalem Post of January 19. Please share with anyone gullible enough to believe that NGO Monitor has even the slightest shred of credibility.

Sir, – Gerald Steinberg, in “Europe needs a parliamentary inquiry on NGO funding” (Comment & Features, January 10), claimed that the European Union “blatantly violates the basic rules of funding transparency” and talked of “an impenetrable shroud of secrecy” obscuring its funding procedures.

In fact, as Prof. Steinberg is fully aware from the various conversations we have had with him, funding of projects by the European Union worldwide is carried out by open and public calls for proposals published on EU websites, including the website of the Delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel. This is the link to where they are published: http://ec.europa.eu/delegations/ israel/funding_opportunities/ grants/index_en.htm.

The guidelines for project applicants clearly state the aims and objectives of the programs and are open for all to see. After a proposal has been selected it is included in the list of accepted projects, and remains on line throughout the entire length of the project. Here you will find the precise size of the grant, the name of the implementing organization, the duration of the project and a description of the project.

Moreover, all recipients of EU funding are contractually obligated to make publicly known the source of this funding.

A list of projects currently being funded by the European Union in Israel can be found via the following link: http://ec.europa.eu/delegations/ israel/projects/list_of_p rojects/projects_en.htm.

This list does not include the hundreds of projects funded in the field of scientific research, which are published separately.

Respect for and promotion of human rights are fundamental values shared by Israel and the European Union. This is enshrined in the Israel-EU Association Agreement that forms the basis of our relations.

AMB. ANDREW STANDLEY
Tel Aviv
The writer heads the Delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel

Danny Ayalon Plays a Losing Blame Game

While taking apart an argument made by Danny Ayalon may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, his op-ed in today’s LA Times contains so many inaccuracies or outright falsehoods, and there are enough people, both in the US and Israel, who will take this piece seriously, that it seems worth the time. Ayalon offered up a fine brew of classic myths and his own, odd version of reality, so let’s dig into it and see what the facts are.

Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.

Ayalon starts out with a classic. The so-called “generous offer” that Barak made was a take-it-or-leave-it offer that fell well short of minimal Palestinian demands and, while that particular story has been debunked many times, it still persists.

Olmert’s offer of 2008 seemed to improve on Barak’s, but it also seems not to have addressed the holy sites of Jerusalem or refugees, and whether it was a proposal to advance talks or, like Barak’s also a take-it-or-leave-it offer is unclear. The proposed borders maintained the essential problem that has dogged maps of two states for years—the Israeli insistence on keeping some far-flung settlements like Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel seriously compromises the territorial contiguity of the proposed state of Palestine.

The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank’s economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements. Continue reading