Revisiting Gaza 2014 and Israel’s Actions

It comes as no surprise that Bernie Sanders’ gaffe in his interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News regarding the 2014 clash between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has 14777243476_4f4b3f01b0_z-620x350gotten a lot of play. Sanders cited a figure of approximately 10,000 deaths, which was actually the figure for wounded and about five times the number killed.

Sanders immediately accepted the correction, and issued a statement confirming the error. But since then, he has stuck with his basic point: that the Israeli response to Gaza was disproportionate and exceeded any acceptable level of collateral damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure. Read more at Medium.com

Is This the Real Gaza Ceasefire?

Israel and Hamas have agreed to another ceasefire, and there seems to be some sense that this one will last. The terms of the 14777243476_4f4b3f01b0_z-620x350agreement leave many issues up in the air, which tends to work strongly in Israel’s favor. It’s worthwhile to look at who might have won and lost, under the assumption that this ceasefire will actually hold.

The tragic reality after fifty days of bombings, rockets and ground invasions is that neither Israel nor Hamas comes out of this with gains. Israel has gained a ceasefire, but at this point, they have nothing else to show for their efforts. Hamas has gained another episode where they were able to survive Israel’s onslaught, but at the cost of thousands of lives and the destruction of infrastructure that, even for Gaza, is unprecedented. Both sides are looking toward the extended peace talks that are supposed to take place within a month, but counting on such things is often a frivolous effort in the Middle East.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Whatever arguments might be made for the proposition that Israel won this conflict, they cannot apply to the prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval ratings can make one seasick: they rose to over 80% at the end of July only to fall to 36% now. While people in Gaza are celebrating the end of the ceasefire, Israelis are relieved but wondering what it was all for.

Netanyahu does not relish this sort of military operation and one can see why. He doesn’t handle them well, as evidenced by the constant shifting of his goals. He started with “quiet for quiet,” moved on to harming Hamas and eliminating its tunnels, then to disarming the group, and finally, when those goals were clearly unattainable, he went back to “quiet for quiet,” jumping at an agreement of that nature as quickly as he could.

Netanyahu is now going to face international pressure to seriously engage in peace talks through Egyptian mediation. His preference, and that of his right flank in Israel, will be to stall on such talks, but with the United States and Europe increasing their support for a resolution to the issue of Gaza, Netanyahu will find himself in the middle of a tug o’ war battle. With that same right flank becoming increasingly alienated from and hostile to him, he may be forced to the table.

That table will house yet another massive failure on Bibi’s part. Back in June, he seized upon the murders of three Israelis, lied to the Israeli public when he knew they were dead, whipped the country into a frenzy and started a process in motion that he could not control, which eventually led to the probably unwanted outcome of “Operation Protective Edge.” Bibi’ purpose in all of this was to rend asunder the Palestinian unity government.

Now the United Nations, the European Union, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and crucially, the United States, are pushing for that same unity government—currently composed of technocrats led by Mahmoud Abbas—to take over in Gaza. This was certainly evident in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words supporting yesterday’s ceasefire announcement.

Speaking about the urgent need to get construction and humanitarian supplies into Gaza Kerry said:

We are also prepared to work with our international partners on a major reconstruction initiative, with appropriate measures in place to ensure that this is for the benefit of the civilian population in Gaza, not Hamas and other terrorist organizations. We look forward to coordinating closely with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority on these critical efforts

That is a clear statement of support for the current PA to take over Gaza. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was even more clear.

“Gaza must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to the PLO commitments,” he said. “The blockade of Gaza must end; Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed. The United Nations stands ready to support efforts to address the structural factors of conflict between Israel and Gaza.”

The plan is to circumvent Hamas as the rulers of Gaza, but there is no hint of any further action against them, and they are already part of the new PA. In many ways, this is Netanyahu’s worst nightmare.

Israel

No one in Israel does or should like the way this has turned out. The small radical left opposed the attacks from the beginning. The Zionist left, as represented by Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, welcomed the ceasefire but criticized Netanyahu for going to war and ending up where he could have gotten without violence.

The right is furious over the ceasefire, with four of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers, including key figures on the right, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, publicly stating their opposition. The failure to achieve the disarmament of Hamas or knock the group from its perch atop the ruins of Gaza is widely seen as a failure throughout Israel.

Ha’aretz correspondent Barak Ravid summed it up aptly:

Netanyahu just wanted to return to the status quo that has become a personal ideology, but the reality is that Israel has regressed. That regression is encapsulated in the 69 Israeli fatalities, 2,000 Palestinian fatalities, the bulk of them innocent civilians, thousands of projectiles on the communities in the south, hundreds of missiles on the center of the country, deserted communities, the loss of trust in the IDF and the government among the residents of the south, economic damage amounting to billions and diplomatic and PR damage that is impossible to quantify.

Hamas

Despite its bravado, Hamas hasn’t gained much and has likely lost a lot in this conflict. Much will, of course, depend on whether the planned talks in Cairo ever happen and what, if anything, comes from them. But as things stand now, Hamas is riding a positive wave in Gaza because it has again survived an Israeli onslaught. But beneath that euphoria is a bitter reality.

The devastation wrought in Gaza is well beyond Hamas’ rebuilding means. This raises a question that I have brought up before: Will Hamas be willing to let the PA run Gaza? They should, but giving up power, even in so meager a sphere as an occupied territory, is never easy.

Hamas will not be able to pay salaries, an issue that was dogging them long before this cataclysm, and in fact, was a major reason they agreed to the unity government in the first place. They will need international assistance and lots of it, and that is only going to come through the PA.

But there is a great deal of anger among Palestinians toward Mahmoud Abbas over his behavior during this crisis. While Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has been recently meeting with Abbas to come to an agreement on a ceasefire, the leadership in Gaza, battered and bruised, may find themselves less able to stomach Abbas, who continued security cooperation with Israel during this crisis, than the considerably more acceptable Meshal.

Still, the PA doesn’t exclude Hamas specifically. It’s currently a technocratic government led by Abbas, pending new elections. But will those elections ever happen and, when and if they do, can Hamas trust that it will be allowed to compete fairly and fully? It was allowed to do so in 2006, but when it won, the United States and Israel immediately moved to undermine the election results, even backing a Fatah coup attempt. So, on the one hand, that’s a lot of trust to expect from Hamas, but on the other, that is also what it agreed to risk when it signed on to the unity government. The choice rests with Hamas.

The Biggest Losers

As always, it is the people of Gaza who, whether the Palestinian cause is aided or not, always endure the brunt of these conflicts. With over 2,100 dead and many thousands injured, infrastructure further battered, and tens of thousands of structures and homes destroyed, the suffering of these people is almost unimaginable. It may well be that they will end up with a much more open border, and that will matter. But the shattered families, the death and destruction, and the scars from all of this violence are going to haunt Gaza, and Israel, for many years.

There’s another big loser here, and it is, as cliché as it may sound, peace. Once again, Israel has demonstrated to the Palestinians that force is the language in which it speaks and the only one it understands. Even the marginal, immediate gains for Gaza—the easing of movement for humanitarian and construction supplies, and according to many reports, the extension of the zone in which Gazans can fish to six miles—were won by aggression, not diplomacy. For comparison, Palestinians can look at what two decades of negotiations got Abbas—lots of settlements.

Many in Israel, even some among the moderate right, understand that this is what Israel has communicated. Unfortunately, that understanding does not extend to Netanyahu, who drones on and on about how he has “hurt” Hamas.

In the end, there may be some good that comes out of this for the Palestinians, though as always, the hope is a thin one and the price is terribly high. But nothing at all here bodes well for Israel.

A Tale of Two Ceasefires

A slightly edited version of this article first appeared at LobeLog. It’s the best resource on the web for analysis of US foreign policy. Please check it out. 

The two ceasefire proposals aimed at ending the accelerated violence in Gaza and Israel offer one of the best illustrations of the

Relatives and friends of the al-Kaware family carry 7 bodies to the mosque during their funeral in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on July 9, 2014. The father, a member of the Fatah movement, and his 6 sons were all killed the day before in an Israeli air strike that targeted their home. Credit: AFP/Thomas Coexthomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images/Used under a Creative Commons license

Relatives and friends of the al-Kaware family carry 7 bodies to the mosque during their funeral in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on July 9, 2014. The father, a member of the Fatah movement, and his 6 sons were all killed the day before in an Israeli air strike that targeted their home. Credit: AFP/Thomas Coexthomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images/Used under a Creative Commons license

Israel-Palestine conflict one could ask for. The circumstances and the content of each proposal demonstrate very well why outside pressure is necessary to end this vexing, seemingly endless struggle and just how differently Israelis and Palestinians view both current events and the conflict as a whole.

Let’s look at the two proposals. Egypt, acting as the United States normally does, worked out the details of their ceasefire idea with Israel primarily. The deal reflects the Israeli and Egyptian agenda: it mostly follows the formula of “quiet for quiet,” essentially bringing back the status quo ante of early June. It offers Hamas a vague promise of future negotiations to address the siege of the Strip. But this is hardly something Hamas will put stock in. The 2012 ceasefire agreement, which was negotiated by then-Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a man much friendlier to Hamas than the current Egyptian leadership, also made such a promise and it never came to anything. Finally, Egypt says it is willing to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt more widely but only if Hamas allows PA security to police it instead of their own people. Continue reading

Hamas’ Options: Bad and Worse

An edited version of this piece originally appeared at LobeLog

The fighting in Gaza will continue for some time, as a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt fell apart. Despite the bellicose

The remains of the Ministry of Interior’s Civilian Affairs office after Israeli bombardments in Gaza City, November 2012. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

The remains of the Ministry of Interior’s Civilian Affairs office after Israeli bombardments in Gaza City, November 2012. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

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 of 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:

  • One, 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.
  • Two, Hamas has declared that they intend to come out of this round of fighting with some gains. In particular, they want to see 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.
  • Three, 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 very well be correct.

Continue reading

Congress Ignoring Palestinian Deaths

Sometimes I just cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be an Arab citizen of the United States, much less a Palestinian one.

There are many people with personal connections to Israel and to Gaza who are frightened, safely sitting in the US and worrying about their friends and family in that region. A lot of them draw comfort from their communities and from the various sources, mostly social media, where they can find not only reports, but also messages of sensitivity and solidarity for their people (often at the expense of the other). But the experience is still very different for Jews and Arabs. Especially in Washington, DC, a Jewish-American citizen can always take comfort that no matter how worried she may be about her relatives in Be’ersheva or Ashkelon or Sderot, the US government is expressing support for Israel. But a Palestinian citizen? Not so much.

Right now, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is pushing nearly identical bills through the House of Representatives, which has already passed one, and the Senate. The bills — both “Sense of Congress” bills, which express a view but bring about no concrete action — declare absolute support for Israel, call Hamas’ violence “unprovoked,” and, in the Senate version only, call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian unity government.

What can that feel like to a US citizen who has relatives or friends in Gaza?

While Hamas’ indiscriminate firing at Israeli civilians is reprehensible and criminal, claiming its attacks were unprovoked is simply incorrect. As I detailed previously, the attacks were not only provoked, but the provocation was clearly planned by the Netanyahu government. This isn’t exactly ancient history; all this began just a few weeks ago. But the narrative in Washington, in most of the mainstream media, and in much of Israel has been completely turned on its head. Israel’s actions in bringing about these events have been forgotten.

The Senate, probably more keenly aware than most House members that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s goal from the beginning was to dismember the Palestinian unity “government,” added that clause to its call. But what is really striking here is not just the usual one-sidedness of an AIPAC-backed resolution. That is, of course, expected.

What is truly stunning is the stark absence of any mention of the people getting killed. None of those people, so far, are in Israel. At this writing, the death toll in Gaza stands at 174 people, of whom at least 32 are children. Eighty percent of those killed are estimated by the United Nations to have been non-combatants.

No one who pays any attention to the politics of Israel-Palestine would expect Congress to blame Israel for those deaths. No one would expect Congress to comment on the illegal bombings of private homes by Israel, which have killed dozens of innocents. No one would expect Congress to question whether this entire operation constitutes “legitimate self-defense” as permitted by international law.

But even Congress, as intertwined with AIPAC as it has been for so long, could be expected to express some regret at the loss of life. In the past, congressional statements have included such regrets, often saying that they are inevitable because of Hamas’ actions, its embedding itself in civilian areas, etc. They could have done this again. But even that gesture, it seems, is too much for this Congress.

What message does that send to Palestinian-Americans? To all Arab citizens?

It sends the message that Arab life, and especially Palestinian life, is not just cheap, it’s meaningless. It sends that message not only to those citizens, but to all US citizens, and it communicates to the entire world that the deaths of Palestinians are not worth any notice by the United States.

But by allowing AIPAC to speak for us all through our Congress we are allowing the collective voice of the United States to scream to the world that the immeasurably greater destruction raining down on innocent Gazans means nothing to us. The only consolation, and it is microscopic, is that the bills have received fewer co-sponsors — 41 in the Senate and 166 in the House — than what AIPAC bills normally acquire. So far it has received insufficient support for an immediate vote, and has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. AIPAC will be pushing the committee hard to get it through.

If it comes to the Senate floor, it will almost certainly pass. Yet no matter how supportive of Israel one may claim to be, it is hard to imagine the moral justification for a statement from Congress that offers, at this time, exclusive support for Israel, where, thankfully, no one has been killed, while not even mentioning Gaza, which has lost 174 people and counting. Is this really a message that the majority of Americans want to send to the rest of the world? I think not.