Democracy Arsenal

« The Bush Legacy | Main | NSN Daily Update 1/12/09 »

January 12, 2009

A Few More Thoughts on Gaza
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at TNR's Plank blog, Jon Chait makes an important that has been gnawing at me about the situation in Gaza:

If Hamas truly is seized by an implacable desire to wipe Israel off the map, then I have trouble seeing what there is to negotiate over. The only thing to do is persuade Hamas to change its goals, or persuade the Palestinians to adopt new leaders. The latter can be done by making territorial concessions in the West Bank and promoting economic development, in order to demonstrate the comparative benefits of non-Hamas government. But the task would also seem to involve some combination of crushing Hamas's power and/or persuading it -- or, more precisely, the Palestinians who follow it -- that Israel cannot be terrorized into making concessions. How a group of Hamas's nature could be drawn in through a purely conciliatory approach escapes me.

This seems quite right to me. Like many, I am deeply troubled watching Israel's army terrorize and kill innocent civilians in Gaza and I share the view of many that Israel needs to do more to lessen the trauma of occupation for Palestinians. But I keep returning to the same question: what precisely is the alternative? And force, while unpalatable in the near-term, seems one of the few, if only, effective options available to Israeli leaders to change the political equation.

Where exactly is the room for rational discussion - or a conciliatory approach from Israel - with a movement that engages in futile rockets attacks against Israel in the "hope" that Israel will respond with military force? Not to mention the fact that Hamas seems to take a breathtakingly callous approach to to protecting the lives of its fellow countrymen (as this harrowing article in the New York Times indicates).

As Jon suggests, either that enemy needs to be crushed or persuaded that such decisions will only lead to their own destruction.

If, for example, Israel stopped work on its West Bank settlements as a confidence-building measure; does anyone really believe that this would encourage Hamas to cease its futile jihad against Israel? Indeed, there is much evidence that Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon and its offer of territorial concessions at Camp David were seen by Hamas and others as political weakness, not conciliation. (Having said that, I still think Israel should, with American encouragement, suspend construction on new settlements - not as a measure of conciliation, but because it's the right thing to do).

And what of the economic blockade strangling Gaza. If Israel lifted the blockade, it seems a safe assumption that Hamas would use it as an opportunity not to lay down its weapons, but to bring more  into the Gaza Strip? While some supporters of Israel seem either blind or stunningly indifferent to the punishing realities of life in Gaza under blockade; there is a similar lack of understanding that Israel's measures are not based on a desire to strangle the Palestinian people, but reflect the tactical concern that Hamas will use free flowing borders as an opportunity to wage more war against Israel.

In the end, we must not allow ourselves to forget the fundamentally evil nature of the enemy Israel is facing.

But I think what's also happening here is a predisposition to assume that military force will not bear positive results. Certainly, it's unlikely to wipe out Hamas, but it can still have an impact. Consider for a moment Israel's various conflicts with the Palestinians, including Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982, its targeted assassinations of PLO and Hamas leaders, its war with Hezbollah in 2006 etc. None of these conflicts wiped out terrorism, but they did change the political equation in fundamental ways. 

One could certainly argue that the PLO sued for peace after years of military attacks by Israeli soldiers and planes; and it hardly seems to be lack of interest that is keeping Hezbollah out of the current conflict. It's foolish for Israel or any country to believe that force alone can wipe out terrorism; but it's equally foolish to assume that force cannot degrade terrorist capabilities (the US war in Afghanistan as Exhibit A of this phenomenon).

While I am not convinced that Israel's incursion into Gaza will ultimately be successful, it seems hard to imagine that Hamas has not been fundamentally and perhaps decisively weakened by this military incursion.

Of course, some would argue that this, in itself, is not enough reason for Israel to engage in a full-scale invasion of Gaza. For example, the usually astute Tony Cordesman makes the following observation:

If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it is not apparent.

These are all fair criticisms, but I'm wondering if they are completely relevant. It's usually a mistake to go to war without some sort of strategic rationale, but as many have indicated there is no immediate political or military solution to dealing with Hamas's intransigence, except possibly kicking the can down the road and, in the short-term degrading Hamas's military capabilities and trying to create a political climate that will lead to some sort of resolution or at least, peaceful modus vivendi.

As Hamas continues to gets its nose bloodied by Israeli attacks one can imagine that this military factor will change the political equation; either in strengthening Fatah vis-a-vis Hamas, convincing Hamas to think twice about future military attacks against Israel and hopefully demonstrate to ordinary Palestinians that the organization might not have their best interests in mind. Of course, in that same short-term matrix, Israel will bear a significant diplomatic burden, but in the balance of competing interests this may be a price that Israel is willing to pay.

I share the view expressed here by Todd Gitlin that eventually Israel will have to negotiate with Hamas, but I am less convinced that we have reached the point where such a negotiation is possible. I think there is even an argument to be made that Israel's military actions may hasten the arrival of that moment.

In the interest of an open discussion, I would recommend also reading Sam Bahour's post over at TPM about non-military options available to Israel. While I don't agree with all of Bahour's points it's worth reading what he has to say.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A Few More Thoughts on Gaza:


Are you a zionist? I try not to argue with zionists.

But just this once -- if israel ever wants to reach a settlement with palestinians, they're going to have to remove the settlements. The more new ones they add the bigger that job will be. Expanding settlements at an increasing rate is a direct message to all palestinians: "The current israeli government has no intention of ever reaching a peaceful settlement."

"If Hamas truly is seized by an implacable desire to wipe Israel off the map, then I have trouble seeing what there is to negotiate over."

"As Jon suggests, either that enemy needs to be crushed or persuaded that such decisions will only lead to their own destruction."

So, if israel truly is seized by an implacable desire to wipe Hamas off the map.... You don't know what kind of negotiation Hamas might do as a government, unti you try to negotiate with them. Israel has never attempted any such thing. Israel has decided ahead of time that the elected palestinian government is not worth attempting negotiation with, that it should be destroyed and replaced with a better negotiating partner.

"And force, while unpalatable in the near-term, seems one of the few, if only, effective options available to Israeli leaders to change the political equation."

The floggings will continue until morale improves.


Your analysis seems predicated on the notion that Hamas constitutes a very serious threat to Israel. Only then could one believe that Israel has no choice but to persuade Hamas to change its goals, or persuade the Palestinians to adopt new leadership. But the extent of the threat from Hamas in the short-run appears to consist in the limited ability to fire rockets into Israeli border communities. And that was a very manageable threat, since Hamas was willing to accept an indefinite extension of the cease-fire in exchange for an easing of the blockade.

Given the conditions in Gaza, I think that an easing of the blockade would be seen by most as a perfectly reasonable step to ask of the Israelis, and even a humanitarian necessity. But Gazans perceived no tangible results from the first cease fire. Israel used the cease fire period to launch incursions into Gaza, and actually intensified the blockade to put a tighter squeeze on Gaza. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Israel didn't really want an extension of the cease-fire, and merely saw the cease-fire period as a pause in which it could plan this latest assault, and work to exacerbate the tensions in and around Gaza that could be calculated to provide the provocation for the attack.

Had Israel chosen to work for an extended cease-fire, the extended pause in the violence would have given the international community a chance to get to work on resolving the conflict, especially under the leadership of a new administration in Washington. One has to wonder whether Israeli fears of pro-active early intervention from the Obama administration might not have played a role in its decision to tighten its grip on Gaza, and then launch a military assault which has just made Obama's job substantially more difficult.

I believe the global strategy regarding Hamas should be to weaken Hamas over time inside the Palestinian community, and isolate it from any international support. The way to do that is to demonstrate to the Palestinians that less uncompromising Palestinian leadership and resistance is capable of delivering results. This is something the Palestinians have never seen. Neither Palestinian compromises nor foreign peace initiatives have shown any ability to stop the relentless acquisition of territory by Israel inside the West Bank.

The last poll I saw indicated that more than 75% of Palestinians support a two-state solution based on a pre-67 border baseline, with compensatory territorial exchanges on both sides of the Green Line resulting in the same percentages of territory held. That seems like a perfectly reasonable position. Hamas's maximalist goals of reclaiming all of mandatory Palestine are only supported by about 20% of Palestinians. But Hamas derives most of its political power from its ability to make very credible claims that Palestinian amenability to compromise has not achieved any results in the past. These concessions in the past include the historic PLO acceptance of Israel's existence as part of the Oslo process, and its agreement to relinquish for good the 78% of the Palestine Mandate that it had already lost to Israel. Palestinians never saw any reward for this gesture, which at the time was very substantial.

Hamas also derives power from its ability to run social services and charitable organizations in a Gaza strip that has become something like a deeply impoverished internment camp or quarantined ghetto. Hamas would be weakened if Gaza were able to achieve a more normal relationship with the outside world, and economically tolerable domestic conditions.

Since Israelis continue to support the colonies in the occupied territories, along with vague "land-for-peace" for promises that never seem to go anywhere, and refuses to disclaim Israeli pretensions to that occupied territory, then if I were a Palestinian, I might conclude that I should take the same approach, and rather than relinquish stated maximalist claims, I should only relinquish those claims in exchange for tangible territorial results in the West Bank, including a lifting of the occupation and dismantlement of the the colonies in the occupied territories.

Given the permanent state of paranoia, suspicion and even genocidal hatred that afflicts both sides in this conflict, and the tremendous disparity in power between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I tend to doubt that any sustainable resolution can be achieved that places its faith in "negotiations" between the two sides. And we get endless disagreements with Israelis claiming that the Israel can only do A, B and C after the Palestinians do X, Y, and Z, while the Palestinians claim they will only do X, Y, and Z after Israel does A, B and C. Meanwhile there is reason for believing that substantial numbers of both Israelis and Palestinians have no intention of ever doing A, B, C, X, Y or Z. I have long believed that the conflict will only be resolved when the international community, including and especially the United States, takes a much firmer hand in the conflict, and makes a clear and very precise and definitive statement about its position on the dispute and the shape of the solution.

I object somewhat to your use of the term "concessions". Returning what does not belong to one is not a concession. Those West Bank territories are occupied territories, not disputed territories. Not even the Israelis have claimed Israeli sovereignty over them. A key first step, then, would be for the international community to make a more decisive and unified statement that in the community's view West Bank territories simply are not part of Israel, and are under occupation by a foreign power. At the same time, a clear statement should be made that those territories on the Israeli side of the Green Line are sovereign Israeli territory. In other words, the international community should declare an Israeli border.

I think this would inject some much needed clarity into the international diplomatic position. It would make it plain that any resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law and justice would have to have the result that Israel either relinquishes West Bank territories in their entirety, or else exchanges something of value for them. At the same time, the statement would logically entail that Hamas's maximalist aims are not in conformity with internationally recognized borders and international law.

The international community really screwed up in the decades after the 1967 war and UN 242, when it had the opportunity to make a more decisive statement and set in motion a process toward permanent resolution. Despite the original intentions of the international community, Israel had come into possession of 78% of the territory of of the Palestine Mandate, substantially more than was established for Israel in the UN partition plan. At some point, the UN, with strong and consistent support from the US, should have said, "OK, Israel, this far and no further." Instead, it has tended to passively acquiesce, registering no more than "concerns", in the continued acquisition of colonies on West Bank territory by Israel. Given the nature of the building and investment in these colonies, it really strains credulity to be told that Israel is only "holding" them in order to have something to trade back in a land-for-peace deal in the future. Israel will never give these territories back unless they are compelled to do so. The Palestinians are too weak, and have no effective means of stopping this process, and there is no tangible evidence that the Israeli government is really of a mind to stop it. We really need more forceful diplomatic intervention from the outside, then, since Israel and Palestine will never be able to resolve these issues on their own.

Dan Kervick really knows his stuff.

Juan Cole described this dynamic perfectly:

Europe has ceded dealing with the Israelis to the United States.

The people of the United States have ceded dealing with the Israelis to the US Congress.

The US Congress generally abdicates its responsibilities when faced with large powerful single-issue lobbies such as the National Rifle Association, the Cuban-American pro-boycott organizations, and the Israel lobbies.

So Congress has ceded Israel, and indeed, most Middle East, policy to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its myriad organizational supporters, from the Southern Baptist churches to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. The Israel lobbies take their cue on what is good policy from the Israeli government and the Likud Party.

So, US Israel policy is driven by . . . the Israeli rightwing. That is why Congress voted 309 to five to support Israel's war on the people of Gaza, with 22 abstaining.

So AIPAC are the people who care most in Michael Cohen framework. God help is.

If we're to broker a peace, the US must be far more even-handed in what it expects from both parties.

Is there some truth to the claim the Sderot is Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory?

Both Israel and the Palestinian people have valid grievances.

The US’ one-sided support for Israel undermines our reputation as a credible authority and our effectiveness as an honest broker. The US must reexamine its understanding of the conflict, the merit of both side’s grievances, and present a more balanced opinion in its foriegn policy statements.

Israel is an ally, not the 51st state. We give Israel massive military aid; as such we have some accountability for how they use it.

The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped facilitate the truce, but by center-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report titled "Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report," confirmed that the June 19 truce was only "sporadically violated, and then not by Hamas but instead by ... "rogue terrorist organizations". Instead, "the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement" occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 and then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next day. Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realize that this argument is losing credibility.

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who

Great comments! You are so nice, man! You never know how much i like'em!

Iwiss Electric mainly manufacturer explosion-proof fixed professional light, such as flood light, spotlight, dome lamp, ceiling lamp, full plastic fluorescence light, anti-dazzle light, and low carbon light suppliers.

Good day I was fortunate to find your subject in bing
your topic is exceptional
I obtain a lot in your website really thank your very much btw the theme of you blog is really impressive where can find it

I'd like to read more from you,expecting your new articles.

I just can's believe how surprise when i receive my iphone 4. Its so charming and functional! But there's one thing i don't satisfy, i don't like the color. Waiting for the coming white iphone 4 conversion kit.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use