The UN Security Council decision Friday morning caught Israel when the troika, Olmert, Barak, Livni, was in another squalid fight, this time about whether to continue on to phrase III of the war. Phrase III is the plan to expand the ground operation to take complete control of the entire strip. Phase IV is presumably a door-to- door hunt for every member of the Hamas organization, including the annihilation of anyone in any kind of leadership position. But even this would fail to eliminate Hamas. It would mean only that Hamas would reorganize itself as a network of underground groups which could continue the struggle against the occupation.
Though the troika is posturing intensively about not allowing anyone else to determine Israeli security, it is hard to believe that they will give a green light to Phase III, for the full occupation of Gaza. Understandably enough, many in the public, who have been conditioned to believe that full and total victory is just around the corner, insist on fighting on. However, starting a major ground offensive now, in the face of the UN decision would be a major mistake for Israel as well as an act of criminal folly. Sadly, it is not the ensuing huge casualty count certain on both sides which will convince Israel to desist.
As flustered and as confused as the troika is, even they have to understand the political danger of being out of step, or even in confrontation, with US policy, especially now on the eve of Obama’s inauguration. A split with the US is the nightmare of everyone in the country’s ruling circles, who understands just exactly how dependent this country is on US military and political backing.
Israel was caught last Friday night with its pants down when the tide, in the form of the US automatic veto, ebbed. It is doubtful whether in these conditions a denuded Israel will opt to continue the war for too long. The missing veto is more than embarrassing for official Israel which had hoped to attend the Obama inauguration ensconced in the warm folds of the “special relationship.” The automatic US veto, which seems, at least for the moment, to have gone up in the smoke of the Gaza massacre, indicates that Israel’s trusted ally is chafing under the gigantic world wide outburst of rage over the crimes in Gaza. The scope of the protest and its depth confronts the US empire with an urgency parallel to the economic crisis at home.
Hard times are ahead for those who govern Israel. No serious political force in the world will buy the explanations for the unacceptable crimes against humanity in Gaza. At the same time, the Israeli government will find it almost impossible to justify to its public the glaring gap between officially pumped up high expectations and the meagerness of the results on the ground.
The diplomatic damage to Israel may be lasting. If Rice could no longer defend her Israeli partner’s brutal, blind aggression with the automatic veto, it will be that much more difficult for Obama to restore the automatic veto for an Israel led by Netanyahu. Indeed, chances are that Netanyahu, riding a wave of public frustration and bitterness over the failure of the Cast Lead adventure, will be the central figure in the next post-election coalition.
Start Talking With Hamas
Many sincere people in the peace camp have been tempted into entertaining the idea peace is the best way to eliminate the influence of Hamas, which is considered, after Israeli policy and deeds, the chief obstacle to peace in the region.
Now, even as official Israel performs the military operation designed to eliminate Hamas, there are voices in the peace camp which offer an alternative less violent path to the same end. Their argument is that Hamas can and should be marginalized, and that this goal can be reached by Israeli willingness to work out a serious two state peace agreement. But is this objective consistent with the chances for peace?
This strategy against Hamas might have succeeded in a much earlier stage, before Hamas emerged as a major force in Palestinian politics. However, since Hamas’ electoral ascendency, two processes have undermined the efficacy of the “peace in order to stop Hamas” formula. The first is the complete and total discrediting of the Palestinian Authority under Muhammed Abbas’s leadership. Total integration into Bush’s diplomatic and military apparatus, along with endemic corruption have destroyed its last shreds of credibility. Secondly, in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian and Arab masses, Hamas has come to represent the cause of Palestinian resistance.
In light of the fact that the Abbas leadership is so hopelessly compromised, the idea that Hamas can be marginalized by reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority is simply wishful thinking. On the contrary, it is doubly important for those who support the principles of the two-state solution to understand that Hamas is an essential element in achieving this solution. The left in Israel and the peace camp must be clear about their sympathy for efforts for Palestinian unity, which is an essential building block for any serious discussion of peace. Indeed, any serious supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace must recognize the need for the de facto recognition of Hamas.
It is true that the murderous aggression by Israel against Gaza has complicated an already complicated situation. At the base of this aggression is a futile attempt to break out of the confines of given political reality and the central role of Hamas. In these circumstances, any criticism leveled, however justified, against the nature of Hamas, and its ideological character, must pale on the background of the crimes against the Palestinian people and the fact that Hamas leads the Palestinian resistance. Those who quote elements in Hamas ideology as an argument against de facto recognition, must have forgotten that the peace movement in Israel called, correctly, for recognition of the PLO before the PLO was willing to recognize Israel. Those who want peace must demand that Israel be ready for serious negotiations on the basis of the Saudi-Arabian-European peace plan with a united Palestinian representation, including Hamas.
Israel is reaping the whirlwind. It “must” continue fighting until it can declare victory, if only on the basis of the flimsiest evidence. Israel seeks almost any consolation prize that it can throw to the angry masses, who having been fooled into believing that total and complete victory, and no more rockets over their homes, depends only on a few more days of military action. The leadership has every reason to fear the wrath of the public which they have fooled into a na?ve belief in an approaching all-out victory. Sadly enough, the illusions cultivated by the leadership may well encourage the search for the false messiah on the fanatical right, with its eternal mantra, “If only we would have kept on bombing.”