Friday, January 18, 2008

Eyeless in Gaza: Geometric Logic

This has been a terrible week. If you haven’t noticed—and you probably haven’t, because it would be like noticing a new patch of a Jackson Pollack painting—Israeli forces have been exchanging cruelties with Palestinian “militants” again. The IDF has killed something like 30 Palestinians since Monday (mostly in Gaza, and mostly from the air) while about 120 more Qassam rockets have landed in and around Israeli towns bordering on Gaza. I won’t say who fired first; it would get us back to the Balfour Declaration.

Defense Ministry officials say they will expand the war against terror—that this is a “difficult” war but Israelis will win it. When you are a hammer, every problem is a nail. So I will offer an axiom, implied here before, but worth stating more bluntly.

Military forces can compel obedience and secure areas; however, they cannot by themselves achieve the political settlement needed to resolve the situation. The focus must expand to include governance, provision of essential services, and stimulation of economic development.

Okay, that’s not me, it is actually General David Petraeus from his famous work, Counterinsurgency. I will, however, offer some corollaries.

*Expanding the war against Gaza militants by a factor of X also expands the pool of Gaza militants by a factor greater than X.

*Expanding the war against Gaza militants by a factor of X, expands support in the West Bank for Hamas by a factor of Y. That is why the Gaza Islamists are taunting the IDF and inviting an invasion.

*Israeli action cannot intercept the flow of arms and explosives to Gaza, since they come through Egypt; to act forcefully against Egyptian control at its border with Gaza may bring an end to the Israeli-Egyptian peace, or bring a possible reintroduction of Egyptian forces in the Sinai, or bring down the Mubarak regime, or all three. Defense officials have not been willing to risk this.

*Where there is official talk of a new invasion of Gaza, like the one in 2002, there is parallel silence regarding how the invasion of 2002 did not intimidate Hamas or Hezbollah in 2006, or indeed, prevent the new invasion now anticipated.

*A new invasion will anyway not preclude new missiles, or their threat, when the IDF vacates the area; and the IDF cannot stay in Gaza without becoming sitting ducks for a counter-counterinsurgency.

*The term war against terror really means that our kids are killing their kids; and if a rocket or terrorist will get me, the person who fires the rocket or blows me up will also be a kid.

The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that our only hope for ending this sociopathic drift begins with a cease fire, while negotiators rush to come up with a deal too fair for Hamas supporters in the West Bank and, eventually, Gaza to reject. As Petraeus wrote, at least before he took over in Iraq, a big part of the calming must be a legitimate political settlement secured by international forces. Just about any configuration of “the deal” will work to Israel’s advantage, moreover, since Israel’s intellectual capital will, over the coming generation, become indispensable for Palestinian youth, as they move to “governance, provision of essential services, and stimulation of economic development,” and away from the consolations of the gang.

A final definition, for the word “fair.” I wrote last week about the professors’ strike, which was finally resolved this morning on terms the Treasury could have offered a couple of months ago. But for reasons not worth going into just now, this is a country where all government officials seem to believe that they cannot find out what is fair unless they find out what the other side’s “red lines” are, the way a rug merchant supposedly discovers the point after which you walk away. The most important thing to avoid is being a “friar,” in Israeli parlance, a sucker.

How do we know what Palestinians will accept? Presumably, you push them to the wall, or build one. One result of this form of bargaining can be seen in this picture, which I took this morning, while walking my dog. The clothes you see lying by the garbage bin were left by some neighbor; every Friday, the day before our Sabbath, which is the Muslim Sabbath, a Palestinian father from the Hebron hills, or East Jerusalem, comes to our bins to scrounge for discarded objects for his kids. I would hate to discover their red lines when they grow old enough to become militants.


bar_kochba132 said...

Bernie, didn't you tell us just a couple of postings ago how your friend Olmert has finally "seen the light" and become a man of peace? How do you explain him carryin out this policy in Gaza?
In any event you are repeating this ancient canard that "current Israeli policy is creating extremism among the Arabs". Arab anti-Jewish extremist didn't start in 1967, it didn't start with the building of the settlements in Judea/Samara, it began with the beginning of the modern Zionist movement over 100 years ago. That is why there were anti-Jewish riots in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-1939 and then full-scale wars 1947-1949, 1956 and 1967. Do you begin to see a pattern, Bernie? The Arabs oppose ANY national Jewish presence here.
Your pal Olmert recently stated that "Israel is doomed unless we create a Palestinian state now". Isn't that what the Arabs want? Do you mean to tell me that after Olmert says that that Abbas and the rest of the Arab world will now say "did you hear what Olmert said? We had better hurry up so that we can save Israel for Olmert!" Does that make sense?
As I pointed out in a previous comment, the official Palestinian television has begun rebroadcasting a piece praising shahidin "martyrs" and showing all the virigins and other goodies they get in the next world. Why do you think they are doing this? Apparently, they are preparing for another explosion of violence when this phony Annapolis-process reaches its inevitable dead-end, just like Arafat did when he decided to reject the Camp David and Taba offerings.
Israel had better wake up to reality. I am not saying the situation is hopeless, what I am saying is this phony "peace process" and nonsense like the "2-state solution" and "territories for peace" which you and your friends have been pushing for decades now have reached a dead-end and it is time to look for Israel to stop thinking that "globalization" is going to solve our problems and that the Arabs can be pacified by waving cash in front of them, but rather a return to our Jewish/Zionist roots and Jewish "tzumud" (steadfastness) in Eretz Israel instead.

Shelly Schreter said...

I differ with the simplistic formulations of bar_kochba132 (whoever he/she may be), but they're not totally wrong. Your key phrase is coming up with an offer so fair that not even Hamas can reject it, which means avoiding consideration of the possibility that no such animal exists. It may be uncomfortable to take seriously Hamas's honest statement that their goal and entire raison d'etre are to wipe Israel out, but it is willful folly (and condescension) to treat it as though it were a mere bargaining position.

We're looking at war, Bernie. Not just politics, or public relations, or some other indirect mode of pursuing hostilities, but actual war, pressed by a regime which is eager to sacrifice its civilians. The suffering of that population is the direct and intentional consequence of the continued bombardment of Israeli civilian targets. There is no symmetry or rationale that we can make sense of. The Palestinians have alternatives which they reject. Peaceful development of Gaza would have made a huge difference in achieving every one of Palestine's political goals, and generating irresistible international pressure on Israel to end the occupation. But they chose what they chose, and cry "foul" over the muted consequences, as Israel fights back with enormous restraint.

Israel needs a left which is clearly capable of distinguishing between legitimate self-defense and messianist, expansionist adventurism. Failure to do that reduces it to sad irrelevance.

Bernard Avishai said...

There is no doubt that (call them) "messianic" kids will grow older and harden into sociopaths, even beyond a generation of formal peace. The question is, as Petraeus implies, 1) how to reduce their number and surround them with family, friends, widely accepted leaders, etc., who will claim a stake in stability and economic betterment, 2) how to stop turning Gaza into a veritable factory for such people, and (related to this) 3) do the so-called preemptive attacks actually fuel the despair that causes more and more of the surrounding population to side with Hamas emotionally, even if they want a peaceful (i.e., two-state) solution. It is worth the time to see Khalil Shikaki's data at
The correspondence between despair and Hamas support is direct. But then, this should be common sense for people who have seen the growth of these movements over the past two generation of occupation.

Leila said...

Mr. Avishai, thank you for this post. I have been feeling sick over Gaza again today. I'm a cancer patient with metastases to the liver and my poor liver just throbs when I read this stuff. I blogged my despair in the middle of the night.

Your post today reminds me that humanity does continue to exist. Thank you.

Leila said...

Oh yes, my main blog is Dove's Eye View

Thanks for alerting me to your new effort.

EDB said...

"When you're a hammer, every problem is a nail."

This made my day (and it's only 9am.)

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