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.