Sunday, December 28, 2008

In the NYT article on resumption of full-scale warfare between Israel and Hamas, I was struck by this paragraph:

Israeli officials said that anyone linked to the Hamas security structure or government was fair game because Hamas was a terrorist group that sought Israel’s destruction. But with work here increasingly scarce because of an international embargo on Hamas, young men are tempted by the steady work of the police force without necessarily fully accepting the Hamas ideology. One of the biggest tolls on Saturday was at a police cadet graduation ceremony in which 15 people were killed.

The cycle of radicalization continues. Goddammit.

It is certainly arguable whether Hamas has pursued "all the peaceful options" as they say they have, though I'd venture that within their particular framework of jihad they've made a decently good-faith effort despite some more extreme rhetoric that is, in truth, more in line with their stated principles. (Rhetoric, of course, is political action and should not be discounted.) Regardless, from a realist perspective, the Israelis have done a remarkably bad job of providing Hamas--or any Gazan--with reward for more restrained behavior or incentives to chill the fuck out.

The paragraph alludes to the economic isolation imposed on Gaza by Israel with the cooperation and support of West Bank authorities, the U.S., and the international community (whatever that is supposed to mean). When Palestine is economically integrated with--which is to say, dependent on--Israel, Palestinians are far more likely to decry aggression by their representatives. They have much more to lose. In this situation, the only cost is really the size of the body count.

That is not nothing by any means, but the fact is that people die in Gaza from lack of medical care and from deprivations resulting from the embargo as it is. People die as a result of the violence that almost inevitably emerges from the lack of wealth and economic opportunity resulting from the embargo. People die from the ongoing, if sporadic, violence between Israel and Gaza, which is of course more politically feasible and useful for leaders when there is no quality of life left to lose, and nothing to gain from waiting out a siege that can go on indefinitely as far as its architects are concerned. Finally, people die or are crippled because Hamas is by no means perfect as a governing entity, but when Hamas is at war with Israel they have less need to subjugate the populace by violence, and it's easier for them to gloss over those incidents.

The surest way to prevent conflict is to unite your enemy's interests with your own. From the paper I killed myself over two weeks ago:

For Israel’s part, nothing of much use can be done in the current mindset. To deal effectively with this problem, Israel will have to change the basis on which, for the most part, it has acted since the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is understandable that Israel has sought to weaken the Palestinians as much as possible and to concede to them as little as possible. However, it must be clear by now that the only internationally acceptable end to this conflict will be a two-state solution of some kind, and that the Palestinians will not disappear through repression and warfare. It is now in Israel’s interest to have as stable, viable, and friendly a neighbor and negotiating partner in Palestine as possible....

I understand that Israelis object to aiding or even tacitly allowing the prosperity of an enemy that has repeatedly attacked and killed their fellow citizens. I understand that there is real concern that no matter what Israel does, Hamas will always oppose it and always violently. Hell, it's in Hamas's charter. But given that, Israel will never defeat or accomodate Hamas. Its best hope is to turn away the public's support for them and their mission, and bombing the fuck out of that public is probably the worst way to do it.

The only chance for success in this situation is to break the cycle that produces more and more radicals on both sides (the longer this goes on, the stupider and weaker moderates look). In my view, Israel has greater latitude and so greater responsibility in this matter as the more powerful actor. I'm sure this perception is colored by the fact that I live in the pro-Israel U.S., but to argue on any realist basis that Israel is not the more powerful actor is laughable. Furthermore, Israel's position in the Middle East would be strengthened, not weakened, by showing some clemency toward the Palestinians. The struggle against Israel is legitimated by its framing as on the behalf of Palestinians; when Israel is seen to be reasonable and generous toward them, its opposition in Syria and elsewhere starts to look much less righteous.

I don't mean to erase the real cost to Israeli security that would unavoidably accompany a softening toward Palestine. But I do think that in the long term, such a cost will be necessary if this equilibrium, which is painful and costly as it is and poisons nearly every other political question in the region, is ever to be broken.

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