Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hamas is responsible, but …

Outgoing, corruption-haunted and altogether discredited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Sunday that Israel would respond “disproportionately” to the continuing, albeit sporadic, firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip. In the long, sad and bloody history of disproportionate responses by Israel, Olmert’s comment may actually set a precedent, in that the Israeli leader no longer even attempted to hide the fact that his country’s military is breaking international law. Put through the political doublespeak filter, what Olmert essentially said was “we shall break international law.”

Two additional ironies marked the warning.

First, despite an intense 19-day bombing campaign in Gaza to “end” the firing of rockets into Israeli territory, causing about US$2 billion in damage to the Gaza infrastructure, killing 1,300 Palestinians and injuring thousands, rockets are still being fired, a humiliation of Israel’s military that is reminiscent of similar adventurism in Lebanon in 2006.

Second, while Jerusalem and its shrinking list of equally discredited supporters have blamed Hamas for the rocket attacks and, with odd logic, the devastating response by Israel, the latest rocket attacks (which caused no damage or injuries) were claimed by a wing of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. In Israel’s book (and likely in US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s, as well as special envoy’s George Mitchell’s), Hamas are the bad guys, while Fatah (or at least Abbas) are the “moderate” Palestinians, the ones that “peace” can be negotiated with.

Now that the “good” guys — the “good Arabs” of the non-“terrorist” sort — are also firing rockets into Israel, who will Israel talk to? Quite the quandary, indeed. Could it be that Olmert’s latest disproportionate response in Gaza in December and January managed to anger even the portion of Palestinians it thought it could deal with? Could this mean that Israel’s US-backed blunt approach to peacemaking is finally backfiring, proving that “peace” at the end of a cannon, “peace” that isn’t accompanied by justice and respect for international law, can turn even one’s “friends” into enemies?


Stefan said...

Israel will not get peace unless it stops it's policy of stealing Palestinian land. It doesn't matter if they call it settlements, it's just stealing.

The Palestinians are not getting peace unless they stop being the world's biggest morons. Shooting rockets at someone a thousand times more powerful gets you invaded and your infrastructure destroyed? Huh, imagine that.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks for the comment, Stefan.

I would argue that on the Palestinian side we mustn’t assume that the decision-making process is a rational one — e.g., that “policies” are made on a cost-benefit basis, which is part and parcel of the Rational Actor Model. When a situation (the “status quo”) has become untenable — and in the Palestinian case I believe it has reached this point — actors will often choose a path that, seen from the outside, appears to be irrational, and as you point out, firing crude rockets at an enemy who’s a thousand times more powerful than you may seem “moronic,” if not suicidal. I’m not saying this is the right thing to do, as I’m sure most of the Palestinian civilians who over the years have died as a result of those decisions would affirm. And yet, given their isolation and lack of strong allies, and seeing little possibility of change in the “status quo,” this may be the only apparent option for Palestinians to keep the conflict alive within the international community, with the hope that, one day, some will intervene on their behalf, or those who are responsible for maintaining the uncomfortable “status quo” will adopt new policies.

Further, with the world refusing to talk to them because they’re a so-called “terrorist” organization, the elected Hamas leadership may have reached the conclusion that firing rockets is the only way to have their voice heard. (I hate using the child analogy, because it may appear condescending, but still, I believe it is useful in this case. Ignore a child long enough, refuse to talk to him and eventually he’ll find ways to attract attention.) That worldview will not change until the world realizes that Hamas is part of the solution, part of the political life in Palestine and therefore must be engaged, which I have long argued for.

Also, I believe Hamas overshot and overestimated its capabilities. It may have hoped to “teach Israel a lesson,” but the past month has proven without a doubt that it is no Hezbollah, both in terms of equipment and abilities.