THE SITUATION IN GAZA: A COMMENT & A RESPONSE TO ROBERT MALLEY
GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for a third consecutive day on Monday and prepared for a possible invasion after killing 307 Palestinians in the air raids.
Israel, which stepped up the air strikes after dark on Sunday, said it launched the campaign on Saturday in response to almost daily rocket and mortar fire that intensified after the Islamist Hamas group ended a six-month ceasefire a week ago.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the military action would go on until the population in southern Israel "no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages."
"(The operation could) take many days," said military spokesman Avi Benayahu.
Israeli tanks were deployed on the edge of the Gaza Strip, poised to enter the densely populated coastal enclave of 1.5 million Palestinians. Olmert's cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reservists, a government official said.
Hamas remained defiant and the group's spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinian groups to use "all available means, including martyrdom operations" -- a reference to suicide bombings in Israel.
World oil prices rose as much as $2 to nearly $40 a barrel on Monday as analysts said the conflict between Israel and Hamas had reminded traders of the geopolitical risk to crude supplies from the Middle East.
The U.N. Security Council called for a halt to the violence, but President George W. Bush's administration, in its final weeks in office, has put the onus on Hamas to renew the truce.
The Israeli offensive enraged Arabs across the Middle East, where protesters burned Israeli and U.S. flags to press for a stronger response from their leaders to the attack on Gaza. Israel, whose politicians have been under pressure to act over the rocket and mortar attacks ahead of a February 10 election, was feeling little international pressure to halt its offensive, said an Israeli official, who declined to be named.
"Israel Mounts Third Day of Gaza Raids," 28 December 2008 in www.reuters.com.
"The vision of an Israeli–Palestinian settlement to overjoyed Arab leaders and universal endorsement may not, under the circumstances, be quite so alluring. A peace plan that has grown tedious by virtue of repetition is unlikely to generate popular enthusiasm; its backing by fading Arab leaders is unlikely to give it a boost.
The new president enjoys an enormous, perhaps unprecedented reservoir of regional goodwill. Yet it is goodwill based on hope that Obama can break from past American conduct and style, not reinforce them. The surest way to diminish Obama's appeal to the region would be for him to present a plan with no real future in the company of leaders burdened by their past....
Amid all this, the question of what ought to be done on the Arab–Israeli front remains unanswered, and that may not be a bad thing. With so much that is novel, and with so much having gone so wrong for so long, basic issues should first be addressed. Among them are the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of US mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests and the benefits that would accrue to America from its resolution. One also might ponder reasons behind America's chronic ineffectiveness in persuading lesser powers (Arafat, Hamas, Syria, or Hezbollah) to acquiesce in its demands, a pattern that suggests incapacity to identify local political forces, understand their interests, or comprehend their appeal.
Raising such questions might lead to heretical answers, or impractical ones, or none at all. But it is preferable to a headfirst rush to follow costly familiar patterns and to seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work. Among the flurry of recommendations the next administration will receive, Obama could do worse than consider some simple advice. Don't rush. Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock. Who knows, fresh and more effective policies might even ensue. Now that would be change we could believe in".
Robert Malley & Hussein Agha "How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East," New York Review of Books, December 17, 2008.
Robert Malley with Hussein Agha, have had a lifetime of experience of dealing with the Arab-Israeli problem, and, in particular the negotiations over a 'final settlement', in 1998-2000, which broke down at Camp David and had the end-result of bringing on the Second Intifada and the return to power of General Sharon. Both men have authored in a series of essays since 2001, what has come to be the 'revisionist' view of the failure of Clinton, Barak and Arafat to come to an agreement both at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and prior to that. Malley and Agha stating that rather than merely being the fault of then PA President Arafat, the faults were much more those of Clinton and Barak. In particular the failure of the latter to work consistently and solidly for an agreement with Arafat (or for that matter with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad over the Golan Heights), and instead shifting from one point to the next, unintentionally sabotaging the entire process. With that background in mind, and, with the knowledge that Malley has ties both personal and political with the incoming Administration, id. est., the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name, one may assume that to some extent Malley may be said to 'speak', for at least some members of the same. Although, most likely not the incoming Secretary of State obviously.
The above being the case, what does one do with the sort of quieta non movere line that Mally and Agha advocate in the above essay in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books? A response would be that while in the best of circumstances, such a 'step back', might have a certain logic, the headlines which appear at the top of this entry clearly show that we are not in such times. With a state of affairs where over three hundred people are killed in a little over twenty-four hours, and, with more military Israeli operations to come, it does not seem to be the best time by far for a 'hands off,' American policy. Indeed, if the incoming Administration were even to give a semblance of having such a policy, the upshot would be that any prestige that the incoming Administration has (or is alleged to have) will shrivel immediately in the Near East and indeed in much of the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is that a deliberate American 'non-policy' and or 'hands off' policy would just confirm the reigning belief throughout the Near and Middle East, that the USA is a mere cats paw of government in Tel Aviv and the alleged 'Zionist Lobby'. Indeed, as of this moment, if one were to read the State Department's own comments on the crisis, it would seem that we are back to the policy of sotto voce support for Israeli military aggression `a la the Lebanon in 2006, viz:
"The United States is deeply concerned about the escalating violence in Gaza. We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence there. The ceasefire must be restored immediately and fully respected. The United States calls on all concerned to protect innocent lives and to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza. "Statement by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice on the Situation in Gaza," Released on December 27, 2008, www.state.gov
For the incoming Administration to repeat this line, would be, let us not mince words here, deadly. Given Malley's own prior experience and his knowledge of the ongoing situation as well as his own contacts with Hamas in particular, one can only conclude that he fears that under the new American Administration, we shall see much more continuity than discontinuity. With the Clinton years, if not indeed with the Bush regime itself. Now that would indeed be something to worry about. As for the Israeli strikes into the Gaza Strip, while they do have some merit in a tit for tat sense, unless one is mistaken there appears to be next to no possibility of these air strikes being able to stop Hamas from raining rockets into Southern Israel. There are only a few ways of accomplishing that particular goal: a) flattening the entire Gaza Strip, and; b) re-occupying it militarily, and; c) and de-populating it; and, there are absolutely no signs that Tel Aviv has either the wish or the will to do any of these. Hence, after four to six weeks of Israeli air strikes, with perhaps thousands killed, and, with much of the territory destroyed, there will still be rockets fired into Southern Israel. Election antics aside (the Israeli elections being scheduled for the second week of February), and the need to keep the odious Netanyahu's Likud Bloc out of office, there appears to be absolutely no rhyme or reason behind the Israeli policy. It will be as successful as the late unlamented 2006 war in the Lebanon. With the end result that Israel will be seen as more not less weaker and Hamas and its regional allies, such as Hezbollah, Syria and Persia strengthened. This outcome is as plain as a pikestaff: cannot Tel Aviv see that?