My overlong post on Reuven Kaminer the other day suddenly seems like a case of denial. Currently, the Israeli military (Israel Defense Force, or IDF) is engaged in an incursion into Gaza that has knocked out power, terrorized the population, and created a serious risk of a humanitarian catastrophe as water cannot be purified.
Counterpunch has one take; the New York Times (login required) has another in the Sunday paper. The Observer reports that a deal is near.
Which raises the question, a deal on what? As readers probably know, this incursion--which has included attacks on the offices of (Hamas) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the capture of Hamas MPs--is ostensibly about freeing a single captured Israeli soldier.
It's possible that this is true. Ron Arad, an Israeli pilot captured in Lebanon in 1986, became a household name. Like the US right wing, the Israeli right needs to perceive itself as holding the moral high ground, and the willingness to sacrifice greatly to rescue a single Israeli captive feeds this need. Prisoner exchanges of years past involved hundreds of Palestinians for one or two Israelis, and rather than ask themselves why they were holding hundreds of Palestinians whom they were willing to free for such strategically trivial reasons, Israelis (and Zionists elsewhere, such as Canada, where I grew up) congratulated themselves on their respect for human life (in contrast to the Palestinians', of course). It looks like the same sort of trade is in the offing this time, and no doubt Israel and its allies will congratulate themselves again.
The likelihood that this is the real motivation would be enhanced if there were growing internal dissension in the IDF. This is very possible. The refusenik movement, which I mentioned in the Kaminer post, is growing--albeit mostly under the radar due to convenient overuse of psychiatric discharges and other administrative tricks, rather than courts-martial, for anyone who refuses to support the Occupation. On the other side, IDF members know that, should the settlements ever be abandoned, the IDF will be the ones quite literally dragging settlers kicking and screaming from their homes in the West Bank. So if political and moral opposition to the Occupation, on one side, combined with political and moral opposition to ending the Occupation, on the other, now has added to it genuine fear of capture and possibly torture in Hamas's hands, the IDF might be afraid of losing the capacity to act at all.
So it is, then, possible that Israel is doing this for the very reason it claims; that this is a mess of its own making is just a bitter irony for which the people of Gaza are suffering.
Nonetheless, I think that freeing the captive is at most a secondary aim. What I'm about to suggest is conjecture; judge it with that in mind.
The Times article quotes, without comment, a Palestinian who claims that Israel's real reasons are to make Palestinians blame their own government and return to the Fatah fold. The person quoted to this effect, Omar Areny, says that this is backfiring, because Palestinians are supporting Hamas against this attack. So the Israelis are dense; as the Times paraphrases,
Even after so many years of fighting, Mr. Areny said, Israel had again misunderstood the Palestinian mind.
This strikes me as actually self-serving and, if anything, evidence that both The Times and Omar Areny have gotten Israel's real motivations completely backward in a way that makes Israel's motives look better than they are.
The Times-Areny explanation supposes that Israel wants to strengthen Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas, perhaps so that Israel can have a negotiating partner for the next stages of the peace process. But the Olmert government has given no real indication that it wants a negotiating partner. To the contrary, Olmert is committed to a position of unilateralism if necessary, negotiation if possible. If he can ensure that negotiation is impossible, then he can act unilaterally.
Why would Olmert want to act unilaterally?
If there is no negotiating partner, Israel sets its own boundaries.
If there is no negotiating partner, Israel withdraws how it wants, when it wants, and from where it wants, leaving and destroying what it wants.
If there is no negotiating partner, Jerusalem doesn't get divided and the Palestinian right of return is never acknowledged or recognized. Refugees can be told to shove off.
If there is no negotiating partner, in other words, Israel gets to torpedo every single one of the 3 fundamental aspects of any viable solution, as laid out by Reuven Kaminer--return of all the land captured from Jordan and Egypt in 1967 (except by swap), shared capital in Jerusalem, and some improvement in the condition of the refugees. And it does so in a way that will convince most Israeli citizens and, perhaps more importantly, most Americans, that Israel has been the only reasonable "partner for peace" in the region. If Palestine becomes a failed state, that will just provide that much more opportunity for self-congratulation and crocodile tears from Israel and its allies.
Kaminer suggested that the Occupation will destroy Israel if it continues. Facing this prospect of destruction, Israel and its allies can choose either of two ways ahead. I fear the Gaza invasion indicates which way Olmert has chosen. I'm pessimistic that he can be forced back off this road and onto the path of negotiation. Indeed, it may well have been Hamas's incipient willingness to recognize Israel and come to the table that spurred this invasion in the first place.
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Filed as: Israel, Palestine