Once again we have a flare up of violence in Israel and Gaza. And once again we will have the predictable reactions, with each side accusing the other of starting it first, a pointless argument that can never be settled in a conflict that goes back decades.
Glenn Greenwald links to several articles that give timelines of the current escalation. He says it does not help that the US and other western media will slip into its reflexively pro-Israel mode and that the Obama administration’s own drone policy will prevent it from putting pressure on Israel to stop its policy of targeting killings.
As long as the brutal treatment of Palestinians by Israel continues, there will be no end to this cycle of violence. Stephen R. Walt provides a good analysis of the current depressing state of affairs, going beyond the current escalation to see what is at play long-term.
On the whole, this latest series of clashes reveals the utter lack of imagination and strategic foresight on both sides. It is a pointless exchange of violence that will not alter the basic strategic situation one iota. The fighting may enhance Netanyahu’s chances for reelection, but he was likely to win anyway. It may further enhance Hamas’ stature and underscore the impotence of the Palestinian Authority, but the latter’s growing irrelevance was already understood, if not openly acknowledged. But it brings neither side closer to achieving its core objectives.
Israel’s bind is straightforward, as John Mearsheimer lays out clearly here. The Netanyahu government is dead-set against allowing the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own and wants them to accept permanent Bantustan status instead. Netanyahu is eager to negotiate for as long as it takes, provided that no deal is ever reached and that the construction crews can keep gobbling up more land on the West Bank and ensuring permanent Israeli control. Those pesky Palestinians have refused to play that game, and also refused to give up their demands for their own state.
The Mearsheimer article, after pointing out the futility of the current Israeli policy of aerial bombardment of Gaza, argues that the problem stems from Israel’s long-term goals.
So what is going on here? At the most basic level, Israel’s actions in Gaza are inextricably bound up with its efforts to create a Greater Israel that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the endless palaver about a two-state solution, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state, not least because the Netanyahu government is firmly opposed to it. The prime minister and his political allies are deeply committed to making the Occupied Territories a permanent part of Israel. To pull this off, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be forced to live in impoverished enclaves similar to the Bantustans in white-ruled South Africa. Israeli Jews understand this quite well: a recent survey found that 58 per cent of them believe Israel already practises apartheid against the Palestinians.
As long as the US government continues to promote the myth that the Israeli government is interested in a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state, the Middle East will continue to fester.
As Mearsheimer says:
Over the long term, however, the bombing campaigns may come to an end, because it is not clear that Israel will be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state. As well as resistance from the Palestinians, Israel has to face the problem that world opinion is unlikely to back an apartheid state. Ehud Olmert said in November 2007, when he was prime minister, that if ‘the two-state solution collapses’ Israel will ‘face a South-African-style struggle’, and ‘as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.’ One would think Israel’s leaders would appreciate where they are headed and allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own. But there is no sign that is happening; instead, Israel foolishly continues to rely on military campaigns like Pillar of Defence to break the Palestinians.
The idea that war is a good way to achieve political ends is depressingly widespread. John Quiggin says that “war is almost always a mistake as well as a crime” and yet “it seems impossible to get away from the assumption that war, or the threat of war, is a reliable method of achieving desired outcomes.” He concludes:
But if we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned, and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later, we would be right most of the time.
But governments will choose war because it is so tempting for the nation that has superior power. Before war starts, it always seems like the easiest and quickest solution to their immediate problem.