An Israeli leadership truly interested in a peace agreement would not have driven its partner to the point of lacking any leadership authority among his people. But that is exactly the point. Israel is not really interested in peace or in a partner who can bring about peace.
By Idan Landau (Translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman)
In January 2011 the winds of the Arab Spring blew through Gaza and the West Bank, and the four-year rift between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas came to an end. Reconciliation talks took three months, and were boosted by mass demonstrations of Palestinians in Gaza and Ramallah in favor of a unity government. Abu Mazen declared his willingness to travel to Gaza and sign an agreement.
In other words, Bibi’s nightmare came true.
The day after Abu Mazen’s declaration, the IDF killed two Hamas activists in Gaza, in an action authorized by the highest levels – the minister of defense and the IDF chief of staff. The killing was portrayed as a response to the launching of a single Qassam rocket, which hit no one, but some, like Yedioth’s Alex Fishman, understood that this had been a “premeditated escalation” by Israel. The following day, March 17, Netanyahu came “full circle”, clarifying to those who had not yet understood: Palestinian unity is a red line, as far as Israel is concerned.
Israel’s array of diplomatic threats was retrieved from storage: economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, an end to security cooperation. Nothing was said about the escalation in the South being the immediate aftermath of that policy. The security pretext – “restore calm to the South” – was brittle and unconvincing. Astute observers noted that at the beginning of that month Israel had substantially decreased the flow of goods into Gaza – a move that precedes an Israeli strike more often than it is a response to a Palestinian strike.
The killing of Hamas activists was the first shot in yet another seasonal round of violence between Israel and Gaza. The “premeditated escalation” claimed the lives of innocent people – four members of the el-Hilu family in the Saja’ia neighborhood. A detailed day-by-day analysis of that round of escalation appeared on this blog, showing that there were various reasons behind the Israeli escalation, but none of them were the protection of the lives and wellbeing of the residents of Israel. This is what I wrote then:
What does one do? One escalates. That’s the explanation for what we have seen throughout the past two weeks. Why is an escalation good? Because an escalation, and the stoking of flames on both sides of the border, always plays into the hands of extremists. The call for revenge trumps the call for reconciliation, and the voice of separation overrides the voice of unity. In short, when Grad rockets and choppers roar, reason moves to one’s balls. Another week or two of rockets and choppers and mortars, and the sane, alternative agenda will undergo the burial of a donkey. Another few casualties on both sides, and eyes will be bloodshot once more, and hateful chants will fill the air, and at night only the silent sobs of bereaved mothers will be heard.
This is how Israel hopes to disrupt and roll back the civilian, non-violent dynamic, which has already taken deep roots in the West Bank. This is how Israel hopes to derail the “dangerous” train of Palestinian unity, which may define an entirely new set of rules in the region.
Let there be no doubt: Islamic Jihad, as well as some extremist factions of Hamas, share this goal. They too would like to torpedo any intra-national compromise with Fatah, on the one hand, and will not let go of their raison d’être – the armed, violent and terrorist struggle – in exchange for a popular struggle, on the other hand.
Therefore, the confrontation, as always, is between those seeking peace on both sides and the warmongers. Between those who love life, and those who love death. Will Israelis come to realize that their extremists are not just a bunch of hilltop youths in Samaria, but those who were elected to lead – Netanyahu, Barak, Livni and Mufaz? Will Israelis save themselves from their leaders, or will they, for the second time in the past few years, put their fate in the hands of the aforementioned politicians, shut themselves in a bubble and passively stare at their disaster and at the disaster being inflicted in their name?
The historical irony – which keeps being forgotten here – was that all these flames and casualties were in vain. In May 2011, Fatah and Hamas signed a historic reconciliation agreement, and there was nothing Israel could do about it, to the embarrassment of a few despondent Israeli commentators. The Israeli illusion of landing a few hundred or thousand missiles on the Arabs in order to successfully shape their internal politics was shattered once more against the cliffs of reality.
The cliff of reality is the only solid cliff
[Translation note: the Hebrew name of the current operation is “Solid Cliff”]
Back to the present. Palestinian reconciliation has not made the transition from paper to implementation. Fatah and Hamas have remained split and primarily committed to contrasting interests: The Palestinian Authority kept arresting Hamas activists in the West Bank to continue receiving donor support and maintain its survival. And Hamas kept resisting the Israeli siege of Gaza. Six weeks ago, on April 23, the gaps were bridged and the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement was signed for a second time.
As usual, all those who are threatened by Palestinian unity were alarmed. The entire Israeli leadership denounced the unity government, and the Americans were also “disappointed.” Netanyahu declared: “We regard this move as a return to the well-known Palestinian pattern: whenever they have to make a decision, they run away.”
And here one cannot but interject. We too have witnessed the well-known Israeli pattern: every time they have to make a decision, they bomb. No more than a few minutes after the agreement was ceremoniously signed, an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at a motorcycle in Beit Lahiya. The “target” was not hit. In its stead, seven passers-by were injured. But the message was delivered: whoever dares to speak of unity in this neighborhood will get it. Throughout the month of June, the flames rose gradually higher and higher on both sides, and the IDF demonstrated once more the “surgical” precision of targeted assassinations by killing a seven-year-old in the Sudaniyeh neighborhood of Gaza.
The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion in June 2014 was a boon to the prime minister. This is a harsh statement, but it can be corroborated by what Netanyahu said just two days after the incident, before there was any lead for the resolution of the case: “The incident demonstrates what we have been saying throughout long months: the alliance with Hamas brings about very bad consequences, which run contrary to the advancement of peace between us and the Palestinians.” This statement was unfounded. Among the Palestinian public, it was obvious to all that the kidnapping was in fact a test of the alliance and an act that subverted it. As one can recall, even Abu Mazen’s unequivocal condemnation, delivered to the entire Muslim world, a condemnation that furthermore crumbled the shaky unity with Hamas, was not good enough for the Israeli government. Once more, Netanyahu’s office made clear in its response that there was only one thing on its mind – rockets or no rockets, kidnapping or murder, condemnation or whatever: “Cancel the agreement with Hamas.”
And then, at the beginning of this month, the flow of goods into Gaza was reduced. And since July 7, we are officially in yet another “operation to restore calm to the South.”
Does that ring a bell? The dynamic of July 2014 is astonishingly similar to that of March 2011. In both cases, political developments in the Palestinian arena generate an Israeli military response. In both cases, Fatah-Hamas unity is perceived as a strategic threat, which justifies a “pre-emptive strike.” The justification is total, to the point of retroactively justifying “premeditated escalation” to achieve the desirable level of fire. In both cases, the lives and wellbeing of residents on both sides of the border are of no interest to the leadership. They are nothing more than a trader’s currency on an agenda that is strategic, not defensive.
And Palestinian unity will survive both cases. This unity is inevitable, just like the unity between Jewish Israelis in the Negev and in the central area is inevitable. In both cases, we are talking about one nation. Only the casualties claimed in vain, among both peoples, are preventable.
A few words about the political folly: what is the reason that the Israeli policy is so totally enslaved to its anxiety over Palestinian unity? The answer is not complicated. It can be summed up in the single sentence: We should ensure there is no partner. We should ensure there is no partner, for if a Palestinian partner exists, there is someone with whom we can negotiate a peace agreement, which requires the most dreadful thing of all: giving up land and control. Therefore, for many years, Israel has taken care to crush any potential partner for negotiations, including the one who only yesterday was sitting at the negotiation table and scheming with it against its “extremist” compatriots.
Thus, Israel does not settle for a persistent fight against Palestinian unity, it also strives to weaken its so-called partner vis-a-vis the Hamas zealots – Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority. Years of servile obedience have turned Abu Mazen into a caricature in the eyes of his own people. An Israeli leadership truly interested in a peace agreement would not have driven its partner to the point of lacking any leadership authority among his people. But that is exactly the point. Israel is not really interested in peace or in a partner who can bring about peace.
This policy has borne fruit. First we crushed the Palestinian Authority, which brought Hamas to power in Gaza. The persistent fight against Hamas is also beginning to bear fruit: the influence of extremist Islamist groups in Gaza is on the rise, groups with whom one cannot negotiate anything. And Netanyahu? He is already rubbing his hands, eagerly awaiting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
One must recall all this when tales are being peddled about the goal of the current operation being “the restoration of security to the citizens of Israel.” This bullshit has been circulated here for years, as if it weren’t fake, used merchandise. There is no military deterrence in the South, and there will be no such thing. Perhaps you would listen to some generals who have sobered up way too late, if you don’t want to listen to me, or to a cynical military commentator who has already seen a thing or two in his lifetime.
And if I were to get a call-up for reserve duty, I would refuse. I would do so because they are lying to us (again), but primarily because of the bodies of children and women that are already beginning to pile up in Gaza under the IDF’s war machine.
In the following diagram, posted on Facebook, Shlomit Havron lists Israeli operations in Gaza under the headline, “Let’s hit Hamas hard and prevent them altogether from launching rockets! It worked great the last time!…Eh, Wait…”
Havron proceeds to list the Israeli operations in Gaza:
June 2014 – Protective Edge
November 2012 – Pillar of Defense
December 2008 – Cast Lead
February 2008 – Hot Winter
June 2006 – Summer Rains
February 2006 – Lightning Strike
September 2005 – First Rain
October 2004 – Days of Penitence
What this diagram doesn’t show is that from one operation to another, the range of Hamas rockets has increased. During “Cast Lead”, rockets hit areas within a radius of 40 km from the border. During “Pillar of Defense”, Grad rockets hit Tel Aviv, and during “Protective Edge”, rockets have hit the Haifa area. That’s what Israel’s “military deterrence” vis-a-vis Hamas looks like.
On this eighth day of “Protective Edge”, at least 176 dead Palestinians have been reported. The number of uninvolved civilians among them is not precisely known. The true figures are revealed only when the dust settles (for current updates, click here). However, one can already conduct a crude comparison with operation “Pillar of Defense” in November 2012. Back then, according to a meticulous report by B’Tselem, 17 people were killed on the first two days of the operation, eight of whom were uninvolved civilians. Therefore, the number of people killed by Israel during the first two days was twice that of November 2012.
The most important finding of that report pointed out that a turning point occurred after the fourth day of the operation. While the IDF had killed “only” 17 uninvolved civilians during the first four days of “Pillar of Defense”, in the last four days it killed 70 uninvolved civilians. In fact, during the second half of “Pillar or Defense”, the IDF killed two innocent civilians for every combatant. The four-day scope, therefore, seems to represent the moral life span of operations in Gaza. Following this in the short term, Hamas combatants fade into the population sufficiently, in a way that steers the rest of the operation towards distinct war crimes, with or without “surgical” weapons.
As I’ve documented extensively, the extent of innocent casualties during “Pillar of Defense” was concealed well from the eyes of the Israeli public. It is doubtful whether the average Israeli can even guess the numbers. The IDF published false data with little publicity – an inevitable conclusion considering its reluctance to corroborate them by a list of names. Furthermore, the disinformation was also circulated within the army’s ranks, including the air force website, which did not mention in a single word the Palestinian victims of “surgical precision.” This mendacious propaganda plays a distinct operational role: preparing the ground and the hearts for the war crimes of the next operation. Under this guise of ignorance, pilots can embark with no qualms on bombing missions over the densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza and hang on to the illusion that they are only hitting arch-terrorists. Mendacious propaganda can also serve as a protective edge.
Well, surely you didn’t think this operation came as a surprise to anyone, or did you? The IDF had already begun work on it the moment “Pillar of Defense” concluded in November 2012. Rest assured that somewhere in the IDF headquarters, a few brilliant minds in the operations section are already toiling, drawing conclusions from the failures of “Protective Edge”, building a new target bank, improving the technologies and outlining the next operation in Gaza – the one that would finally, really “bring Hamas to its knees.”
This presentation of the state of things is surely quite infuriating, since it totally ignores the role played by Hamas in stoking the flames of confrontation. But I am not ignoring the matter. In fact, I am writing all this in between one rocket alert and another, so it’s hard for me to ignore the rockets launched by Hamas. But the fact of the matter is that I am an Israeli citizen and those who are accountable to me are the Israeli politicians who have failed to ensure my security, not the Hamas leadership. The Israeli media keeps commenting to no end on the motives driving the other side, but it is almost pathologically blind when it comes to the motives on our side. On this issue, it can all be summed up in slogans like “calm in the South”, and “restoring deterrence.” Israeli commentators have no problem cutting through the screen of Hamas propaganda, (rightly) observing that the grave salary crisis in Gaza is one of the indirect reasons for Hamas’ attempt to heat up the border. Any arrangement to be established after the current confrontation, any written or unwritten understanding, will give Hamas more breath. That’s all true, but the Israeli commentators are stuck in the other side’s book-keeping, instead of asking themselves honestly that if that is the case, and if my leaders also know that this operation will only strengthen Hamas (and its militant factions in particular) – why are they playing into its hands?
They are obviously not playing into its hands. They are playing with it, and the ball is the inhabitants of Israel and Gaza. This is men’s playtime.
One cannot conclude without responding, at the end of one’s rope, to the recurring complaint: so what should we do? Should we sit idly by when they are launching rockets at us?
No, we should do the obvious to prevent the rockets. We will recognize Hamas as the elected government of Gaza and cast aside all hysterical shrieks about the “Hamas Charter” and “recognizing a Jewish state.” We will lift the siege on Gaza (yes, there is a siege, and it is tightened when we feel like it). We will strengthen and cooperate with Palestinian unity and let the Palestinian people themselves shape their government. That would be a pretty good start, certainly not one that has proven to be an abysmal failure, as the eight previous “Let’s crush Hamas” rounds have been.
Read the original article in Hebrew on the author’s blog