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Gaza escalation: There was another way

As if the heartache over the escalation and its appalling predictability isn’t enough, as if the pain of watching whole communities cower under rockets while planning the next decade of psychotherapy for children isn’t enough, as if fresh Israeli and Palestinian deaths isn’t enough, the IDF sent the following message on its Twitter feed:

Here’s what this poster says: 1. The IDF promotes extra-judicial killing as punishment for crimes committed with no due process (past terror attacks and kidnapping) 2. The IDF thinks that portraying Israel as the Terminator is a GOOD thing, showing fundamental disconnect with the language of modern diplomacy and current political sensibilities about the conflict.  3. The killing is absurdly divorced from the larger picture: the conflict, the Gaza policy, the occupation, actually it landed on us ex nihilo, or from the moon. 4. The whole conflict can be reduced to a big joke: if we present a Hollywood poster, preferably bathed in scary blood red, we’ll win! But personal commentary aside, what the poster is really trying to say is: we had no choice. This was our only option.

I find this an insult to all victims of the conflict and the current escalation.

Soon, there will be the inevitable chorus of voices self-righteously proclaiming why there cannot be negotiations, concessions, end of the conflict or at least end of occupation. I’ve had enough of the smug pride in insisting there’s no other choice but military force. If the escalation is viewed as ex nihilo, big bad terrorists against righteous Rambo, well – they are right.

So, while I usually prefer to concentrate on the future, it’s impossible never to consider what would or could have been. This time I can’t help considering just for a moment an alternate scenario.

Just over one year ago, the Fatah leadership presented its statehood bid to the United Nations. Had Israel not blocked the effort hermetically – forcing America to kill the process by steadfastly viewing statehood as an anti-Israel notion, what might have happened?

We can’t know. But Israel could have realized that Palestinian statehood basically along 1967 parameters was in its national interest. (For the record, I still don’t understand why it didn’t.) While the government would still have rejected the unilateral process through political posturing, Israel could have quietly unblocked the route to diplomatic acceptance by others, and state-building, for Palestine.

Had Israel tacitly allowed the UN route to continue, the Palestinian national sense of victory would have been huge. The internal catharsis could have generated momentum to unite politically and militarily, in a meaningful way, for the sake of the newly energized state. Dissidents certainly would have remained, as in every post-conflict society.

The international community would have fought hard to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which would have a different tone than the stale crumbs left of the old Oslo-paradigm talks.

To entice Israel to enter negotiations with an entity it would continue to consider illegitimate, Israel could have wielded significant leverage. Surely the first major incentive would have been security-related and backed by the obvious major global powers. The Palestinians would have been given no quarter on this issue, held to the obligations of a sovereign state. Military escalation would have carried severe political repercussions, not just with Israel but with Palestine’s entire new family of states. Palestine would have had everything to lose.

Israel could have let itself be wooed back to talks, in which it would not be required to address the question of formal recognition. It’s not Serbia, and there isn’t much of consequence to symbolic Israeli non-recognition, were “technical” dialogues (to borrow again from Serbia and Kosovo) established to ease Palestinian livelihood and aid economic prospects. That would have helped stabilize Palestinian society internally, which would make it a better neighbor to Israel. Which is in Israel’s interest.

There would be little incentive for Palestinians to continue violent resistance. Surely Palestinian dissidents or extremists would try, but the logic would be hard to justify and incidents could have been contained. It would be easier for Palestinian leaders to throw spoilers out of the consensus, not by undemocratic means, but by making it clear to that the state of Palestine has won the battle but needs constructive commitment to give it substance. Provoking Israel’s wrath at such a time could have been considered an act against the Palestinian people, dividing and undermining them for cynical gain.

Israel could have shown grudging tolerance by ending further settlement growth, at the very least, as a start. That would have brought far more good will from major international actors than Israel can ever have now. The latter could have rewarded Israel with political support on key issues related to the country’s security. That should matter more to any state than the folly of messianic expansionism.

In this context, realistically, the escalation, rocket fire, targeted assassination, mass civilian trauma on both sides we see now, might still have happened. There is also a possibility it might not have happened. It took me 10 minutes to play the scenario out in my mind, but I guess the Israeli government didn’t have that kind of time to waste before September 2011. So excuse me if I am not impressed by the argument “ein brera” (there is no choice). There are choices, and if we do not take them, we’ll have to remember that the next time people die.

On civilians and ‘Israel’s Gaza problem’
Israeli politicians line up behind assault on Gaza Strip
Gaza operation will be declared a success, until the next war

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    1. The Trespasser

      The poster is silly indeed. Not what propaganda needs.

      You are saying that Israel until now did not realize that Palestinian statehood basically along 1967 parameters was in its national interest.

      If I remember well that was exactly what Ehud Barak offered more than decade ago – however there is no Palestinian state until now.

      Maybe it is the Palestinians should realize that having own state in whatever borders is their first priority?

      Well, of course it is not. Otherwise the Palestinian State would be declared nearly 70 years ago.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Hasbara is one thing. But the train of events is another and deserves the analysis:

      The train of events is POWERED (no, not by AA batteries, but) by the Siege (2006 – present), by the occupation (1967 – present), and by the permanent exile of most Palestinians now living in Gaza from pre-1967 Israeli-controlled territory (1948 – present).

      EACH of these events was (or was started by) a voluntary (non-coerced) Israeli (or pre-Israeli) action. It was not the Palestinians, not the Gazans, who by terrorism induced the retreat of the British in 1947-48. The first shots of 1967 were fired by Issrael in what Menachem Begin called a “war of choice” (meaning an illegal war of aggression). The siege of Gaza is pure Israel, and unacceptable human rights violation.

      The recent Israeli murders, assassinations, blah, blah, and Gazan rocket fire too, are mere details.

      Furthermore, Israel as the strong power could exercise forbearance by ignoring the occasional and usually non-lethal rocket fire from Gaza. But no, instead of forbearance, Isrfael actually starts these things.

      Isrfael ? Leave the typo. Phooi.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Israel’s leaders should have ignored a million of its people sitting in bomb shelters? What difference does it make that Israel is the stronger power if the lives of 1/8th of the population has become unbearable because they must be within 60 seconds of a bomb shelter at any time of the day?

        Such nonsense. The ‘details’ as you call them are rockets and they hurt people. No other country would accept such a situation where the neighbors keep shooting rockets randomly at civilian areas and neither will Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          Then why should Gaza be expected to accept it?

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            We both know your point is nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
      • AR

        What is “non-lethal” rocket fire? Maybe the Gazans should ignore the non-lethal targeted killings instead of our children ignoring the “non-lethal” rocket fire.

        That the terrorists are not very good at what they do (or rather, that 60+ years of experience has allowed Israel to learn how to mitigate damages from indiscriminate attacks on civilian centers) does not mean they should be allowed to do it.

        Reply to Comment
    3. klang

      Surely the first major incentive would have been security-related and backed by the obvious major global powers…. Dahlia, did you ask the South Vietnamese about these guarantees?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jack

      The sudanese attack recently was obviously a prelude to this invasion, cutting off palestinians arms supply. Make no misstake this invasion was planned in advance long time ago, fittingly after Obama was elected and publication of israeli election.

      Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        The intentional firing of rockets and mortars at civilian targets is a WAR CRIME and thats what they do from Gaza .
        It does not matter how inacurate they are , they still TERRORISE the civilian population .
        These missiles have been directed at Israel for years.
        Any military that does not plan ahead and for any eventuality is not doing its job .
        So yes the planning for this operation has been on the drawing board for years , but is only used as and when circumstances require it

        Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      The ‘national sense of victory’ would last a grand total of one evening. The next day Gaza would still be a shithole, the ‘refugees’ would still be in refugee camps, the Iranians would still supply Islamic Jihad, the Israeli settlers would still take over hilltops and Hamas and Fatah would still be at each others throats.

      Remind me again why precisely Hamas would have given up its statelet in the event that Fatah achieved a Palestinian state at the UN? Also, who are these ‘Palestinian leaders’ that would have used democratic means to silence highly ideological militias with rockets and foreign sponsorship? What precisely would the ‘Palestinian leaders’ be pointing to as a result of the UN admission? Yes, you still need a permit to get to the Haram but the Palestinian ambassador to the UN is now sitting at a different spot?

      Your entire line of reasoning is messianic – there would have been this ‘internal catharsis’ and then every aspect of the conflict that makes it difficult to solve will suddenly have clear and obvious solutions that all sides would suddenly accept.

      There are always plenty of options, but let’s not pretend that the scenario your 10 minutes of brainstorming presented is one that any decision maker would take seriously. There isn’t just a ‘possibility’ that your scenario would not have happened. Your scenario is ridiculous.

      The Israeli government didn’t go for the Palestinian gambit at the UNSC because the likely scenario is that the Palestinians were going to get a freebie and nothing positive would derive from it for Israel. If the Palestinians want to get past this particular gate they are going to have to pay the gatekeeper.

      Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster


        Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron Gross

      “I’ve had enough of the smug pride in insisting there’s no other choice but military force.” Smug pride? Always us smug and prideful, never you. Never, ever, you.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Laughing Out Loud!

      Notwithstanding the attacks happening as we speak, I cannot help but smile ear to ear watching these Leftists being attacked by their Koranic allies. LOL!

      Insh’allah, “Palestine” will join the ICC and when they do every “Palestinian” and their allies on the Israeli Left will be tried for their Shari’ah-crimes against Humanity.

      But in the interim, watching these Leftists hiding behind their cars as they are attacked by their Koranic allies is so beautiful! Godspeed, Hamas! (or is that Allahspeed?) Good luck on blowing up every one of your Leftist allies in Tel Aviv, insh’allah!

      Dahlia, why don’t you publish your address so your Koranic allies can properly aim their left-wing weapons LOL!

      Death to “Palestine” and its allies! Death to Shari’ah!

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      The first step in any Israeli election campaign: attack Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    9. etinzon

      Another way ? You must be blind. The right wing block was 61 in the last poll, Olmert was thinking about participating in the next elections , Tzipi Livni could join him , the whole “Halikud Beitenu” trick failed – and you say “there was another way” ?? You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about , there was not any other way that the government could act to prevent a possible defeat in the elections. Learn your history books.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Polls are meaningless.

        Claims that this operation in Gaza has anything to do with election is plain stupid by the way – you are conveniently forgetting that prior to assassination there were hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

        Reply to Comment
        • Or bombardments and rockets.

          When the elections were declared I wrote that the assassination of one of Hamas leaders will take place end of November. And I wasn’t the only one.

          Politics in Israel are quite predictable. Expect a minor war 2 months before an election

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            “Politics in Israel are quite predictable. Expect a minor war 2 months before an election”


            Wars are a recurring phenomena here – one is unleashed by either side every 4.5 years or so – 14 conflicts during 64 years of independence.
            Elections happen even more often – every 3.2 years – 20 elections during the very same 64 years.

            So it’s either we are missing 6 wars or you are talking nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
    10. Epstein

      This is Bibi and Barak’s Election Campaign. The more children are killed the more seats they win.
      That’s why they started this blood letting. War they can handle; Peace is something they don’t want.

      Reply to Comment
    11. JustKiddingNoReally

      “due process”? WOW. That is a doozy. In all seriousness, if you’re going to try and argue that there was another way, its better not to rely on sooooooo much speculation. And at the end of the day, if you’re just going to admit that your counterfactual is basically just a thought experiment anyway, and that reality could go either way, you should change your title to reflect that. The title should read “Maybe this had to happen and maybe not, I don’t really know but let’s see what I can imagine in 10 minutes that, at the very least, does not violate the standard model of particle physics.”

      Reply to Comment
    12. Dahlia, the anger is too high for reason beyond the moment. For what it is worth, I think that, rationally, the IDF was and is unstoppable at present. Intelligence decays quickly. The IDF and associated intelligence apparatus obviously tries to monitor (long range) missle smuggling routes. They apparently had the chance to hit one in Sept and took it. Islamic Jihad lives as the left-militant wing beyond Hamas. Their supply routes in jeopardy, some decided to attack Israel. I think command in the IJ is diffuse, precisely because a central command might be taken out by the IDF. Israel has intelligence within Gaza, both agents and accomplices. IJ has local, diffuse command to insulate itself. I think that some of these locals began to fire into Israel; this creates a debate among other locals–the more missles fired, the more the emerging consensus. The IDF responds and, in the middle of it, is given intelligence on Jabari (spies and accomplices); this decays quickly, so the political elite orders action. Jabari is killed, a hero in Hamas for helping to free over a 1,000 prisoners. Hamas polarizes internally, its local commanders deciding to reply. The social support wing of Hamas is marginalized, waiting to pick up the body parts. If there was any counsel for restraint, it would be in the social wing. The “Prime Minister” of Hamas will be told of actions after the fact, as he undoubtedly was in the Gaza coup. Neither Hamas nor IJ has the command and control structure of Israel. With someone’s decision to target Tel Aviv, escalation is inevitable. No matter how forceful, neither Hamas nor IJ will be erradicated; both are embedded in the social structure of 1.6 million Gaza.

      At each point, both sides are acting rationally given their command structure, resource base, and mission. With Gaza in quarantine, projected toward economic collapse, military networks will be ever important; these allocate more than just weapons.

      Quarantine has failed. You will have to wipe the social structure out. If you can’t, or won’t, then you can continue to hope social starvation leads to internal slaughter; or you can take a different path, lifting the quarantine. If the latter, the social effects have so accumulated that future outcomes thereby are rocky at best.

      Israelis are angry and disgusted. They want capitulatlion. National movements don’t do that–unless exterminated or hobbled so low as nearly that. The quarantine experiment has failed. Perhaps it has lead to a dead end. But if you turn back–knives will face you, social and real, weilded by so many, many hands.

      I’m sorry for the bile of commenters. You deserve better than that.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Aaron Gross

      Serious question: If this is Bibi’s election campaign, then doesn’t Hamas deserve a pretty big helping of blame for campaigning for Bibi?

      Reply to Comment
    14. leon wolszczak

      yet again it seems to me the response by israel to the ‘gaza problem’ is to bomb the hell out of them and seek to ‘eliminate’ those who oppose them and anyone else who happens to be around at the time. israel will never be satisfied it would appear until all the palenstinians are wiped out, (where have we heard that before)!! however it is encouraging to see that there is at least one person in israel who is not determined to be soaked in blood. thank you for a thought provoking and clear assessment

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ed Frias

      Hamas sending mentally disabled teenagers as homicide bombers for 72 virgins doesn’t seem to bother Islamo fascists supporters like
      Golda Meir talked 40 years ago about this child abuse

      During the Second Intifada period Israel succeeded in emptying the reservoir of suicide bombers. It turned out that the 72 virgins waiting for the shahid in paradise have only limited power of enticement.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ed Frias

      Epstein, Israel doesn’t target civilians. That’s an Arab specialty.
      Killing civilians never goes out of style for the Arabs, nor does Palestinians using civilians as human shields.
      Hamas Arch Terrorist: No Regrets for Murdering 67 Israelis
      Hamas terrorist Abdullah Barghouti, serving 67 life sentences in Israel, speaks out from his prison cell.

      A Hamas terrorist who engineered the deaths of 67 Israelis during the Second Intifada, also known as the Oslo War, has said that he has no regrets whatsoever over the Israeli blood he spilled.
      The terrorist, Abdullah Barghouti, was sentenced to 67 life sentences for his role in the murders of Israelis in a string of suicide bombings, including the suicide attack at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001. In aninterview from his cell in an Israeli prison, which was broadcast on Hamas television, Barghouti said that he is in good health and that his morale is high.

      “I do not regret the effort I made in the way of Allah,” he said during the interview, which was translated by Arab affairs expert Dalit Halevi. “On the contrary, my heart and mind are filled with the grace of Allah, in hope, in optimism and full confidence that the victory of Allah and his salvation are close.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ed Frias

        I saw this yesterday in a Melanie Phillips article. Its right on the money.

        The rocket attacks have barely been reported. But today, Israel finally took action. In a targeted drone strike on Gaza it killed Ahmed Jabari, the leader of Hamas’s military wing and second-in-command of the Iranian proxy al-Qassam Brigades, a man who was linked to hundreds of terror operations and human bomb attacks over several decades, and his second-in-command, Raed Al Attar.

        If you look at the video footage of the strike, you can see the care the Israelis took to avoid other casualties, waiting until the terror commanders’ car had passed other traffic before striking it.

        Rocket attacks on Israelis are not news; Israeli military action to defend Israel against such attacks is. Suddenly, media indifference has been transformed into media hyperactivity. And in the eyes of the British media and foreign office Israel is at fault; astoundingly, it is apparently Israel which is responsible for inflaming the situation, not the Palestinians. Never mind the 120 rockets in four days or the 50 further rockets this evening, including 17 Grads fired at the city of Beersheva; or that since the beginning of 2011, 1,100 rocket have been fired on Israeli targets, 797 since the beginning of this year; or that a staggering 5274 rockets have been fired from Gaza at southern Israel since 2006 (what’s that – you had absolutely no idea about the scale of these attacks? Of course not – the British media haven’t bothered to report them. Didn’t you know? Israeli victims don’t count – especially when not enough of them actually die to meet the British definition of ‘proportionality’).

        Reply to Comment
    17. Ed Frias

      Hamas stores its missiles near schools and mosques in Gaza. They fire these missles out of residential areas, so civilians are killed.
      Golda Meir 40 years ago talked about this Arab child abuse.
      Even the radicals on here should be horrified by these Islamo fascists.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ed Frias

      Why does Hamas and Islamic Jihad fire rockets from a school at Israel praying that Israel return fire and kill some of it’s children. Thats Gaza today. The Arabs are the only people in the world that go out day by day figuring ways to get their children to die in front of the world press.
      Look at this video of Hamas using civilians as human shields in Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Ed Frias

      Its amazing how Israel is the only country in the world that isnt allowed to defend themselves

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ed Frias

      Israel refuses to attack the missles that are located in civilian areas. So Hamas keeps firing missles from schools, Mosques, and other populated areas. This is no way to win a war.
      Israel must destroy all the rocket launchers wherever they are

      Reply to Comment
    21. Ed Frias

      What did Golda Meir say 40 years ago about Arab child abusers?

      Hamas missile launch pad next to mosque, playground. Civilian factories, gas station also half a block from Fajr-5 firing site.
      Aaron Klein
      November 16, 2012

      A missile launch site in the Gaza Strip was set up by Hamas just half a block from a mosque and children’s playground, according to aerial photographs provided to KleinOnline by the Israel Defense Forces today.
      Israel yesterday carried out a surgical strike of the site in question – a Fajr-5 missile launch pad established in the heavily populated Zeitoun district of Gaza to fire long range rockets into the Jewish state.

      The photograph of the launch site, posted above, shows a children’s playground and a mosque located about a half a block away as well as two civilian factories and a gas station also within a half a block radius. Earlier today, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility firing Fajr-5 missiles aimed at Tel Aviv.

      Also today, one rocket launched from the Gaza Strip landed in Rishon Letzion, some 7 miles south of Tel Aviv. About three hours later another explosion was heard in the Tel Aviv area. Defense sources said the second explosion was a missile that landed in an open area.

      No casualties were reported in either the Tel Aviv or Rishon Leztion areas. Since yesterday, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has intercepted 105 rockets, while 274 rockets have struck Israel, mostly in Jewish cities near the Gaza Strip. Three Israelis were killed today by a direct rocket hit on their family home in the Gaza border town of Kiryat Malakhi. A four year old Israeli boy and an infant were moderately wounded in separate rocket attacks.

      The escalation began last week, when Hamas and other Gazan groups fired more than 120 rockets and mortars into Israel during a four day period.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Kevin

      I would like to pitch a somewhat different paradigm of looking at this larger situation that has produced this awful incident. We too often take sides, saying, “Oh, those Palestinian barbarians, look what they’ve done, the bastards!” or “F*&#ing Israelis: up to their same old &%#^ again!” Perhaps a better way of looking at this is that the people who cause the trouble are a minority on both sides (although personally, I think Israelis have the luxury of entertaining hostile attitudes in larger numbers than is the case with Palestinians, because Israelis are more insulated from the evil effects of the occupation, but anyway…). I think most people on both sides don’t want this. Most people in most parts of the world don’t want to live in a war zone, especially if they have family to worry about. The other thing: I want to compliment Dahlia on having the common sense to think this through and the guts to say it aloud, and without the bile and hatefulness of many of the commenters on this thread. You definitely don’t deserve the abuse you’re getting. Bravo to you, Dahlia.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Noevil9

      It just does not seem to stop amazing me how (Most) 9.9 out of ten ,Israel/Zionist/Jews supporters, are diverting to insults and hegemony more than subjective discussions and view points !? What does that say about them as people ?

      Reply to Comment
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