Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Factional fighting in Gaza and the road to Middle East peace

The title of this El País editorial, Gaza, fuera de control (Gaza out of control) 13.06.07. The Los Angeles Times reports on the latest fighting there: Palestinian infighting worsens in Gaza by Rushdi abu Alouf and Richard Boudreaux 06/12/07. Donald Macintyre reports for The Independent, Hamas seizes Fatah base as bloody battles push Gaza towards civil war 06/13/07.

This is where things stand, 40 years after the Six Day War that left Israel in "control" of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. If we measure the results of that war by the long-term outcome, how much did Israel actually win?

Robert Fisk, also writing for The Independent, recalls in
Lies and outrages... would you believe it? 06/09/07 that the French press and public opinion in 1967 were strongly sympathetic to Israel around the Six Day War. So much so that Charles De Gaulle was unusual in a perceptive observation he made, possibly reflecting his own experiences with Algeria:

Only the president of France, General de Gaulle, moved into political isolation by telling a press conference several months later that Israel "is organising, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions - and if there appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called 'terrorism'". This accurate prophecy earned reproof from the Nouvel Observateur - to the effect that "Gaullist France has no friends; it has only interests". And Believe It or Not, with the exception of one small Christian paper, there was in the entire French press one missing word: Palestinians.
The American Prospect's June 2007 issue is a special issue on the Middle East. It includes several articles on the Israel-Palestine conflict and possibilities for a real peace agreement, including (articles in the current issue may be behind subscription but soon become generally available):

And the Land Was Troubled for 40 Years by Gershom Gorenberg 05/29/07 (available generally):

Politics was transformed. In 1967, "The agenda changed from building a nation to maintaining an empire," says Shlomo Swirski, academic director of the Adva Center, a Tel Aviv social-policy institute. Before the war, Swirski says, government goals included providing jobs and housing for the Jewish refugees who had flooded Israel in its early years. Those projects had not been completed, but they were pushed aside. "Right" and "left" had previously referred to positions on economics; now they stood for views on settlement, Palestinians, and whether to keep all of the land or give up some for peace.

To this day, every other issue has been postponed -- indefinitely, eternally. Schools deteriorate; national health care covers steadily less; tax cuts for the wealthy barely merit debate. In its first years, Israel was a social democracy; now it is ruled by Friedmanism. Yet a party that campaigns on economics declares itself marginal. What matters is territory and security. In the meantime, social gangrene sets in.

Before 1967, nation building also meant turning a movement into a state, establishing the rule of law and civil liberties. The occupation reversed that process. From the start of the settlement effort, the cause has trumped the law. In the summer of 1967, Allon funneled government funds for the unemployed to the first settlers in the Golan Heights. Aid from officials to lawbreakers has continued ever since.
American Jews and the Mideast by Jo-Ann Mort 05/20/07 (currently behind subscription):

The fact is that 40 years after the 1967 War, which did threaten Israel's survival, Israel's survival is threatened once again. The current threat doesn't come from Hamas terrorism or even Iran; it comes from Israel's failure to extricate itself from the occupied territories in a manner that will ensure its security and future as a Jewish and democratic state - a threat that surely harms U.S. interests in the region as well.
Past Failures, Future Possibilities by Shlomo Ben-Ami 05/20/07 (currently behind subscription):

The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in an outline that is embodied in the main peace plans on the table: the Clinton peace parameters and the all-Arab peace initiative of 2002, recently reconfirmed by the Arab League in its Riyadh summit March 28–29. The inadequacy of a strictly bilateral approach was well understood by the initiators of the all-Arab peace initiative. That initiative is, most importantly, a call to regionalize the solution to the conflict after the bilateral approach ended in failure. The loss of mutual trust between the parties and their total incapacity to take even the smallest step toward each other, let alone to observe their commitments without being nursed by third parties, make the creation of an international framework for peace the last and only way out of this dangerous impasse.
Ten Commandments for Mideast Peace by Daniel Levy, Ghaith al-Omari and Robert Malley 05/20/07 (currently behind subscription):

It is in the nature of Israel's democracy to be vibrant, unpredictable, and utterly unmanageable. That is sometimes good (as when an independent commission holds the government accountable for its mismanagement of the Lebanon war), and sometimes less so (as when all government action is seemingly halted as an entire nation awaits the cabinet's fate). The United States cannot afford to shape its actions on the basis of the latest poll or coalition maneuver. Instead, and without being oblivious to political realities, Washington should remind itself that a credible peace plan enjoying strong American backing can count on majority Israeli public support. This, rather than the latest round of cabinet musical chairs, is what should guide U.S. policy-makers. ...

There often will be temptation to play Palestinian politics, especially when parts of the leadership appear nonresponsive to U.S. pressures or, worse, hostile to U.S. interests. And there rarely will be a shortage of Palestinian leaders offering themselves up as potential allies in the hope that ties to the United States will strengthen their hand in the domestic competition. Yet every time the United States has sought to meddle, the meddling has backfired, with results ranging from the ineffective to the outright counterproductive. Lack of understanding is part of the reason, but part only. Added to that is the reality that America's embrace can do more harm than good to those it seeks to benefit. Attempts to isolate and bypass Arafat, to mention but one glaring example, not only failed to reduce his standing; they also contributed to Fatah's fragmentation and to the loss of U.S. credibility and leverage. (my emphasis)
Europe and the Middle East by Chris Patten 05/20/07 (currently behind subscription):

Present policies lead nowhere except to more deaths and to the destruction of more hope. Should Europe continue to think its role is to whistle past the graveyard, hoping for better news while secretly fearing the worst? It may not be popular to say it, but while the road to a peace in Jerusalem did not lead through Baghdad, the road to a more peaceful Middle East certainly demands -- early in the journey, at least -- a peaceful settlement between Palestine and Israel.

I want to see a prosperous and democratic Israel, reflecting values that most of us share on either side of the Atlantic, living at peace with its neighbors -- the sort of peace that the Geneva Initiative would have brought. That is not an anti-Israeli statement, or a pro-Arab one. It is a pro-peace argument, with an outcome that the United States and Europe should recognize is hugely in their own interest.

What, after all, is the alternative?
Also, there is this recent Web-only piece on the subject:

The Year that Never Ended by Jo-Ann Mort 06/13/07, a review of Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East, just published in English:

Historians disagree about the final moments leading up to the war -- could the superpowers have halted it? Was Egypt really going to strike? Did its closure of the Straits of Tiran foretell more to come? And what about Syria and Jordan? Segev's point -- a critical one, I think -- is that no matter what the situation actually was inside Egypt, Israelis felt certain that they were on the brink of extinction. "War with Egypt was inevitable," he claims. "There is no doubt that the Israelis expected a second Holocaust. I collected 500 letters, mothers to daughters and more, [saying as much.] Rabbis in Tel Aviv were sanctifying football fields because they thought they might have to bury hundreds of bodies. Egyptians don't have a national archives, so we don't know what they really wanted." There are the memoirs written by Egyptian generals, Segev notes, but then adds, "I don't trust Israeli generals, so why should I trust Egyptian generals?". At any rate, what Egyptions really intended is "not the point. It's what Israel thought."
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