Saturday, July 19. 2014
Up-to-date information on Israel's latest major siege of Gaza -- dubbed Operation Protective Edge, at least in English (the Hebrew is closer to Solid Rock) -- is scarce and hard to sort out, especially since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza. The latest totals I have are that since July 8 Israeli forces have killed 303 Palestinians, while 1 Israeli soldier and 1 Israeli civilian have died. (The latter, by the way, would easily have met Israel's criterion for declaring a Palestinian a "militant" in the propaganda battles over who killed whom. The former was killed by an Israeli tank shell, "friendly fire." It's worth recalling that a third of the Israeli soldiers killed in 2008's Operation Cast Lead were killed by fellow Israelis.) [A later report now says 341 Palestinians have been killed, with 40,000 people "internally displaced" -- i.e., bombed out of their homes.] One of the more pointed stories I've read recently was reported here by Richard Silverstein:
Stories like that are going to be harder to come by since NBC pulled its correspondent from Gaza (who broke that story), Ayman Mohyeldin. CNN also pulled one of its reporters, Diana Magnay, after she reported on how Israelis camp out on hills near the Gaza border to watch and cheer the bombardment. That kind of damage control helps Israel avoid embarrassment, but only temporarily. [The uproar over Mohyeldin has since convinced NBC to send him back to Gaza.]
Past Israeli incursions (2006, 2008, 2012 -- the frequency is reflected in that choice Israeli phrase, "mowing the lawn") have always been met with appeals and pressure for ceasefire, but the Obama administration has been shockingly cavalier about the slaughter and destruction this time. Part of this may be the full court press of the Israel lobby, not least that Obama has been serially beat up by Israel for nearly six years now, but part may also be due to Obama's desire to escalate US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria, plus all the reckless hawkishness on Ukraine, plus the 15 people just killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. They say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently, Obama is way too busy making war to spare a few moments to plead for peace. And if the US doesn't step up to restrain Israel, who else can?
It's wholly predictable how Israel's current operation will end. Like all of its predecessors going back to 2006, it will end in a ceasefire with Hamas as firmly in charge of Gaza as ever, with Israel in possession of the keys to a ghetto containing 1.8 million trapped, terrorized people. Many buildings will be destroyed, including critical infrastructure -- electric power, sewage treatment, water treatment, hospitals, roads, food resources. A few hundred Palestinians will have been killed, and a few thousand injured -- some intended targets but most just unfortunately in the way, and some like the children on the beach just capriciously targeted by bored soldiers who know that no matter what they do they'll never be punished.
Israel will have destroyed a few tunnels, and the rocket stockpiles will have been more or less depleted -- not that they were ever a threat anyway. (Both sides seem to tacitly agree that the symbolism of Gazans defying Israel and shooting rockets over the walls matters much more than the scant damage they cause.) But in the end the cumulative weight of atrocities will embarrass Israel, as should the increasingly genocidal emotions the war is stirring up among Israelis. Israel is on the verge of losing whatever sympathy and support they had built up -- especially in Europe, but even in the US (with the exception of Congress) they are losing their grip. So they'll wind up about where they started. At least that's Israel's best-case scenario. They could hit some world opinion tipping point -- like they did with Turkey in 2008. Or they could give in to their hawks and crank the war machine up, moving from hundreds to thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinian deaths. Or they could ignite a sympathetic intifada in the West Bank, which could link up with ISIS. You can't predict what will happen once you go to war.
One thing that's lost in all the chatter about rockets and atrocities is that there is a very simple solution to the Gaza problem (and hence to all those rockets and atrocities): just cut Gaza loose from Israel and let the people there fend for themselves. For many years, debate over how to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been divided between a "1-state solution" and a "2-state solution." In the latter there are separate Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, dividing up the land of the former British mandate of Palestine. Most scenarios call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state to be created in the remaining 22% of the land: the small Gaza Strip on the west and the larger West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in the east. Other variations are possible, including "mutual land swaps" (which the "Clinton parameters" and the "Geneva Accords" specified) or Israel just keeping more (the de facto result of Israel's "illegal settlements").
In the "1-state solution" Israel keeps all the land, but also has to grant full and equal rights to all the people living on that land. This has the great advantage of avoiding dismantling the settlements or transferring any additional people, but means that Israel, which prides itself as "the Jewish state," would wind up with a rather large percentage of non-Jews, perhaps even a majority. Most Israelis -- at least most Israeli politicians -- don't like either "solution": as Levi Eshkol described the conquests of the 1967 war, "we received a very nice dowry [the land], but we don't really like the bride [the people]." Since then, Israel has devised a sophisticated system for taking the land while excluding the people, denying the latter even basic human rights, corralling them into ever tighter ghettos, and hoping they'll just go away. The cost of this system is that the conflict grinds on forever: for Israel, this means paying for a huge military and police state, engaging in a propaganda war that eventually turns self-deluding, and suffering the corrosive morality of militarism and racism; for Palestinians it means living under a system of extreme regimentation and regulation, one that degrades their humanity and denies them opportunities all people expect as a human right.
Most Israelis, in short, want no solution. They accept their lot as a people that has been oppressed for millennia because they believe that their state (and only their state) can defend them, and must do so now and forever more. Anyone well acquainted with Jewish history can appreciate that position, but most of us recognizes that we are not doomed to endlessly replicate the past: that conflicts can be resolved fairly and equitably, and that when they are they disappear into the depths of the past. The prerequisite for any solution is to see it as possible. Unfortunately, that's been the undoing of both "1-state" and "2-state" solutions: many Israelis reject the former because they can't stand the idea of sharing their state with so many Palestinians, and they reject the latter because they feel that would mean the end of the Zionist project of reclaiming their "promised land."
For some time, Palestinians have indicated they would be happy with any solution. Political elites may tend toward "2-state" because that would carve out a state they could control, while the less ambitious may just welcome the opportunity to participate in Israel's prosperous economy without the present discrimination and conflict. But either way they have been at the mercy of Israel's rejection of any sort of solution, at best hoping that some higher power (like the US) will weigh in to support their aspirations. They problem there is that at the US becomes ever more inequitable internally, it becomes ever less sensitive to the human rights of people elsewhere, and that leads to this current hideous stalemate.
On the other hand, there is no reason for stalemate on Gaza. In 2005, Israel (under Ariel Sharon) withdrew from and dismantled every one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip, and since then there has been no effort on Israel's part to recolonize Gaza. It should be clear to everyone that Israel has no interest in Gaza -- at least, other than the "security threat" an independent Gaza might create. The West Bank and Jerusalem are complicated places where it is hard (if not impossible) to resolve the conflict, but Gaza is simple: Israel doesn't want it, and any interest Gazans have in uniting with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is something that can be dealt with if/when such a state is created. Why not solve the one piece that can be solved now, and cut Gaza free of Israel?
This seems to obvious to me that I'm astonished that no one is pushing the idea. The closest I've seen to a discussion along these lines is the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which promises a 10-year truce in exchange for the following ten provisions:
Most of these points are completely reasonable, things that Israel should agree to in any case. They highlight that the basic problem that Gaza has faced since 2005 has been the stranglehold that Israel (and to some extent Egypt) have had over Gaza, and how that's been used to keep Gaza from developing a normal economy and everyday life. In exchange for a more normal life, Hamas is offering a truce -- which is to say, no rockets or mortar shells launched over the wall, and no tunneling under the wall. The demands fall short of sovereignty for Gaza, but they do try to substitute UN for Israeli supervision, and as such they offer some hints as to where Hamas would be willing to limit Gazan sovereignty. One can easily build an independence proposal on top of this ceasefire proposal, and reasonably expect that it would be agreeable to Hamas, the current de facto governor of Gaza.
This is a quick first draft, but this is what I'm thinking of:
I think this covers six or seven of Hamas' ten points. It allows Gaza to develop a normal economy and civil society. There should be no cases where Israelis continue to hold power over residents of Gaza. Israel's security concerns are satisfied in several ways: by limiting the military power of the West Palestinian state; by outlawing a wide range of military hardware; and by imposing a substantial cost to the state for any acts by Gaza residents which actually harm Israeli life and/or property. On the other hand, Israel is similarly penalized for any hostilities against Gazan life and/or property. If these schemes prove insufficient, it's always possible that Israel could withdraw from the treaty and declare war on West Palestine -- the agreement does not in any way limit Israel's warmaking capability, nor for that matter does it reduce whatever deterrence Israel enjoys from its overwhelming firepower advantage. I didn't include anything about Hamas' demand that Israel back its tanks away from the border because I thought that level of regulation unnecessary -- all that is really necessary is that Israel not fire tank shells, or any kind of ordnance, into Gaza. As long as they are not used, where Israel parks its tanks is of little practical concern.
The imposed constitution is something Gazans may not appreciate, but it greatly expedites the transition to self-rule, and it provides reassurance in many ways that the resulting government will remain democratic and will respect individual rights of all its citizens. The constitution should be broadly open to a mix of capitalist and socialist approaches, to be determined by the legislature. (I suspect this will actually prove to be a bigger sticking point with American ideologists than the lack of a sharia foundation will be with Muslims, although the latter will likely get more print.) The constitution should eventually be amendable, although perhaps not for 10-20 years (subject to UN approval) to give it a chance to work.
The matter of donor money is also critically important, both because it is urgently needed and because it provides an elegant insurance system to reinforce the peace. Personally, I think a lot of that should come from Israel, which I regard as solely responsible for the destruction and degradation of life in Gaza especially in the last decade (although really going back to 1948), but fat chance of that, so the world needs to step up. Eventually, of course, the money will run out and West Palestine will need to stand on its own economy. It is important, therefore, that the government build an efficient tax system. I haven't said anything about currency, figuring that's a detail other people are more competent in. The other especially important thing I've left out is water. I wanted to minimize the burdens imposed on Israel, but some fair allocation of the miniscule Gaza watershed is essential.
There will no doubt be other technical issues to work out. Some may be best worked out bilaterally between Israel and West Palestine. Questions like permits to pray at Al-Aqsa certainly fall in that category. While that may be something Gazans care deeply about, it doesn't strike me as a war-or-peace issue. To gain any agreement, the international community (not least the US) is going to have to put pressure on a very recalcitrant Israeli government, and that's easier to do if the demands are minimal and separable. Israel's security policy regarding Gaza is both malicious and demonstrably ineffective, so that has to change. But while it would be a nice thing to allow more personal travel between countries, that isn't a necessary condition for peace. The only necessary conditions for peace are to stop the bombing, the shooting, the blockade, and to allow all people on all sides to live a normal life. That's what this proposal does.
The decision to disband Hamas in Gaza is largely cosmetic: it will simply make everyone more comfortable to bury past terrorism with the agreement. It also allows Hamas to go on in the West Bank, doing whatever it is they are doing. I thought about adding more strictures separating West Palestine groups from any sort of work in the West Bank. The fact is that after agreement the conditions will be very different and incomparable. The question of refugees is one that may need more thought, as it is one thing that remains a common problem for a free Gaza and an occupied West Bank, but it is a thorny problem, here at least best swept under the rug.
One reason no one talks about a Gaza-only solution is that at least some people on both sides have been seduced by the notion that it is possible to come up with a "final status" resolution. Arguing against this is the fact that no one has come close, but also the more general point that nothing is ever really final. So I think one of the basic principles of resolving this conflict is that we should always do what we can when we can do it, then take stock and consider problems remain and what else can be done about them. I have no doubt that a Gaza-only solution will help move all sides closer to an eventual West Bank solution.
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