Commentary

Gaza under Attack

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

This week saw the beginning of yet another Israeli military offensive against Palestinians in Gaza. The Netanyahu government has argued that military action is necessary following the killings of three kidnapped Israeli youths (allegedly by Palestinian extremists in the West Bank), but few regional observers fully accept that rational. Many see Israeli actions as disproportionate and primarily aimed at undoing the newfound unity between Hamas and the Fatah. On the other hand, many Israelis see this as an opportunity to restore Israel’s deterrence credibility vis-à-vis Palestinian military groups. Regardless, it is clear that more needs to be done internationally to stem the violence and provide a long-lasting solution to the crisis.

Many Israelis believe that the Israeli government has already shown too much restraint in its dealing with the Palestinians. That at least is the argument put forward by Jerusalem Post’s David Brinn, who while notes that all the grievances and counterpoints made by those who sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians “bundled together into one neat package of grievances against Israeli policies and actions, can’t hold a candle to the fact that Israel and its people are under attack. This week, over 300 rockets were fired at us from Gaza by Hamas and its cohorts. This is war — and for every Israeli, no matter his political viewpoint, it’s time to circle the wagons, band together and send the message that we’re not going to take it anymore. No country would.”

Palestinians are appealing to the international community, while making clear what they believe is the true motive of the Israeli military offensive: “The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Negotiations Affairs Department said, in a special report Wednesday, the ‘latest Israeli criminal assault against the Palestinian people aims at targeting Palestinian national unity, weakening Palestinian institutions and enforcing the disconnection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.’ The report said the Israeli offensive includes the ‘collective punishment of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied West Bank, including Israel, and the Gaza Strip....The regular airstrikes and draconian siege against Gaza have left it unable to rebuild and redevelop its infrastructures in the aftermath of the major Israeli aggressions of December 2008/January 2009 and November 2012. The people of Gaza still suffer from the effects of Israeli policies of separation between Gaza and the rest of the Occupied State of Palestine.’”

Most observers in the region, perhaps unsurprisingly, express support for the Palestinian position, while taking aim at what they consider, as the National’s editorial does, Israel’s “warped politics”: “What becomes clear is how little of what is happening in Gaza today and what happened over the past few weeks in the West Bank has to do with security. It is all politics. From the moment Hamas and Fatah announced a reconciliation, Mr Netanyahu has been on the back foot, scrambling to explain to the world why, despite saying he could not negotiate with only half the Palestinians, now he could not negotiate with a unity government....Mr Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to play the victim or escalate a conflict. But each time, every cycle, fewer people believe him. If the burning of a teenager exposed the hate that festers in Israeli society, the assault on Gaza will continue to expose the brutal truth at the heart of Mr Netanyahu’s warped politics: for the sake of his political career, he is willing to play with the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Similarly, the Daily Star’s editorial—Lebanon’s main daily newspaper—suggests Israel’s disapproval of Palestinian unity is the real culprit of the current violence rather than the tragic murder the three Israeli youths: “Although the kidnap and murder of the three teenagers was tragic, this offensive against the Gaza Strip — which has now killed nearly 90 Palestinians, including over 20 children — was never about them. It was a pre-planned reaction to the Hamas-Fatah unity government, something Israel was unhappy about. It never tried to hide its dissatisfaction that the previously sparring sides had now reached a compromise — something most Palestinians were overjoyed about....Until the international community forces Israel to make drastic changes in its policies and its self-definition, these offensives against Gaza, and the Palestinian people, will continue, and innocent blood will continue to flow.”

Even among those who see the decision of the Israeli government to escalate its response against Hamas as justifiable, there seems to be little doubt or indeed desire to dress up the real rational. For example, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai provides a partial list of the Israeli government’s goals it aims to achieve during the current military campaign: “Complete cessation of rocket fire at Israel; Restoration of the eroded deterrence against all terrorist organizations in Gaza, thereby achieving a long-term period of quiet; Serious damage inflicted on rocket launchers, in particular long-range rockets, making it difficult in future to produce these rockets and launch them into Israel in large numbers. Reduction of Hamas's political power and influence in the Palestinian political arena; [and] Completing these missions without harming Israel's legitimacy internationally. Senior political and security sources say these goals are within Israel's reach, provided it has the patience and instills in its citizens confidence in the ability of the IDF and its methods of operation as well as the intelligence community to fully achieve these goals.”

In another op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea points out that re-establishing credibility must be one of the main objectives of the “current round of fighting”: “If Hamas wants to reach any achievements at the end of this round, if it wishes to deter Israel from now on, it must prove to Israel how powerful it is. The missiles launched towards Tel Aviv are an opening move for negotiations....A dangerous process began, during which Hamas allows itself to go wild and the Israeli government, which is not trigger-happy, is forced to order an expansion of the military response, including the use of ground forces. The government isn't deluding itself that it will reach major achievements this way, but it must prove to itself, to its residents and to Hamas that it stands by its word. Credibility is the name of the game.”

What has also been evident throughout this week is the timid response by the international community, including Israel’s immediate neighbors. For example, Egypt’s new president has come under fire for not responding forcefully to the violence in Gaza. The Peninsula’s staff takes aim in a recent editorial at what it considers as “punitive silence” by the international community: “The killing of teens and the subsequent burning to death of a Palestinian boy by Israelis received extensive global media coverage, but the punitive and extraordinarily disproportionate air strikes launched by the Israeli government on Gaza, which has already claimed fifty Palestinian lives in two days, have failed to receive adequate media coverage and have largely been dubbed as Israeli reaction to Palestinian rocket attacks....Any Palestinian attack or killing of any Israeli serves as an excuse for Israel to punish the entire Palestinian community. This collective punishment is largely condoned by the international community, while Arabs are always helpless observers whose lone reaction is to call for UN action and restraint.”

The need for greater involvement by the international community was presaged almost two weeks ago by Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator for the PLO, in an open letter published on the Palestinian news site Maan News: “Although some sectors within Israel understand the urgency of the situation, the lack of decisive international action has undermined those who want a negotiated two-state solution and has empowered the extremists leading the Israeli government coalition. As long as no action is taken on the economic, political, and diplomatic levels, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, Housing Minister Ariel, and Economy Minister Bennett will continue along the same path, which is one of apartheid and colonization rather than one of justice, peace, and reconciliation....Time does not stand still. Israelis are approaching the point where they must make a fateful choice: Are they ready to opt for the two-state solution, or abandon it forever? I am one of those who believe a two-state solution is still possible, but I am not naïve. Without international action, the prospects for a just and lasting peace will remain elusive.”

Finally, Gulf News’ George Hishmeh criticizes the reaction of a number of U.S. officials who have refused to challenge the disproportionality of Israeli actions, warning that the failure to do so would most likely spell the end of a two-state solution: “Most current or former American officials dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict are bent on refusing to call a spade a spade when Israel is at fault, as has been the case in recent times....It is time that the international community, particularly the U.S., steps forward and twists the arms of Israel to pull back. Additionally, the Palestinians should also resort to the international institutions for serious action in this respect. Or else, the only remaining solution will be the establishment of a state that includes both peoples, as seems the target of many in an ill-divided country.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.