Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Israel, Hamas, there is another way

Israel has the right to exist. Israel has the right to defend itself.

And yet, there is no defence for its brutal attack on Gaza over the last few days which has left hundreds dead and thousands mutilated. Both Hamas and the Israeli Government are engaged in a hectic and callously self-serving conflict with Gazan Palestinians and border Israelis as cannon fodder and pawns. The notion though that Israel's attacks are likely to achieve its security and crush extremism is not only dangerous but highly flawed.

As Tom Segev (author of the excellent 1967) argues in Haaretz, there is a historical continuum to Israel's actions and the result is a progressively less secure and more hostile environment for Israel itself. And thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese and others lose their lives as a consequence of this myopic reflex. Israel continues to play up the threat- both to its security and its existence- and inevitably lurches toward further militarism. Whether the impulse is the election, a need to re-assert its authority following the disastrous 2006 Lebanese conflict, or it is a nation that is now purely driven by impulse, the result is the same: more tragic loss of life and the destruction of lives.

Don't think that this is in any way about exonerating Hamas. It is not. But to compare Israel's military might with that of Hamas is, I'm afraid, laughable. The same can be said of the continual argument that Israel's existence, bound as it is in a region with a number of hostile powers, is somehow under threat. Israel is by far the most powerful military presence in the region and the only nuclear power. Its de facto alliance with the United States provides an emergency protective canopy should it be needed. There is no realistic threat to its existence, not external anyhow. Rather like the outrage at Channel 4 broadcasting President Ahmadinejad's alternative Christmas message, it has a bogus feel about it (as did the message itself.)

Muscular militarism Israel style has resulted in over forty years of mutual fear and periodic, bloody conflict. And Israel, far from an oasis of freedom in an authoritarian region, has become a security state. It is frightened for its own safety, security, and well-being and in such a state people are never really free. Surely there has to be another way?

So now is the time to draw a line and show real leadership. While Israel bombs its neighbours and treats Arabs as if they are somehow inferior there will never be the trust that is needed to engender real progress. And Israel's friends, including the UK and, yes, the United States should be firmer. They should stop taking Israel's own assessment of its self-interest at face value because look where that has got Israel and the Middle East. We should condemn Israel's actions more forcibly because that is in the interests of the Israeli people, who have suffered so much. Israel is a vital nation that is let down continually by its leaders; just as the poor wretched residents of the Gaza Strip have been woefully let down by Hamas in whom they placed their trust.

The 1982 war (see Waltz with Bashir for a revisionist and potent Israeli viewpoint) with Lebanon defeated the PLO and saw its replacement with the clerically austere and aggressive Hezbollah. Israel's failure to deal constructively with Fatah begot Hamas. Even if Hamas is defeated what will replace them? If history is a guide, and it is in this context, then Pyrrhic victory is stacked upon human misery. In the end, there is always something worse around the corner.

So for the sake your people Israel, for the sake of yours Hamas, there has to be another way. For while Israelis rage at Hamas, Palestinians rage at Israel. That outrage is the most powerful weapon of all. It is weapon that will be used to kill any hope of peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment