As my fellow blogger has recently written, the Israeli-Palestine conflict is flaring up again and unlikely to see much progress through Western diplomacy. For my analysis, I find it useful to look at the international community’s reaction to the current flare-up. I see this as indicative of why past diplomatic efforts by the US and others have failed.
First, for the background. Israel’s military campaign on Hamas-controlled Gaza began after a six month ceasefire with Hamas ended on December 19. (Contrary to the definition of a ceasefire, this slowed the frequency of the mortar attacks but never actually resulted in a complete peace for southern Israel.) After intense efforts by Israel to lobby Egyptian leaders and the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for an extension of the ceasefire, the Syrian-backed Hamas would have none of it. This proved a clear opportunity to draw Israel into a debacle similar to the 2006 invasion into Lebanon at a time when Israel appears to be gaining some legitimacy with some of its Middle Eastern neighbors.
Since the end of the ceasefire ten days ago, Hamas forces have fired over 300 missiles, rockets and mortars into Israel. In response, the Israelis have began targeted attacks against the militants using on-the-ground intelligence. Unfortunately, these attacks have resulted in a high casualty rate because of the common tactic of terrorist groups to place their security forces in residential neighborhoods. This has served, and likely will continue to serve Hamas well by eliciting international sympathy for a “humanitarian crisis” being brought on by the Israeli military. Indeed, this strategy’s success can already be seen with comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling the Israeli response “disproportionate.”
And Sarkozy is not alone as the UN Secretariat General has suddenly become interested in the affair, calling for a cease in operations and echoing calls of a disproportionate response. The Security Council has reconvened to address Israel’s “belligerency.” Undoubtedly, Hamas’ efforts to portray their cause as one of “resistance against illegal occupiers” rather than as instigators of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians has fared quite well with the international community. This leaves one to wonder what the international community was doing while Hamas was violating their six-month ceasefire or during the period since 2005 when Hamas fired nearly 6,300 rockets into southern Israel?
Such is the history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Peacemaking efforts have consistently revealed the extremist intentions of those sounding the clarion call for the Palestinians. Simply, these groups seek no less than the destruction of Israel as a nation-state and as a people. Facing this intransigent position, it is no wonder the Israelis have failed to appease their foe at the negotiating table.
The “peace process” has often resulted in Israel making territorial concessions while receiving little assurance of safety for their border citizens (e.g., Oslo Accords followed by the Second Intifada). And often it becomes just a matter of time before Israel responds to protect its citizens. In this sense, Gaza provides the most recent example of a moral equivocation that has shaped the conflict. The daily occurrence of random terrorist acts by Hamas has been essentially equaled and surpassed with the latest Israeli response. Hence, disproportionate.
As a developed nation, Israel finds itself in a similar position as the US in that it can be held accountable for its actions and its military endeavors are often subject to the political will available. This means it must fight the battle of public perception if it is to be successful. Unfortunately, Israel seems to have perennially lost this battle in the international community. Conversely, little accountability has been placed on the Palestinians’ shoulders while consistently being granted a pass by the media for their terrorist activities.
The US must work to support Israel despite this eternal antagonism toward it by others. Israel’s quest for self-preservation and defense of its homeland is no foreign mission for any sovereign to understand. Yet it has long been a challenge for them to persuade others of this mission. Geopolitically, the best outcome from the current fighting would be a fatal blow to the Hamas power structure. Only then will the peace process successfully resolve the issues at hand. As long as the Palestinian people have leaders that take their marching orders from Syria and Iran, no amount of concessions on Israel’s part will suffice. If Hamas were to be severely weakened, this would then allow more moderate forces like Mahmoud Abbas to become the Palestinian voice at the bargaining table.
Whether this will occur is yet to be seen. Israel has a tremendously difficult battle in front of them, both militarily and publicly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another series of events like their invasion of Lebanon in 2006. So should Israel launch a ground attack? Will it be any more successful than its 2006 campaign? Does it have any other viable alternatives like turning to the UN for support?