Saturday, January 03, 2009

There is no military solution

Israeli action against Gaza will make matters worse
By Yousef Munayyer
January 2, 2009

There is great grief around the globe for the people in Gaza but there should also be a genuine fear for the safety of Israeli citizens as well. As a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship I have many friends and family members who are in range of Hamas rockets in the south and of Hezbollah rockets in the north.

While at first glance the Israeli actions against Hamas in Gaza may seem like a legitimate response to rocket fire, in the long run, the actions of the Israeli government have put more Israeli and Palestinian lives in jeopardy and may possibly have ruined the hopes of ever reaching a two-state solution.

Some may find it difficult to believe but it's important to think about the events of last week not only in the present but also in the context of the past and future. A poll from Israel last week indicated only 39 percent of respondents thought that the massive attacks against Hamas in Gaza would lead to an end of rocket fire. Perhaps this is because the Israeli government had already found a way to practically end rocket fire before abandoning it for belligerency.

During the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Hamas rocket fire from Gaza dropped dramatically. However, instead of nurturing what could have been the beginning of a much longer cease-fire, the Israeli government took a calculated step on Nov. 4 by killing four Hamas members they accused of smuggling weapons. Immediately afterwards Hamas responded by sending rockets, and Israel tightened its siege on Gaza.

Every step taken by the Israeli Cabinet is thought about carefully. They hope now, with this war that they brought on, to "change the equation" and break the stalemate in the peace process that has existed since Hamas was elected in 2006.

But does this really change the equation?

Even if the entire leadership of Hamas, a designated terror organization, is wiped out by Israeli raids, does that in anyway change the rejectionist sentiment among the population that elected it? Of course not. In fact, it will probably make the situation worse.

At the foundation of Hamas is the principle of rejecting negotiations with Israel because Israel cannot be viewed as a negotiating partner in good faith. Though Hamas' methods, like attacks on civilians, can never be morally justified, its opposition to Israel is based on legitimate grievances like illegal occupation, political imprisonment and siege. How are these brutal attacks on Gaza, following its slow and steady starvation, supposed to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians who previously supported Hamas?

The problem with dealing with Hamas the way Israel has is that Hamas is not merely an organization, it is a movement, and it is a movement that more and more people in the Arab and Muslim world grow sympathetic to each time it is attacked. With looped images of mangled bodies strewn across burnt pavement pervading the Arab news networks, there is outrage from Morocco to Manila.

In 2006, Israel used the same logic to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah, another designated terror organization, is today more popular than it was before the war both among the Shiites in Lebanon and the Arab and Muslim world in general.

Throughout the first and second Palestinian uprising, Israel targeted Hamas' leadership time after time. After nearly two decades of this policy, Hamas was able to win the first national Palestinian election it participated in, even taking a number of Palestinian Christian votes.

Each and every time Israel strikes Hamas the organization, Hamas the movement grows. Why then did Israel choose to employ failed tactics once again despite the success of the recent cease-fire?

The Israeli government owes answers to the international community, to Palestinians, and most of all to its own public.

Yousef Munayyer, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Washington.

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