As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Prospects For Peace Held On The Sidelines

Israeli warplanes hit targets in Gaza for a third day today, as fighting continues in the greatest loss of life in the Arab-Israeli conflict since the 1967 War. The Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls it a "war to the bitter end," and his Labor Party is predictably hoping to capitalize in the polls with his high profile in the operation. Comparisons are being made to Guernica and many are holding supportive Arab regimes responsible for their complicity.

It's a terrible situation and there needs to be an immediate cease-fire. The lack of any substantive debate in the United States, which arms and funds and supports the Israeli state directly, leads to the most extreme and politically-motivated elements to drive the action in the Middle East. Obama is deferring to Bush at his own peril. He justifies the attacks at peril not just to his agenda but to any positive outlook on his character.

“If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he told reporters in Sderot, a small city on the edge of Gaza that has been hit repeatedly by rocket fire. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

This was back in July, but the statement is coming back to haunt him now. This is a complete misreading of the timeline of events. If the sole action here was that the cease-fire ended and Hamas immediately began lobbing rockets, that would be one thing. But that reading neglects the blockade that Israel has used to turn Hamas-led Gaza into a virtual prison, stopping food and even medical supplies from entering the Strip. Blockades violate international law and cause humanitarian disasters. Any reading that gives either side sole moral authority or culpability is flawed.

The point is simple: You can argue, as Israel is arguing, that their air strikes are a response to Hamas's missiles. But to the Palestinians, Hamas's missiles were a response to the blockade (under international law, a blockade is indeed an act of war). Israel, of course, would argue that the blockade was a response to Hamas's past attacks. And Hamas would argue that past attacks were a response to Israel's unceasing oppression of the Palestinian people. And Israel would argue that...

The provocations and cassus belli travel as far back as anyone might care to trace. And whether you believe Israel, the Palestinians, or the international partitioners originally at fault, starting the clock on December 10th, when the ceasefire expired and Hamas's missiles crashed into the fields around Sderot, is merely an Israeli press strategy. This is the latest tactic in an ongoing struggle over land and freedom and security and money and politics and religion and elections and oppression. It did not begin with the rockets, and it will not end with this attack.

So Obama essentially endorsing the Israeli PR narrative before the fact is a tragic mistake that will sap his ability to act as an honest broker. And the impact is to cause more hatred and radicalism against Israel, and by proxy the United States. Only by not responding to violence with more violence in a tit-for-tat fashion can there ever be Middle Eastern security. Events like this only feed terrorism, they do not stop it. If Obama really wanted to promote the cause of Middle Eastern peace he would not be using the language of justification.

Ultimately, you wage peace with peace. The Annapolis framework is obviously dead for now, and the rage this has caused throughout the Middle East might even end Mahmoud Abbas' potential role as a partner. But as I've said, most of the progress in this conflict has come from the insistence of outside actors with leverage, like Clinton and Carter. If Obama wants to follow in that tradition, he not only has to come off the sidelines, he has to recognize - and articulate - the concerns of both sides.

...this is a good point as well, and one I've made in the past.

All those who insist that the United States should "solve" the problem should explain how. And if they can't do that, then maybe they should take some quiet time.

I guess Potter Stewart's statement about obscenity ("I'll know it when I see it") applies here, and I certainly know what a solution DOESN'T look like when I see it. Bombing Hamas to get them to stop hating you is NOT a solution. Neither is unquestioningly backing up Israel for bombing Hamas to get them to stop hating them. Or preferring to say nothing. To the extent that progress HAS been made, and there is a model for it, it's been through committed engagement over a number of years. It's obviously not going to happen overnight after this siege.

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