Tuesday, June 08, 2010

...a long time coming

Jeffery Goldberg ascribes the recent events in regard to Gaza aid flotilla to military and short-term political incompetence. I think that does the Israeli politicians and generals a disservice. As long as Israeli forces maintain the Gaza blockade, by all accounts a popular policy in Israel and a very unpopular one elsewhere, people willing to risk death can make Israel look bad. The Gaza relief ships simply have to keep steaming toward port to compel the Israeli military to either abandon the blockade, or to use force and risk subsequent casualties.

Rather than blaming the Israeli Defence Force, it helps more to ask how the Israeli government got their tails in this particular crack. It seems to me that Israel blockaded Gaza in despair, because they had run out of options. Having beaten the corrupt Fatah party in the election of 2006, Hamas had a earned, by the normal rules that govern these matters, a right to govern. But governing the Palestinians meant working with the Israeli government, and the Israelis could find no way to work with people dedicated to their destruction. Here, I believe, two quite understandable impulses in Jewish life collided with disastrous results.

The first impulse, which for convenience I will refer to as the ADL impulse in honour of the Anti-defamation League, holds that the Jewish community cannot ignore or condone hostility. The second impulse, which I call the IDF impulse in honour of Israel's defence forces, says that the Jewish community can never afford to rely on goodwill alone, because enemies can overpower even the most sincere of friends. Both impulses make sense, given Jewish history, but they lead to fatally contradictory policies. If you have power, you can dictate to your enemies what they can and cannot do without having you punish them for it, but you can't try to force them to like you. A policy based on the IDF impulse would have ignored Hamas rhetoric, but punished any government led by Hamas for hostile actions against Israel. A policy based on the ADL impulse would have deplored the hostility to Israel shown by Hamas, but not used force in response to it. In fact, it appears the impulses collided, and Israel refused to recognize the results of the election both because of the past terrorism by Hamas and also because of the ongoing hostility of Hamas to Israel.

If Fatah had taken control of Gaza by force, then Israel could have released the blockade. But since Hamas won the election and the subsequent power struggle in Gaza, I can see few good options for the Israeli government short of a more general settlement with the Palestinians. In the meantime, blaming the situation on Israeli commandos, or even on the planning staff of the Israeli Defense force, strikes me as a less than useful simplification.

No comments: