Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19, 2009

Israel Points the Way for Obama

The Israeli attack on Gaza is more than anything else an attempt to commit the Obama administration to a hard line policy on Iran.
Neither Obama nor Hilary Clinton has ever deviated from Bush’s core policy on Iran. Obama’s declared willingness to engage in some sort of dialogue with Iran is clearly positive. However, without readiness to try and work out sensible and genuine compromises on outstanding issues, tensions will not recede. The Israeli war on Gaza is a method to mobilize the sizable anti-Iranian block in US politics against any serious negotiation on substantive issues. The mobilized bi-partisan support for the AIPAC “Israel has the right to defend itself…” formula is designed to head off any semblance of even handedness and diplomatic flexibility in Washington.
Israel has more than a decent chance for success in this maneuver, not because it is so strong, but because the forces suggesting any basic change in the Bush era policies are so weak. Israel’s policy is clear and it was making every conceivable effort during 2008 to drag the US into a major confrontation. (See, David E. Sanger ,Bush Rebuffed Israeli Plans to Hit Iran Atomic Site, IHT, January 12,2009).
Absence of an Alternative Policy Conception
Neo-Conservatism still has important influence on US foreign policy because it is for the moment the only clear conceptual framework for relating to challenges to diminishing US hegemony. It takes time and a degree of political sophistication to work out a new overall analysis on major issues. It also happens to be one of those things that do not emerge

“from the center.”
It is of course a positive development that the US intends to engage Teheran in a dialogue. But the declared intention of denying Iran any and every form of access to nuclear capacity in exchange for a few carrots (some sort of version of a stimulus package for good behavior) is ill conceived. It is not only or mainly a question of Iranian prestige. Teheran has every reason to see itself threatened by Israel’s atomic arsenal.
This may be the last chance that US policy can conceivably do something against proliferation. Israel has defended its regional nuclear monopoly by declaring that it would not be the first to employ nuclear weapons in the region. However, many of the best strategic minds, including robust friends of Israel, have ever succeeded to conceptualize the non existent and inconceivable circumstances in which Israel might actually use the bomb.
The guardians of US interests might well have figured out by now that nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India are more of a deadly trap for that region than anything else. There is presently talk in the Middle East about nuclear proliferation at the mid-power level with Egypt and Saudi Arabia in line. Can anyone ignore these new dangers?
Now it may be a bit presumptuous for me to set myself up as an objective interpreter of US imperial interests, but it seems that Washington has an exceptional opportunity to make life a lot safer for all concerned. Is it so difficult for those who are going to call the shots in Washington to understand that the denuclearization of Israel is the best and least costly path to block Iranian nuclearization? This would clear the path to set up a atomic free zone in the Middle East for the benefit of all concerned. Of course, this happens to be in the interests of Israel, though it will take some convincing by way of iron clad guarantees, from the United States which are, for that matter already in effect.

What we have here is another example of Hamas’s deviousness: Their leaders had the temerity to hide from bombs during the Israeli attack and their barely armed soldiers showed abject cowardice by refusing to come out of their tunnels and burrows to confront the tanks and their air support.
Israel is lucky though. Hamas, as a ruling governing entity will have plenty to do rebuilding after the widespread destruction. If it were merely a guerilla type terrorist outfit, it wouldn’t be concerned about the rebuilding aspect. Hamas, according to Israeli IDF intelligence will have to be cautious because it is the government in Gaza. It was a tough call. Israel had to eliminate Hamas, but make certain that it survived as the effective government of Gaza.
The burgeoning demand to release Gilad Shalit exposed the soft underbelly of public opinion in the country. Leaving aside the almost impossible logistics of an operation to extricate Shalit alive, even in the event of a total Israeli victory, the demand and the expectations for the release of Shalit showed that most Israelis do not have the foggiest idea of the very limited and even questionable success of the operation.
In the absence of unconditional surrender by any of the sides, it’s a complex matter to measure the results of the war on Gaza. One thing is certain. Reactionary “logic” seethes in the street. The average Israeli is beginning to buy the argument that the army was brave and decisive, but we were sold down the river by the old politicians, and so we need new leaders who know how to keep on bombing. Obama, take care, Netanyahu and Lieberman are looking for you.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11, 2009

The Not So Automatic Veto

The UN Security Council decision Friday morning caught Israel when the troika, Olmert, Barak, Livni, was in another squalid fight, this time about whether to continue on to phrase III of the war. Phrase III is the plan to expand the ground operation to take complete control of the entire strip. Phase IV is presumably a door-to- door hunt for every member of the Hamas organization, including the annihilation of anyone in any kind of leadership position. But even this would fail to eliminate Hamas. It would mean only that Hamas would reorganize itself as a network of underground groups which could continue the struggle against the occupation.
Though the troika is posturing intensively about not allowing anyone else to determine Israeli security, it is hard to believe that they will give a green light to Phase III, for the full occupation of Gaza. Understandably enough, many in the public, who have been conditioned to believe that full and total victory is just around the corner, insist on fighting on. However, starting a major ground offensive now, in the face of the UN decision would be a major mistake for Israel as well as an act of criminal folly. Sadly, it is not the ensuing huge casualty count certain on both sides which will convince Israel to desist. As flustered and as confused as the troika is, even they have to understand the political danger of being out of step, or even in confrontation, with US policy, especially now on the eve of Obama’s inauguration. A split with the US is the nightmare of everyone in the country’s ruling circles, who understands just exactly how dependent this country is on US military and political backing.
Israel was caught last Friday night with its pants down when the tide, in the form of the US automatic veto, ebbed. It is doubtful whether in these conditions a denuded Israel will opt to continue the war for too long. The missing veto is more than embarrassing for official Israel which had hoped to attend the Obama inauguration ensconced in the warm folds of the “special relationship.”
The automatic US veto, which seems, at least for the moment, to have gone up in the smoke of the Gaza massacre, indicates that Israel’s trusted ally is chafing under the gigantic world wide outburst of rage over the crimes in Gaza. The scope of the protest and its depth confronts the US empire with an urgency parallel to the economic crisis at home.
Hard times are ahead for those who govern Israel. No serious political force in the world will buy the explanations for the unacceptable crimes against humanity in Gaza. At the same time, the Israeli government will find it almost impossible to justify to its public the glaring gap between officially pumped up high expectations and the meagerness of the results on the ground.
The diplomatic damage to Israel may be lasting. If Rice could no longer defend her Israeli partner’s brutal, blind aggression with the automatic veto, it will be that much more difficult for Obama to restore the automatic veto for an Israel led by Netanyahu. Indeed, chances are that Netanyahu, riding a wave of public frustration and bitterness over the failure of the Cast Lead adventure, will be the central figure in the next post-election coalition.

Start Talking With Hamas
Many sincere people in the peace camp have been tempted into entertaining the idea peace is the best way to eliminate the influence of Hamas, which is considered, after Israeli policy and deeds, the chief obstacle to peace in the region.
Now, even as official Israel performs the military operation designed to eliminate Hamas, there are voices in the peace camp which offer an alternative less violent path to the same end. Their argument is that Hamas can and should be marginalized, and that this goal can be reached by Israeli willingness to work out a serious two state peace agreement. But is this objective consistent with the chances for peace?
This strategy against Hamas might have succeeded in a much earlier stage, before Hamas emerged as a major force in Palestinian politics. However, since Hamas’ electoral ascendency, two processes have undermined the efficacy of the “peace in order to stop Hamas” formula. The first is the complete and total discrediting of the Palestinian Authority under Muhammed Abbas’s leadership. Total integration into Bush’s diplomatic and military apparatus, along with endemic corruption have destroyed its last shreds of credibility. Secondly, in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian and Arab masses, Hamas has come to represent the cause of Palestinian resistance.
In light of the fact that the Abbas leadership is so hopelessly compromised, the idea that Hamas can be marginalized by reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority is simply wishful thinking. On the contrary, it is doubly important for those who support the principles of the two-state solution to understand that Hamas is an essential element in achieving this solution. The left in Israel and the peace camp must be clear about their sympathy for efforts for Palestinian unity, which is an essential building block for any serious discussion of peace. Indeed, any serious supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace must recognize the need for the de facto recognition of Hamas.
It is true that the murderous aggression by Israel against Gaza has complicated an already complicated situation. At the base of this aggression is a futile attempt to break out of the confines of given political reality and the central role of Hamas. In these circumstances, any criticism leveled, however justified, against the nature of Hamas, and its ideological character, must pale on the background of the crimes against the Palestinian people and the fact that Hamas leads the Palestinian resistance. Those who quote elements in Hamas ideology as an argument against de facto recognition must have forgotten that the peace movement in Israel called, correctly, for recognition of the PLO before the PLO was willing to recognize Israel. Those who want peace must demand that Israel be ready for serious negotiations on the basis of the Saudi-Arabian-European peace plan with a united Palestinian representation, including Hamas.
Israel is reaping the whirlwind. It “must” continue fighting until it can declare victory, if only on the basis of the flimsiest evidence. Israel seeks almost any consolation prize that it can throw to the angry masses, who having been fooled into believing that total and complete victory, and no more rockets over their homes, depends only on a few more days of military action. The leadership has every reason to fear the wrath of the public which they have fooled into a naïve belief in an approaching all-out victory. Sadly enough, the illusions cultivated by the leadership may well encourage the search for the false messiah on the fanatical right, with its eternal mantra, “If only we would have kept on bombing.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Looking the Other Way

January 4, 2009
Almost everybody in the world would like the horrendous spectacle in Gaza to end as soon as possible. That is everybody except the United States government. The Israeli attack is a great occasion for a parting shot by Bush at Barack Obama, who has unfortunately also endorsed the concept that “terrorism” is the root cause of the US’s troubles. Bush is presenting the play book on how this policy plays out to Obama. It is gift wrapped from Bush with a note: continue this policy from the center.

Bush has exploited Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians to dig a hole for Obama. Obama’s total deafness and thunderous silence over the massive war crimes in Gaza cannot be excused by the shameful, evasive nonsense about there being “one president at a time.” May we recall that in this world, there are, aside from office holders, past and future, also responsible human beings who, in all decency, should know how to recognize and condemn war crimes against one and half million civilians in Gaza. Now deep in the hole that Bush is digging for him, Obama will not be able to rule from the center. He will have to “rule” from the center of the bottom of the hole that Bush has dug for him.

It may be formally true that there is only one president at a time, but silence in the face of war crimes by your ally, Mr. Obama, can only be construed as rank complicity. We are sorry about this and had hoped it would be different – since what you should have after CHANGE is DIFFERENCE. This silent complicity on your part is not even elegant and you will get drenched, even as you try to walk between the rain drops.

Riding the Tiger

Sadly enough, war plays for many deluded citizens in Israeli society the role of a utopian path to calm and bliss. Since Israel enjoys an almost absolute military superiority over Hamas and the Palestinians, for many Israelis, suffering over the years from rockets coming in from over the border, their plight can have only one explanation, i.e., a lack of resoluteness on the part of the leadership. The solution is obvious.
The problem intensifies over time because the leadership hides the true state of affairs which is that there cannot be an immediate solution for burning security problems which are the direct product of mistaken policies and political illusions.
Israel’s policies push her to war and war appears as the panacea. When anybody in the media or even in power suggests that Israeli options are not unlimited and that there are serious obstacles to the use of force that can cause the death of thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians, they are warned by the hard-liners that a cease fire would be tantamount to ignominious defeat. In Uri Avneri’s accurate description, Israel is riding the tiger and does not know how to get off.
For the present, the only way to stop the rockets involves de facto recognition of Hamas. And Hamas’s basic demand for open border crossings has universal approval. This solution, no rockets – no siege, which is quite rational, will not play in Tel Aviv as an Israeli victory, because it impairs previously existing absolute Israeli control of the border crossings. So by the logic of its attack, Israel is forced to raise the ante. Israel must continue its attack on Hamas and on the Palestinian civilian population in the name of “creating a new reality” which means convincing Hamas to discontinue rocket fire under threat of more death and destruction. This Israeli attempt at behavior modification of Hamas reminds one of a torture procedure. But most important, no one can know how many Palestinians, fighters and civilians must die in the attempt to eliminate Hamas from the political equation, just as no one knows how many Israelis, soldiers and civilians, must die for the new “improved, Hamasless” equation.

The Israelis are impelled to go further and further into to the muddy, muddy without any certainty that there is dry land, meaning ‘Gaza without Hamas’, anywhere in the vicinity. At the same time, their only friends, Bush & Co., are reading reports from the field that the Israeli operation, an ugly and horrendous affair by any account, is costing the U.S. and its allies more and more.
As world public opinion pushes the world community to do something to calm the gathering storm, Israel’s leaders maneuver desperately to escape the nearly universal call for an immediate cease fire.