Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israel's Coming Defeat

The initial bombings of the Gaza Strip are no doubt presaging a ground war in the Gaza by Israel. However, this is a war Israel cannot win. It cannot win because it is choosing a fight with an enemy that embodies the will of its people.

As some of you may recall, a few years ago the US government (under the outgoing administration) insisted on free and fair elections for control of the Palestinian National Authority. This came right after the American invasion of Iraq, and during those heady days of our government's early delusion about democracy in the Arab world. This was also when our government decided to use envoys like Condoleezza Rice to generate support for this crusade by giving speeches declaring that all the Palestinian people needed was a free election to prove their peaceful intentions. These speeches typically culminated with Wilsonian-like baiting, proclaiming that to disagree on the applicability of democracy in the Middle East was in itself racist. We all know what happened next. Hamas won the vote of the Palestinian people.

The victory of Hamas was for a multitude of reasons. One, the corruption and cronyism of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (who had operated as the de facto government of the Palestinian National Authority). Two, the Arab world's embracement over the past four decades of a more conservative and at times violent variation of Islam (mostly as a reaction to the failures of Arab states to reassert their independence and govern in a way that made them acceptable with the populations they controlled). Three, Hamas was without a doubt the most militant, well-armed, and consistently anti-Israeli political grouping running in the PNA's elections, making them the most popular party with a people beaten down by decades of war, occupation, and hatred of those who had committed these actions against them. What those elections finally proved, Secretary of State Rice's protestations notwithstanding, is that democracy is not a perfect thing, and that as war brings out the worst in people so too does having an election amongst a people who are in the middle of one (at the behest of the leading sponsor of the state waging that war on them).

The logical conclusion of Hamas's win during its quasi-civil war for control of the PNA back in 2007 (ultimately seizing control of the Gaza from the PLO) is what is taking place today--buildup for another war. During this time, Hamas maintained a tenuous cease fire with Israel. The response of Israel, as well as the US (who insisted on the elections that brought Hamas into power), was to impose sanctions and a blockade on the Gaza Strip (and by international law a blockade is an act of war). The result of that has been a humanitarian disaster, with a population starving, an unemployment rate well over 60%, and a people being collectively punished, seething with rage against the government doing this to them.

I still remember a conversation I had with a colleague of mine three years ago about this subject (he is a fellow academic, a Jewish person whom I would describe as a supporter of Israel [but like myself critical of Israel's occupation policies]). I told him right before they cast their ballots for the PNA elections that Hamas would win, which they did (thanks to our electoral sticktoitiveness), and they would proceed to take control of the Gaza Strip because this is where they are most popular (and where the Palestinian population was most densely concentrated and impoverished). Once taking control, I assumed Hamas would then ignite some skirmish, probably a suicide attack, precipitating a disproportionate military response and invasion by Israeli forces that would lead to Israel's crushing non-victorious retreat from the Gaza. I made those predictions before the Lebanon war of 2006, underestimating the tactical value of kidnapping soldiers and firing rockets. And not surprisingly, the US and Israel have denounced these relatively un-deadly rocket attacks as an act of terrorism, to which Israel has responded by raining down thousands of its own munitions, missiles, and bombs, killing and wounding thousands of people. Here is but one example of Israel's idea of only killing militants while claiming not to be targeting the group's elimination.

The coming use of ground forces is going to be an even greater disaster. There is no way one can differentiate a civilian from combatant in the Gaza. At this point, Hamas would be foolish to wear any uniforms, and will integrate themselves with a civilian population who overwhelmingly supports them. To put it bluntly, the only way Israel is going to "defeat Hamas" is to bomb the entire Gaza Strip, forcibly disarm the population, and permanently occupy it (or fulfill the dream of the most openly racist elements of Israeli politics and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population altogether). Of course, this cannot happen without killing tens of thousands, possibly even more, Palestinian civilians. There is no avoiding this. And unfortunately for all of those members of the Likud Party, Israel is a democracy (albeit an imperfect one, but a free society nonetheless). They are not the Russians or Chinese. They cannot hide what is about to happen from themselves or the rest of the world.

For the US, the consequences are going to be even more unwelcome. It is hardly an accident that the US is so hated throughout the Muslim world. This long predates the Iraq war, which only made us more despised. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has done more, more than Iraq, Afghanistan, or anything to make the US the second most despised country throughout the Middle East (next to Israel). They might be more religiously duped than the average Westerner, but people in the Muslim world are not fools. They can see that without US support, Israel would never get away with its conduct. Indeed, it is widely known that even having a blockade or any occupation of Palestinian territories is a violation of UN Resolution 242 (which demands Israel to militarily disengage with the occupied territories it seized at the end of the Six Day War). Many generations from now, when Israel is likely gone in the dust, along with the West, history will show what a fateful decision it was for Israel to take those territories. Since that war in 1967, Israel has become a pariah state in the international community, violating over 60 UN resolutions (mostly relating to its conduct in those territories). Israel itself, in spite of its complaints about how the rest of the world is conspiring against them (as if countries in Asia or Latin America could care less about them), recognizes this fact by refusing to annex those territories (implicitly agreeing with the sentiments expressed in Resolution 242).

The past four decades have been building to this point. The Palestinians only needed to find the most cunning and violent group imaginable to give Israel its pretext. The strange irony of Hamas is that it was originally registered in Israel two decades ago, not in the occupied territories, and it has been theorized more than once that Israel tolerated the ascendancy of Hamas as an Islamic counterweight to the secular nationalism of the PLO (back when it appeared that Arab socialists were a greater threat). How wrong they turned out to be, but then back in those days the US was allying with bin Laden and mullah Omar in the Afghan mujaheddin (or as President Reagan called our Islamic terrorists in the '80s, "freedom fighters"). Thanks to the miscalculations of the West (and Israel is basically a Western country, whose founders were mostly immigrants from Europe), we have allowed militant Islam to represent the will of the Palestinian people.

The greatest problem for Israel, as aforementioned, is that it is entirely dependent on the US as a diplomatic cover, military supporter, and aid of its state and its conduct. If one looks at the trends, American power has been slowly fading over the past several years (in no small part because of the globalization process that the de-nationalized economic elites persisted on pushing into fruition). By the middle part of the 21st century, the US will be overtaken by the People's Republic of China as the world's largest economy. By the latter part of the 21st century, approximately half of the world's economy is going to be in southeast Asia. That is the result of the allowance for the eastern flow of global capital that Israel cannot fight, and what it means is that as American economic dominance dissipates so will US military and diplomatic dominance, as well. That means Israel is going to have to depend on the surging powers of the east, most of whom do not share Israeli culture, heritage, history, or care one wit about what happened during World War Two. This means a clash with the Arabs which will only lead to its defeat.

The only alternative, and it is the only alternative (next to the one pursued by Karadzic in Bosnia back in the '90s), is to pursue a peace agreement of some kind that the other side (in this case, the Palestinians) can accept. I think at this point that demands at the very least a Palestinian state (with its 1967 borders), which means no interloping Israeli fences (another slight violation of international law that has gone unnoticed in most of the West). There are those who assert that a one state solution, with both Palestinians and Israelis living together, equally, would be the best result, but realistically this is not going to happen, so long as the people who have fought in these wars and intifadas are still alive. That is too long down the road for Israel. If it does not pursue this outcome, with the fading of American power being its stopwatch for international support and sponsorship of its behavior it is sealing not only its defeat in the territories, but its coming defeat from within a country containing a Palestinian-Israeli population (i.e., Arabs living in Israel proper) that reproduces three times as many children, per capita, than Jewish families. Taking into consideration these dynamics (demographics, standing among emerging powers in international politics, military capabilities, etc.), Israel is fighting a war it cannot and will not win.

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