January 05, 2009
By Dr. George Voskopoulos
International politics has always been a field of study that sets challenges not only to IR scholars but to the conventional standard of ethics and people´s ability to form evaluative judgments. Although in international relations it is a highly disputed issue to pinpoint facts and set aside non-facts I will try to focus on a number of issues re-lated to the current crisis in the Gaza strip.
The first relates to Israel´s unquestionable right to defend itself. This stems from the UN Charter but it is of little importance since the UN is a nominal only means of as-sisting the socialization process of states. Yet, still Israel has been a victim of terrorist attacks not by a state but a group of extremists, namely Hamas. However, things get more complicated since Hamas, an extremist group by our standards, constitutes a democratically elected authority. Israel has never taken this fact into consideration nor has it sought a causational explanation as to why ordinary Palestinians have made this choice.
Ever since Hamas´ rise to power Israel has made every effort to undermine its politi-cal authority. Practically it refused to acknowledge its structural, institutional and po-litical power among Palestinians. Eventually it made the same mistake as in 2006 in the case of Hezbollah. Both organizations enjoy popular support and are seen as pro-tectors of a nation that has suffered so much for so long. Oddly enough the Jews and the Palestinians share one common feature, that is, an orchestrated, irrational, inhu-man effort to be eliminated.
Current Israeli policy obviously sets a central aim: to provide security to its people. This is a noble aim, a task every single government is expected to operationalize. The critical question refers to the means used and the cost vis-à-vis the prospect for a fu-ture solution, unless a solution to the problem is not a priority. Let us look at another set of interrelated issues of the conflict.
The timing of the military attack leads us to a number of defining parameters. The first relates to inter-party rivalry and the coming elections in Israel. Practically, the weariness of the Israeli people from the continuous attacks from Hamas provided the strongest motive in initiating an attack at this scale. The American view that the win-ner takes it all depicts the motivation framework of the Israeli coalition government. The second defining element has to do with politics within the Palestinians. When Y. Arafat neared the end of his life many in Israel felt relieved. I was never in a position to understand why. It was obvious that in the absence of a father figure the Palestini-ans would not operate in an orchestrated way, using acceptable means of doing poli-tics. Third, Israel has made substantial efforts to undermine the unity of the Palestini-ans, probably under the impression that a politically parcelized community would be unable to claim more than Israelis were willing to offer.
Instead of focusing on assisting the infrastructure in the occupied territories it literally made the life of ordinary Palestinians unbearable. It provided no prospect for a better future, employment, education, economic development. Those are the very basic ele-ments of modernity. Modernization is a process that assists people reformulate their attitudes, values and behavior. On top of that it does not allow extremists to find popular support among people. In the absence of the above, Palestinians felt hopeless and embraced Hamas.
Those voices across the world that criticized Israeli policy were notoriously attacked as anti-Zionists. Anti-Semitism became the raw material used to tar the image of all those who dared to question adopted policies. Oversimplification is a fact of life but it should not be applied in so complicates issues. I am afraid fundamentalists do not come from one only cultural and religious milieu. They can be found in every single society in both East and West. Samuel Huntington would probably suggest that it is a clash of civilizations, a battle between civilized and non-civilized, although one of the worst crimes in world history has been committed by the civilized and Christian Nazis against Jews.
A war neither Israel nor Hamas truly wanted turned into a war both are willing to wage´.  This is a statement made by an International Crisis Group analyst that de-picts a segment only of the true story. A certain milieu in both sides did want the war. Unfortunately it happened to be those who had the authority to exercise their power in a most unacceptable way.
In any case the conflict at hand has no civilizational aspects, although the killing of so many innocent people by a militarily powerful state such as Israel is not a noble act, even though it is understood as an act of the Israeli government in order to defend its people. It is a conflict between fundamentalists in both sides, those who politically survive on the basis of the existing, historically-supported and perpetuated hatred.
Moreover, it exposes our ability as human beings to act rationally, setting priorities and coming up with a macro-strategic plan. It is a war that is bound to support ex-tremists in both sides. It results from the myopic syndrome of leaderships, a problem-atic process of political socialization of the Palestinians and Israel´s brutal acts against civilians.
The first collateral damage of the war is the United Nations and its regulatory, norma-tive role. At the end of the day this policy supports the law of the jungle. A second collateral damage is our values as human beings, “civilized or less civilized”. Who really believes that the killing of innocent people, women and children and an ongo-ing humanitarian disaster will make the Israeli people safer?
On the contrary, the massacre is bound to fuel the tank of new extremists. It will not assist Fatah and will not turn it into an acceptable interlocutor. By contrast we should focus on how to include Hamas in the peace process. Its military defeat is an easy task for Israel but this will assist its political profile and prestige among Palestinians.
In the past, Mahmoud Abbas was politically undermined by Mr. Sharon’s policy and his reluctance to allow in essence the normalization of life in Gaza and the West Bank . Hardliners in both sides have led us to the current situation. In any case an imme-diate ceasefire should be a priority to end the humanitarian crisis. Bombing civilians, mosques and hospitals, preventing humanitarian aid to reach refugees and depriving civilians from the very basics that sustain life is a policy that undermines the future of any attempt to re-initiate negotiations. Unless the war means to put a final end to the peace process. In a Clausewitzian sense a total war is waged against states not peoples and civilians. Israeli leaders do not seem to leave space for a future political settle-ment. In fact they undermine the accommodating capacity of the next Israeli govern-ment and do not allow moderate voices among Palestinians to make sense to a much suffering people.
1] See Ending the War in Gaza, Middle East Briefing N°26
5 January 2009, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5838&l=1
2] See the analysis in “A Vote for Hamas?”, Washington Post, October 20, 2005. Also, “Aimless in Gaza”, The New York Times, July 16, 2005
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