Thursday, March 19, 2009

YK Halevi: Existentially Threatened, Outraged at Int'l Condemnations, Israel is Ready to Do what it Must to Survive

Yossi Klein Halevi makes so many important points that I felt compelled to highlight a good portion of this piece he wrote for the Canadian Globe and Mail. Yossi reiterates what Bradley Burston pointed out in yesterday's post: "It's the Rockets, Stupid." Would that foreign observers had to send their children to school for eight long years under the threat of deadly missiles. The diabolical strategy of Hamas: "adjust the flow of rockets fired at Israeli civilians to a level which is thoroughly acceptable to the rest of the world, but which is also entirely unbearable to Israelis."
david brumer
seattle

Foreign observers who minimize Hamas rockets as largely ineffectual miss the devastating psychological impact on Israelis of eight years of shelling. The rockets expose Israel's helplessness, emboldening jihadists around the Middle East and eroding the confidence of Israelis in their government's ability to protect them. And with Iran about to acquire nuclear capability, Israel faces its ultimate nightmare: a jihadist regime able to impose apocalyptic blackmail on the region.
and
Ironically, those among Israel's detractors who turn every Israeli act of war into a war crime and subject the Jewish state to a level of moral judgment not applied to any other nation are acting in the worst interests of the Palestinian people. For by deepening Israel's sense of siege, they help empower the same hard-line forces they deplore.

Existentially threatened, outraged at international condemnations, ready to do what it must to survive
Yossi Klein Halevi
March 14, 2009

The coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties about to take power in Israel is not the government most Israelis want. Even many people who voted for right-wing parties — and prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu himself — were hoping for a national unity government including the centrist Kadima and left-wing Labour. Facing unprecedented security threats, Israelis need a government that will unite rather than divide them, and that will command respect rather than ostracism abroad. Instead, the new government will likely divide Israelis over increased subsidies to ultra-Orthodox institutions and antagonize the international community over West Bank settlement expansion — to say nothing of appointing the demagogic Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister.

Still, this hawkish government will accurately reflect the mood of Israel in 2009: fearful for its survival, ready to do whatever is necessary for its basic security, and outraged at much of the world's judgment against its attempts to defend itself.

For decades, Israeli governments of both left and right maintained a strategic doctrine aimed at thwarting the emergence of terror enclaves on its borders as an existential threat. But with the creation of a Hezbollah mini-state in southern Lebanon and a Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, that doctrine has collapsed. Not since May, 1967, when Arab armies massed on Israel's borders and Arab leaders boasted about the imminent destruction of the Jewish state, have Israelis been so anxious about the very survival of the country.

The unthinkable has already happened: missiles falling on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem, hundreds of thousands of Israelis transformed into temporary refugees. During the first Gulf War in 1991, when Tel Aviv was hit with Scud missiles, residents fled to the Galilee. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when the Galilee was hit with Katyushas, residents fled to Tel Aviv. In the next war, there will be nowhere to flee: The entire country is now within missile range of Iran and its terrorist proxies. The curse of Jewish history — the inability to take mere existence for granted — has returned to the country whose founding was intended to resolve that problem.

NO SECURITY SOLUTIONS
Increasingly, Israelis sense that there are no solutions to the country's security crisis. Peace efforts have failed: Israel offered a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital in 2000 and received in return five years of suicide bombings, the worst wave of terror in the country's history. And the outgoing Kadima-Labour government, the most dovish in the country's history, failed for the last three years to reach a peace agreement with Palestinian leaders, even though it was prepared to redivide Jerusalem and dismantle West Bank settlements.

But military solutions are also elusive. The Israeli army recently fought a three-week war against Hamas to stop the missiles falling on Israeli towns, but missiles continue to fall. Foreign observers who minimize Hamas rockets as largely ineffectual miss the devastating psychological impact on Israelis of eight years of shelling. The rockets expose Israel's helplessness, emboldening jihadists around the Middle East and eroding the confidence of Israelis in their government's ability to protect them. And with Iran about to acquire nuclear capability, Israel faces its ultimate nightmare: a jihadist regime able to impose apocalyptic blackmail on the region. According to the latest American and Israeli assessments, Iran now has the technical knowledge to develop a nuclear bomb. Israelis wonder whether even a military strike can thwart Iranian intentions.

But the sense of siege among Israelis isn't only a result of tangible threats. A growing movement, in the Muslim world and also in the West, is seeking to turn Israel into a pariah — the Jew of the states, as some Israelis bitterly put it. Holocaust commemorations were recently cancelled in Spain and Sweden to protest the "holocaust" in Gaza; in England and even in the United States, there are calls among academics to boycott Israeli universities. Palestinian claims of Israeli atrocities are reported in the foreign media at face value, even though those claims are often deliberately exaggerated — like the assertion, later refuted by The Globe and Mail, that Israel had shelled a UN school in Gaza, killing dozens of civilians seeking shelter inside. Though the UN humanitarian co-ordinator eventually issued a clarification, the symbol of Israel's conduct of the war remains that school. Not surprisingly, the very legitimacy of Israel is being called into question. Alone among nations, criticism directed against Israel isn't restricted to what it does, but to what it is. Increasingly, among parts of world opinion, the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty is being rescinded.


For Israelis, the war in Gaza was a test case for whether the Jewish state will be allowed to defend itself against terrorism under any conditions. Israel, after all, withdrew from Gaza in 2005, uprooting all its settlements from the area. Yet the rockets continued to fall across the international border — long before Israel imposed a siege against Gaza's Hamas government. When Israel finally moved against Hamas, much of the international community accused Israel of overreacting, in effect absolving the Palestinian leadership of responsibility.


The disproportionate criticism of Israel has implications for the future of the West Bank. In principle, most Israelis support a two-state solution — 70 per cent, according to a recent poll. But what will happen, Israelis ask themselves, if Israel withdraws from the West Bank, which borders the country's main population centres, and then rockets fall on Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport? Given the Gaza precedent, the answer is clear: Any Israeli attempt to defend itself against terrorists embedded among Palestinian civilians will result in international ostracism. And if so, why bother withdrawing in the first place?

Israelis are deeply frustrated by the failure of much of the world to realize that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been transformed — from a nationalist struggle to create a Palestinian state into a jihadist struggle to destroy the Jewish state. Though much of the international community continues to blame settlements for the absence of peace, Israel has twice proved that settlements are a secondary issue — first, when it accepted U.S. president Bill Clinton's peace plan of 2000, which called for the dismantling of dozens of settlements, and then, in 2005, when it uprooted all its settlements in Gaza. Yet at precisely the moment the Palestinians won their struggle for a state in 2000, their national movement shifted to jihadist terror. There would be no settlement expansion today, no West Bank security wall, no checkpoints in Palestinian areas, if Palestinian leaders had negotiated in good faith for an end to the conflict. That failure was historic, resembling the Arab world's rejection of UN partition in 1947, and may well set back a two-state solution for years to come.

For Israelis, the real obstacle to an agreement is the continuing refusal of the Palestinian leadership, and much of the Arab leadership generally, to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in any borders. Not even moderate Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas have told their people that the Jews are here to stay, that this land must be shared by two peoples. Instead, the Palestinian media — of Fatah as well as Hamas — continues to tell its people that the Jews are thieves and usurpers, and that eventually the entirety of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will belong to them. And all Palestinian leaders have so far rejected the only agreement that will lead to a two-state solution: Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for Palestinian agreement to limit the return of Palestinian refugees to a future Palestinian state.
That is why the Kadima-Labour government could not reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

PALESTINIAN STATE ELUSIVE
Tragically, for Israel as well as the Palestinians, a viable Palestinian state ready to live in peace with a Jewish state remains elusive. If current talks between Hamas and Fatah on creating a unity government succeed, that will only further impede the creation of a Palestinian state. Hamas, after all, views the destruction of the Jewish state not just as an ideological commitment but a theological imperative. Rather than Fatah moderating Hamas, Hamas is likely to reradicalize Fatah.

That is the grim reality that has helped elect Israel's new grim government. Ironically, those among Israel's detractors who turn every Israeli act of war into a war crime and subject the Jewish state to a level of moral judgment not applied to any other nation are acting in the worst interests of the Palestinian people. For by deepening Israel's sense of siege, they help empower the same hard-line forces they deplore.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor to The New Republic magazine and a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

1 comment:

George Jochnowitz said...

The press ought to print excerpts from the Hamas Charter. People will continue to hate Israel, of course, but everybody in places like England and San Francisco should know precisely what Hamas advocates. One would think the New Republic is a good place to start. I wonder why it hasn't published the Hamas Charter. It still can. For that matter, it ought to serialize the Qur'an, from beginning to end.