Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halutz v Diskin

Ynet (30/10/05), Shimon Shiffer writes:

"The terror attack in Hadera shows how difficult it is to declare a winner in this conflict, not even by points. The meeting convened by Mofaz Wednesday evening at his office in IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, where responses to the bombing were weighed, brought forward all the familiar arguments – only the faces have changed. Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin, as opposed to his predecessor, Avi Dichter, warned against getting carried away with operations that would drag all Palestinian terror groups back to the battle field. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, as opposed to his predecessor, Moshe Yaalon, supported heavy blows anywhere, against any target. Diskin suggested focusing on the Islamic Jihad and avoiding actions that could hurt the Palestinian population and anger it. On the other hand, Halutz said: “If we sustain casualties in the Hadera market, I suggest that we don’t take humanitarian aspects into consideration. Even one person killed on our side makes consideration for the Palestinians not worthwhile.”

It goes without saying that the suicide bombing at Hadera this week is wicked and morally repugnant. It is also a given that the Palestinian Authority could be doing more to prevent such attacks and simply pleading that they are weak and ineffectual is not sufficient. The question arises what should Israel's response be. As is noted above, the current head of the Shin Bet believes any response should be measured and directed against Islamic Jihad, limiting any damage to ordinary Palestinians as opposed forHalutz, Chief of Staff who suggests a far harsher response.

I raise the above issue as I think often what may seems to be a small tactical dispute between these two officials is of far greater significance strategically. A harsh response whilst perhaps electorally popular does not serve Israel in the long term. Rather, a proportionate response, localised and directed at the parties responsible achieves its ends without escalating the situation and leaving the prospect of diplomacy with the PA in tact. If there is one thing Israel should learn from the past 4 years is that brute force alone is an insufficient basis for dealing with terrorism and the conflict. At its core the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a political dispute between two people who have claims over the same piece of land and the resolution of the conflict will only occur once the land is equitably distributed. Military measures alone whilst in the short term may limit the conflict from brewing over but in the long term will prove ineffectual. Any military response therefore needs to be measured. The advice of Diskin should be carefully heeded.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Moving beyond 'Disengagement' euphoria

The editorial in today's Haarez reads:

"When it comes to a peace-seeking leader like Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, it is doubtful that a Palestinian failure in the United States is a victory for Israeli interests. There is an interdependent relationship at work here: Abbas seeks an end to the violence and the holding of legitimate elections for the Palestinian parliament, which will advance the process of creating a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state. It is superfluous to point out that this goal is clearly in Israel's interest as well.The Israeli leadership rejoices, for some reason, at every sign of delay in the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel".

Again I am concerned with Sharon's approach to the current problems. Disegaging from Gaza is not enough. We need more. I do not believe time is on either Israeli or the Palestinian sides. The conflict is again being seen from Israel's perspective as a zero- sum game. Sharon is buying for time - unable or unwilling to engage seriously with his Palestinian counterpart and stalling at every opportunity. Terrorism, however, appalling can not serve as an excuse for procrastination. Too often Sharon uses it as an excuse.

Where is the Israeli labour party in all of this. They are supposed to be a partner to this government but appear meek and pathetic. Get off your butts and do something for heavens sake!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dialogue or unilateralism?

Uzi Benziman in Haaretz (19/10) writes:

"On August 27, 2001, the Israel Defense Forces was faced with the opportunity to assassinate Abu Ali Mustafa, secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and it acted upon it. In response, members of the organization murdered minister Rehavam Ze'evi.On January 14, 2002, Israel liquidated Raed Karmi, a Tanzim leader in the Tul Karm area. Three days later, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades activist murdered six people at a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera, thereby marking Fatah's adoption of the tactic of carrying out suicide attacks within Israel, previously employed only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad ... The assassinations of Abu Ali Mustafa and Raed Karmi taught, in hindsight, that the provocation inherent in these operations was a significant factor in the decisions by the Palestinian terror groups to respond to them harshly. The impression one gets from the military operations that the IDF has been conducting in the West Bank since the disengagement is that political considerations are not high on the agenda during the discussions on the operations. The arrogance reflected in them is an indication of military narrow-mindedness that fails to appropriately take into account the psyche of the enemy, and certainly not the needs of Abu Mazen, who is, allegedly, a partner and not a rival".

Benziman hits the nail on the head. Israel seems to be returning to the policies it adopted during the Intifada, forceful excessive responses to Palestinian terrorism without any significant diplomatic process with the PA. Only just before Succot in response to the terrible killing of 3 Israelis in the Gush Etzion area, Israel responded by closing all roads in the territories to private Palestinian cars. Haaretz reported today that for the first time in several months, Israel Defense Forces troops began restricting Palestinian traffic yesterday on the road linking Nablus and Hebron with Jerusalem. Is that really a proportionate response restricting Palestinian freedom of movement in the territories to such a degree?

At the diplomatic level, Israel is following the course of a unilateralist approach, treating the Palestinian Authority with contempt and condescension. No gestures such as release of Palestinian prisioners pre-Oslo is occurring and any relaxation of restrictions in the Territories is all but meagher. This is not the right approach. Israel needs to strengthen the PA. It needs to engage in dialogue with the PA treating them as equals and not as lords dictating the condition on the land. It needs to build trust and respond proportionately to terrorist attacks. The fact that the PA could be doing more is besides the point.

Sharon unfortunately has always been a unilateralist. He does not trust Arabs and his attitude to Abu Mazen is reflective of his deep seeded distrust of Arabs. Beyond that Sharon realises that Abu Mazen wants to move ahead to discuss the big issues - Jerusalem, refugees, borders and Sharon is simply not willing to make the kind of concessions that any Palestinian would agrees to. By contrast the unilateralist approach gives him leverage; and gives him the power to determine what concessions Israel ought to make. The construction of the fence and its eventual route, together with settlement construction in the so called "concensus" settlements are attempts to "create facts on the ground" are guiding Sharon's strategy.

I will say something unpopular. Israel needs to return to the Oslo model. The concept of Oslo was not a failure; its implementation was. There is no substitute for dialogue. Negotiation needs to continue as if there was no terrorism; and the fight against terrorism needs to occur irrespective of diplomacy (paraphrasing Rabin). The current narrow approach is likely to lead to more bloodshed. What needed now is boldness. Sharon's decision to disengage from Gaza was such a bold move and when all said is done; no national trauma eventuated. Gaza is all but forgotten now. Political will is needed and needed sooner rather then later.