Gaza: The Elephant in the Living Room

Categories: Israel
By Jeffry V. Mallow, Phd.

As of this writing, Israel appears to have won the flotilla battle, since the flotillas have agreed to have their ships searched by international inspectors. This should obviate the need for the blockade[1]. Let us hope that the government will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by interdicting ships already searched.

In the meantime, it is long overdue that the conventional wisdom of the Zionist Left regarding Gaza be more closely examined. The standard narrative is: The way that Israel withdrew from Gaza — unilaterally and without negotiating security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority — created a power vacuum that Hamas acted to fill. Thus, it is Israel that is culpable for failing to negotiate the Gaza withdrawal, making inevitable the ascent of Hamas.

First, what precisely is meant by “negotiation”? Here is part of a statement by a group supporting the standard narrative: “Had there been a negotiated withdrawal, it could have empowered moderate Palestinian leadership that would support negotiating with Israel for a two-state solution.” Negotiation usually means that each side gives something. Clearly the second use of it in that sentence means just that. But if the first means the same, then what is being proposed is a demonstration that the Palestinian Authority is the body in charge.

In an article by Boaz Gaon and Jonathan Garfunkel in the March 25 Ha’aretz, former Palestinian minister of prisoners Sufian Abu Zaida said: “We begged Sharon to leave Gaza within the framework of an agreement, not unilaterally, because if you do, Hamas will celebrate in the streets on the day after. And that’s what happened, so why are you amazed at the Qassam rockets.” Can he possibly mean that the PA begged Ariel Sharon to force it to give up something in return for Israel’s leaving Gaza? In this case we should probably assume that “negotiation” means “coordination.” But that is not necessarily what the proponents of “negotiation” mean when they conflate the two meanings. They may mean just what they say, that the PA should be publicly shown to be the only negotiating partner. That would most likely have backfired. By slowing down the anticipated withdrawal with negotiations, the PA would have been seen (once again) as “a tool of the Zionists,” thus strengthening Hamas even more. Why negotiate when you can get it for free? In fact, some Israeli political, military, and security officials expressed concern that Hamas was being handed a gift.

Why would Prime Minister Sharon, a brilliant and seasoned tactician, allow himself to be placed in such a position? There are several theories. One is that he proposed the withdrawal while Yaser Arafat was still alive, and Sharon would under no circumstances have included him in any negotiations. That is surely true. Another theory is that following Arafat’s death, Sharon considered his successor, Mahmoud Abbas nothing more than an Arafat clone, and let his animus overwhelm his judgment. That is less evident. It may also be that Sharon himself had not worked out the details before the withdrawal, thus preparing neither Israel nor the PA for the possible consequences. Unfortunately he is not available to respond to any of the charges.

There are other problems with the standard narrative. For one, placing the primary blame on Israel for the subsequent violence lets Hamas off the hook, as if it’s a force of nature rather than a responsible party. But Hamas had a choice and made it. Instead of beginning to form a Palestinian state, it opted to try to obliterate the Jewish state.

For another, it ignores other contributing factors. The election on which the Quartet – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – insisted (mistaking an Indian summer for an Arab spring) led to a campaign in which Fatah fielded multiple candidates for various positions. Hamas, doing the opposite, won elections in areas in which it represented the minority of voters.

But even if the PA had acted more wisely, would Hamas have abided by the result? The usual mantra is that the un-negotiated withdrawal showed that “violence works.” If true, and that is questionable, it says something about the Palestinians that must affect all future negotiations.

And in fact, precisely what new security arrangements would have to have been put in place? Wasn’t the presence in Gaza of a well-armed Fatah itself a long standing security arrangement?  Did the nature of the withdrawal so enfeeble Fatah that a Hamas victory was inevitable?

Aiding and abetting the withdrawal narrative are the apologists for Hamas’s bad aim. There have been endless statements from major media organs and NGO’s that the rockets are in any case inaccurate.  The goal is to minimize Hamas’s violence, because the rocket fire fails to fit the narrative of Israel’s sole culpability in the conflict. Further, if the rocket fire is inaccurate (not too many Israelis killed, not all Sderot residents fleeing), then Operation Cast Lead is merely an example of unprovoked carnage.

The UN goes even further. When Judge Richard Goldstone naively insisted upon an investigation of Hamas violence, that part of his report was deleted. When he recanted the claim that Israel had used phosphorus on civilians, the UN still chose not to modify the report.

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour attempted to enlist Canadian judge Irwin Cotler in her investigation of Israel’s culpability during Operation Cast Lead. Not about to copy Goldstone and be the Jew who would give the investigation legitimacy, Cotler asked her, what about Sderot? She had no idea, or claimed to have no idea what he was talking about. (Cotler turned down her offer.)

Finally, there are the continued descriptions of Gaza as “occupied.” In an article by Joseph Dana in the June 5 Jewish Daily Forward we find the following: “One particular success of Israel’s 44-year control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been the government’s ability to convince the Israeli population of the temporary nature of the occupation.” There are even now committees to “free occupied Gaza.”

So in fact there are four narratives:
The rockets are the result of Israel’s flawed withdrawal.
The rockets are in any case inaccurate.
What rockets?
What withdrawal?

Does this mean that the anti-negotiation narrative should be endorsed: “We gave them Gaza, and look what we got in return”? Hardly. The current impasse is untenable. The existence of partners for negotiations is no longer in question. If the Wikileaks leaks are not enough, then there is ample testimony by members of Israel’s military and security establishments. Israelis, at least most of them, appear ready for a negotiated peace. So, apparently, do many Palestinians. But negotiations will fail if the facts of the Gaza withdrawal continue to be distorted or ignored, if its violent aftermath is laid at Israel’s feet, and if the PA’s new partner, Hamas is allowed to enter the negotiations without relinquishing its call for, and attempts to bring about, Israel’s destruction. To ignore the elephant in the living room is to ensure that Israelis will be driven even further to the right, and that Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman will determine the country’s future. The residents of Sderot deserve better.

[1]    Often called, mistakenly and malignantly, a siege. This is a siege in which over a million tons of humanitarian aid were sent into Gaza, including the cargoes of the “Freedom Flotillas” after inspection by Israel.

About Jeffry V. Mallow Ph. D., Immediate Past President

Jeffry V. Mallow is Emeritus Professor of Physics at Loyola University Chicago. He does research on science education and on quantum physics. He is a member of the Forward Association and honorary chair of the Chicago YIVO Society. His articles on Jewish themes have appeared in numerous publications.  He is the author of Zionist Diarist and Other Polemics. He is also a standup Jewish comic.
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