Reflections on the Gaza war [Operation Pillar of Clouds]: Adam Shatz [in LRB] + Daniel Levy [The Daily Beast]

Adam Shatz has just written an article entitled “Why Israel didn’t win” in the current issue of the London Review of Books, in which he says:
“The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever … The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war” … This is posted here.

Daniel Levy [Senior Fellow and the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation — and the real drafter for Yossi Beilin + the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative] wrote in an article titled “Seven Takeaways from the Gaza Ceasefire”, published in The Daily Beast:
“At times, operation Pillar of Defence and the lessons being taken from its conclusion sounded like déjà-vu all over again: featuring an Israel that addresses political problems with military solutions and that wastes whatever quiet is achieved by refusing to take diplomatic initiatives…the Netanyahu-Lieberman axis does have its own thinking on the Palestinian question, and…Israeli politics has significantly shifted. [Netanyahu + Lieberman] have no interest in pursuing a solution that would seem decent or realistic to any neutral observer. They are not two-staters in any recognizable way”. Daniel Levy’s analysis is posted here and here.

Adam Shatz: “[T]he price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments. During the eight days of Pillar of Defence, Israel put on an impressive and deadly fireworks show, as it always does, lighting up the skies of Gaza and putting out menacing tweets straight from The Sopranos. But the killing of entire families and the destruction of government buildings and police stations, far from encouraging Palestinians to submit, will only fortify their resistance, something Israel might have learned by consulting the pages of recent Jewish history. The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future”.

Daniel Levy: “Hamas has again proven that it can create a degree of mutual deterrence with Israel, that it is taken seriously by Israel, and can bargain effectively with Israel, from securing prisoner releases to securing commitments barring IDF incursions into Palestinian territory, right back to claiming success in having driven Israel from Gaza. Just to rub it in, on the same day that the IDF was committing not to enter Gaza, its troops were busy conducting raids and arrests throughout the West Bank … Fatah and the PLO cannot be dismissed in Palestinian politics, but their longstanding approach of currying American favor, in the hope of delivering Israel absent the creation of Palestinian leverage and assets, has run its course. They appear to have missed the boat in leading a popular campaign of unarmed struggle and the PA’s security cooperation with Israel looks distinctly unseemly in the eyes of many Palestinians…As ridiculous as it may have looked to have Secretary Clinton dash to Ramallah to visit with President Abbas in the midst of a negotiation to which he was not a party, it nevertheless provided a perfect snapshot of America’s reduced relevance in the changing region. In fact, it was somewhat symbolic that President Obama conducted his telephone diplomacy during this crisis in the midst of a visit to Asia. America is not getting out of the Middle East any time soon—it is too addicted to arms sales to the Gulf, to its peculiar domestic calculations when it comes to Israel, and it is still too far from energy self-sufficiency or being able to fully restrain its interventionist instincts…On this occasion, Washington took something of a test drive in a new Egypt as a partner in problem-solving, and seems to have quite liked what it saw. What is interesting here from an Israel-Palestine perspective is that the three leaders and states emerging as problem solvers that America might have some confidence in working with in the Middle East— Erdogan of Turkey, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, and President Morsi of Egypt—all of them are closer to Hamas than Abbas, unequivocal in their criticism of Israeli policies, and none currently has a resident ambassador in Israel”.

Adam Shatz also says in his LRB article that:
“Those who invoke Israel’s right to defend itself are not troubled by this disparity in casualties, because the unspoken corollary is that Palestinians do not have the same right. If they dare to exercise this non-right, they must be taught a lesson. ‘We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza,’ Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post. ‘Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.’ Israel shouldn’t worry about innocent civilians in Gaza, he said, because there are no innocent civilians in Gaza: ‘They elected Hamas … they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.’ Such language would be shocking were it not so familiar: in Israel the rhetoric of righteous victimhood has merged with the belligerent rhetoric – and the racism – of the conqueror. Sharon’s Tarzan allusion is merely a variation on Barak’s description of Israel as a villa in the jungle; his invocation of nuclear war reminds us that in 2008, the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai proposed ‘a bigger holocaust’ if Gaza continued to resist”.

Daniel Levy: “Hamas is able to be many things including pragmatic and patient; it does, though, remain the Islamic Resistance Movement. It is not about to start sending its fighters on American-run and -financed training courses in Jordan. When its balance of interests calculation reads ‘pursue armed struggle’, it will do so. And it will continue to attempt to build a capacity to do so, including targeting innocent civilians in violation of international law, as it did all week … The narrative is shifting in ways Israel would be wise to pay attention to. In an increasingly and sadly sectarian Middle East, armed resistance is no longer the exclusive purview of what is perceived as an Iranian Shiite-led axis. We have now witnessed armed insurgencies that are backed by mainstream Sunni Arab states and their Western allies, notably in Libya and Syria. That Hamas is repositioning from a more Iranian axis orbit to a more Sunni axis orbit (Qatar, Turkey and Egypt) reflects this trend. Not to exaggerate or suggest this is around the corner, but more explicit support for the armed component of the Hamas struggle will become more difficult to obfuscate around and untimely deny”.

Adam Shatz: “The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever … In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ‘Egypt is different from yesterday,’ Morsi warned Israel on the first day of the war. ‘We assure them that the price will be high for continued aggression.’ He underscored this point by sending his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza the following day. While refraining from incendiary rhetoric, Morsi made it plain that Israel could not depend on Egyptian support for its attack on Gaza, as it had when Mubarak was in power, and would only have itself to blame if the peace treaty were jeopardised. After all, he has to answer to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organisation, and to the Egyptian people, who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. The Obama administration, keen to preserve relations with Egypt, got the message, and so apparently did Israel. Morsi proved that he could negotiate with Israel without ‘selling out the resistance’, in Meshaal’s words. Internationally, it was his finest hour, though Egyptians may remember it as the prelude to his move a day after the ceasefire to award himself far-reaching executive powers that place him above any law. That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position”.

Daniel Levy in The Daily Beast: “Morsi was able to manage the U.S. relationship, the Hamas relationship and to have his security officials broker an arrangement with Israeli counterparts while at the same time expressing unequivocal and distinctly un-Mubarak support for the Palestinian cause, and opposition to Israeli policies, recalling his ambassador from Israel and dispatching his own Prime Minister to appear with Gazan Prime Minster Haniyeh in a show of solidarity with a Gaza from where rockets were being launched at Israel … The past week also represented Egypt’s return to the regional stage as a significant and, in this crisis, even decisive player. Especially in the latter Mubarak years, the absence of Egyptian political-diplomatic weight—caused by Egypt being so deep in the U.S.-Israel camp—created a rather gaping regional vacuum … Efforts to resolve the crisis took place during a pre-scheduled bilateral visit by Erdogan to Cairo, which signified the further strengthening of Egyptian-Turkish ties…Both Erdo?an and Morsi can be pragmatic but they cannot be expected to do Israel and America’s bidding when it comes to the continued denial of the dignity and freedom of Palestinians under occupation, itself a source of humiliation in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and central to their individual and movement narratives”.

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