A prolonged attack of the magnitude of Israel’s current offensive into Gaza invites the same disappointments and political losses for Israel that occurred when Israel went after Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Also, it invites an unabated hatred from the Arab world toward Israel, as recently described by Benny Morris in the NY Times. But the notion that this hatred exists as a permanent reality is an expression of fear and exasperation.
Egypt’s government is basically on Israel’s side and Mahmoud Abbas has denounced Hamas for not extending the cease-fire the other week. We also know that the Arab League has had a two-state solution proposal on the table since 2002; this requires clarification on refugees and exact borders, but Israel needs to explore it as a way of getting out of this endless sinkhole of conflict. Hopefully, the Obama administration will be working with Israel and the Saudis to work out the details.
It should be remembered that in Yitzhak Rabin’s inaugural Knesset speech as prime minister in 1992, he implored Israelis not to see the whole world as being “against us.” M. J. Rosenberg’s most recent Friday column, from his Washington, DC perch at the Israel Policy Forum, takes on Prof. Morris as follows:
Following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s decision to recognize both the PLO and the Palestinians’ right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.
The Arab boycott ended. Foreign investment soared. Israel’s isolation appeared to be over. The most graphic demonstration of Israel’s changed international standing occurred at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995, which rivaled President Kennedy’s in terms of international representation.
Leaders from virtually every nation on earth came to pay homage to Rabin. From President Clinton and Prince Charles to President Hosni Mubarak, King Hussein, and the leaders of every country in Europe, most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasir Arafat wept at Leah Rabin’s apartment in Tel Aviv.
The world mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration—as was the opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states—that Israel was not being isolated because it is a Jewish state, but because of its conflict with the Palestinians.
Once Rabin moved to end the conflict, he ended Israel’s isolation as well. (If the problem was undying Jew-hatred, Rabin’s opening to the Palestinians would not have affected Israel’s standing).
We need to remember this as the hard-liners insist that anti-Israel sentiment is unconnected with anything Israel does. That is simply not true. Even Ariel Sharon, hated more than any Israeli by most Arabs and Muslims, saw his image transformed overnight when he moved to relinquish Gaza. He actually received an ovation at the United Nations, leaving the old man in shock.
But that was then, this is now. I agree with Morris who seems to believe that, at this rate, Israel’s days may be numbered.
So the questions have to be asked. Does the Gaza war improve Israel’s long-term (or even short-term) situation? Might it not have been better to induce Hamas to stop the shelling by ending the blockade Israel imposed back when Hamas won the Palestinian election?
Was it right to insist that Hamas accept Israel in advance of negotiations rather than simply push for a total and absolute cessation of violence and blockade, followed by negotiations? Could Israel realistically expect the cease-fire to hold while Gaza remained under siege, rife with hunger, illness, and joblessness? And freezing cold. (Even during the cease-fire, Israel was turning on Gaza’s heat and electricity only a few hours a day).
Again, I am not questioning Israel’s right to respond. But that is the wrong question. The right question to ask is why it came to this. And to ask ourselves if supporting the continuation of this war—rather than an immediate cease-fire—will do Israel more harm than good.