I happened to be sitting at a dinner table next to Meretz party chair Yossi Beilin, about three weeks ago (this is part of the fun of attending the Zionist Congress and the World Union meeting just prior). I suggested that he’s probably glad now that Meretz is not part of the new government coalition (he concurred). I also asked him if he had ever thought that Olmert would turn out to be this bad; he admitted that he had not, that he was quite surprised. (This conversation was before Corporal Shalit was taken prisoner, and the crisis deepened — perhaps even as I was on my flight home.)
Meretz is very much opposed to the Israeli habit of rushing to use force, and when that doesn’t work, to use more force. I’m sure that the party faithful would love to see a deal in which Shalit is returned unharmed, some Palestinian prisoners are released, and the PA — meaning both the Hamas government and Pres. Abbas — pledge to end the rocket attacks on Israeli territory and to reenact the shattered truce. On July 5, Beilin’s article appeared in Haaretz in which he regrets the fact that the US has not played a role to mediate between the parties and broker a deal.
Both Israel and the Palestinians are displaying their customary flaws: Israel is acting with excessive force and the Palestinians have again missed an opportunity — totally failing to build something positive in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the political defeat of Likud and the pro-settler movement. They’ve been rocketing Israeli territory from Gaza for the entire ten months and more since Gaza was evacuated. Sderot, a town of 30,000 in the Negev, has been terrorized by these attacks — deaths and injuries have been few, but schools were closed there and plans were being discussed to evacuate the town. Longer range rockets have now hit inside of Ashkelon, a city of 120,000. Israel’s incursion has clearly not worked, but these new rocket attacks make it possible that Israel will escalate further in response. It’s hard to see a happy ending.
Meretz USA board member and professor of Middle East affairs, Robert O. Freedman, provides a somewhat contrary view in this week’s Baltimore Jewish Times. I disagree with my colleague’s defense of Israel’s use of “disproportionate” force in dealing with the current situation, but I heartily agree that “had Mr. Shalit not been kidnapped, and had the rockets not been fired into Israel, there would be no Israeli military action.”
Sunday’s NY Times included a news article by Greg Myre, which illustrated the irrationality of Palestinian popular opinion in dealing with Israel. As the article’s title indicates (“Rockets Create a ‘Balance of Fear’ With Israel, Gaza Residents Say”), they support the rocket launchings and mortar firing as legitimate resistance, even though they know that such actions invite Israel to make their lives miserable and unsafe. The article also refers to the futility of Israel’s current campaign as the reporter writes of a grove in northern Gaza where local Palestinians had previously protested against firing on Israel for fear of the consequences, but have since reversed their opposition in response to Israel’s current “escalation.”