The following is the concluding installment of this essay by Prof. Robert O. Freedman. Readers are reminded that, as with all pieces posted on the Meretz USA blog, opinions are the writer’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Meretz USA unless specified as such. We will post a different view soon on the situation of Israeli Arabs. – R. Seliger
Israeli -Arab Community’s Loyalty Is Questioned
Yet another impact of the war is a further weakening of the tie of Israeli Arabs, who form 20 percent of Israel’s population, to the Israeli State, and the growing feeling on the part of Israel’s Jewish population that the Israeli Arab community is a “Fifth Column” security risk. In a poll reported in the Israeli newspaper HAARETZ on August 24, 2006, 18 percent of the Israeli Arabs polled stated that they supported Hezbollah, an organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel – despite the fact that Hezbollah rockets were falling on Arab towns and villages as well as on Jewish and mixed-population localities.
At the same time, most Israeli Arab Members of the Knesset were vocal in their support of Hezbollah and saw the war against Hezbollah as “unjust.” This type of political behavior can only strengthen the position of Israeli politicians such as Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Efie Eitam the National Religious Party-National Union bloc who wish to oust as many Arabs as possible.
Palestinians: The Big Losers
While Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated the purpose of his kidnapping operation was to free Palestinian prisoners, as well as Lebanese, such as the terrorist Samir Kuntar who murdered two Israelis, one a four year-old girl, in Nahariyah in 1979, the war worked to the disadvantage of the Palestinian cause. While Palestinian babies are being named Nasrallah and a Palestinian song-writer wrote a song commemorating his “victory”, an objective analysis of the war’s outcome indicates that the Palestinians have lost badly. First, world attention, the Palestinians’ main weapon in their conflict with a militarily superior Israel,was diverted from the struggle in Gaza to the fighting in Lebanon, enabling the IDF to carry out ever more punishing attacks against Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in Gaza and the West Bank without much public scrutiny.
Second, Olmert’s postponement of the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank, and his apparent accompanying unwillingness to take action against the illegal outposts there, is not only a victory for right -wing forces in Israel, it also deprives the Palestinians of the additional land and freedom of movement that would have come with “realignment.” Third, many Palestinians, in my view correctly, feel that Olmert, smarting from his failures in Lebanon, might take out his anger at the Palestinians who don’t have the kind of weaponry Hezbollah possessed to challenge the IDF. Meanwhile, the prospects of international help to the Palestinian Authority remain limited so long as Hamas controls the government,and the growing chaos and lawlessness in Gaza, reflected in the 13-day kidnapping of two Fox News journalists, reveals the growing impotence of the Palestinian government.
Were Chances for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Enhanced?
The Israeli-Hezbollah war appears to have presented Palestinians with a stark choice. Their first option is to form a national unity government with Fatah, accept Israel’s right to exist, return the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and stop firing rockets into Israel. While this would mean a definitive split between the Khalid Mashal wing of Hamas in Damascus, and the Ismail Haniyeh wing in Gaza, such a choice would appear the only way to entice Olmert into peace negotiations, something that would enable him to replace his now abandoned realignment strategy with a new initiative that most assuredly would have the backing of the United States and the European Union.
If Haniyeh either is not strong enough to make such a choice, or chooses not to do so, the prospects for the Palestinians are grim. While they may continue to fire rockets into Israel and hold onto Shalit, there would be increased suffering by the Palestinian people, a continued economic boycott by the U.S. and the EU (if not Russia), and the possible dissolution of the Palestinian Authority that would lead to further chaos in Gaza and the West bank, and a further crack-down by Israel. It will be interesting to see which choice Haniyeh makes.
Israel’s Post-war Strategy
In the weeks and months ahead, there are several things that Israel is likely to do. First is the revamping of military doctrine, involving better tank-infantry coordination and the use of the air force, with bunker-busting bombs, for close-in air support of the tank and infantry forces for the almost inevitable next round with Hezbollah – assuming that the new UN force in South Lebanon is no better at stopping Hezbollah attacks than the old UNIFIL was. Second, there must be a total revamping of Israeli air-raid shelters throughout the country. Third, Syria must be put on notice that the next time there is sustained Hezbollah rocket fire against Israel, Syrian cities, first and foremost Damascus, will be put at risk.
Finally, because there was clear Iranian support for Hezbollah during the war – indeed an Iranian-Syrian- Hezbollah command center was established in Damascus – Israel must consider a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities a growing imperative. Without the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon backing them, Hezbollah and Syria would be politically weakened, enhancing Israel’s deterrence capability. Given the fact that the Bush Administration is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is unlikely to launch such an attack, despite its anti-Iranian rhetoric (something which the Iranian leadership understands and hence has stonewalled Western attempts to stop its nuclear enrichment activities), Israel will have to do the job itself. While an Israeli attack is likely to bring Iranian rocket attacks on Israel in response, and Israel must prepare for them, it is far better for Israel to deal with conventionally armed Iranian rockets than with nuclear-tipped ones – something that appears likely in the near future unless the Iranian nuclear enrichment program is stopped.
Dr. Robert O. Freedman is Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science at Baltimore Hebrew University and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is THE MIDDLE EAST ENTERS THE 21ST CENTURY.