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John Wight

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Israel Can No Longer Continue in the Old Way

Posted: 22/11/2012 13:07

The ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas, bringing hostilities to an end after eight days, is being treated as a victory by both the Netanyahu government and Hamas in Gaza. The difference between both is that while there have been no celebrations taking place on the streets of Israel over the cessation of hostilities, there have been in Gaza. There, people have come out in a manner reminiscent of London at the end of the Second World War, even though much of the euphoria being expressed will be fuelled by relief that the bombing is over as much as any sense of victory.

The claim of victory by Hamas is more credible than Netanyahu's and Israel's, though with the price paid in blood, much of it innocent, perhaps the word victory should be deployed advisedly.

No matter, the inability of the Israel to deliver Hamas and the resistance in Gaza in general a definitive knockout blow after eight days of intensive bombing and missile strikes has again exposed the limitations of Israel's much vaunted military deterrence. Too, the fact that sirens were heard in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time in a conflict with the Palestinian resistance is a massive psychological game changer, both for the Palestinians and Israeli society. Netanyahu's military gamble has failed. He cannot claim outright victory and without it the political capital he'd hoped. As such, it will be interesting to see the political fall out that occurs within Israel over the next few days and weeks.

On a wider level, Israel increasingly appears a giant with feet of clay. The improved ability of the Palestinians to resist and resist longer, thus forcing the Israelis to resort to more extreme and disproportionate force, with its concomitant impact in civilian casualties, combines with international pressure to place a constraint on the latitude Israel is allowed when it comes to maintaining the status quo of dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians close to home and regional hegemony overall. The lack of a land invasion of Gaza as the culmination of Operation Pillar of Cloud, unlike Operation Cast Lead four years ago, reflects this new dynamic.

With each outbreak of hostilities involving Israel and the Palestinians - or as in 2006, Hezbollah - it becomes harder for western leaders to provide Israel with the political support and cover it has long been used to.

Whenever Israel lets loose its military machine there is a wave of protests in towns and cities all over the West. Moreover, the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign against Israel grows exponentially around the world, replicating the boycott campaign that helped end South African apartheid in two decades ago. The resulting international pressure has reduced the ability of Israel to continue exercising its overwhelming military might to crush its enemies, this despite the efforts of its considerable PR machine and friends in the West. Perhaps Mark Regev, Israel's answer to Comical Ali, may soon be forced to seek an alternative career. For all Hague, Cameron, and Obama et al. made the usual pro-Israel statements over the past 8 days of this latest conflict, it would be a safe bet to assume, for the reasons of public pressure stated, that the private conversations with Israel's political leadership were not as supportive.

What is often lost when it comes to this conflict - when it isn't being distorted, that is - is its historical context.

For over six decades, since its creation in 1948, Israel has existed in near splendid isolation in a neighbourhood of Arab and Muslim states that resent what they view as the distorting impact it has had on the region's social, economic and geopolitical landscape. The continued suffering of the Palestinians, who've seen their land expropriated, their right to self determination denied, and who've existed under a state of military occupation in the West Bank since 1967 and blockade in Gaza since 2006, has long been a festering sore in the Arab street.

Regardless, when the region was comprised of Arab dictatorships dependent on largesse from the West, Israel could rest easy knowing that when push came to shove its continued hard line towards the Palestinians would not be met with serious opposition - not within a region hopelessly divided and ruled by corrupt regimes more concerned with maintaining good relations with the West than seeking justice for four million of their fellow Arabs in Palestine and millions more refugees.

But this state of affairs is rapidly disintegrating in the wake of an Arab Spring that has swept through the region, ripping up regime after regime as the Arab masses awaken and enter the stage of history in their own right after decades spent politically infantilised.

Turkey, under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now leading calls for Arab unity even though Turkey itself is not an Arab country. But Erdogan's stance is not based on ethnicity but political reality. Formerly a close ally of Israel in the region, Israel's brutal murder of nine Turkish humanitarian activists on the aid ship, Mavi Marmara, in 2010, while it was sailing towards Gaza in international waters, and previous to that Israel's brutal land, sea and air assault on the Gaza Strip in 2009 against a more or less defenceless population, left a previously friendly Turkish government incensed.

In the aftermath of the UN report, which mitigated Israel's use of violence on the Turkish ship and justified its six year long blockade of Gaza, Erdogan said:

"Israel will break away from solitude only when it acts as a reasonable, responsible, serious and normal state. We must work hand in hand with our Palestinian brothers. The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity. It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East."

On its immediate border, Egypt is an even greater source of anguish to Tel Aviv, a consequence of the revolution that succeeded in toppling Mubarak in 2011, preparatory to the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi earlier this year as the nation's first democractically elected president after more than half a century of unbroken dictatorship. Where Mubarak was a safe pair of hands in his pro-US and pro-Israel stance on Hamas and Gaza, Morsi has come to power as an avowed supporter of Hamas and the Palestinian liberation struggle overall.

The visit of the Egyptian prime minister, Hisham Qandil, to Gaza at the height of the conflict marked a seminal shift in Egypt's foreign policy. Significantly, there was no such visit to Gaza or demonstration of solidarity during the conflict by any representative of the now discredited Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas.

Morsi's influence in delivering the ceasefire was central. The guarantees given his government by Hamas over the cessation of rocket attacks and weapons smuggling brought Netanyahu round to agreement. The Israelis understand that peaceful relations with Egypt are critical to its security, especially with the region unstable in the midst of the convulsion unleashed by the Arab Spring and with its priority ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. They are also important to its closest ally the United States.

Whether the present ceasefire lasts, and whether it results in a meaningful longer term peace agreement, is yet to be seen. What is inarguable is that without justice for the Palestinians there will never be peace.

Israel's security will only be guaranteed by ending the occupation, settlements expansion, and its resistance to Palestinian self determination. A policy of war-war must now give way to jaw-jaw.

The game has changed.

 
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