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Gazans' Mass Jailbreak Smashes Illusions

From:  Ray Close
Date: Jan 30, 2008 3:58 PM
Subject: Disappointing, but inevitable, I suppose
To: undisclosed-recipients



We were hoping for CHANGE, weren't we?  But all we get (on this subject, at least) is the same old, same old.  What better proof could there be that Mearscheimer and Walt are absolutely correct?
Why did I expect otherwise?  Where have I been all my life?
Ray

Subj: Gazans' Mass Jailbreak Smashes Illusions
Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 11:20:50 PM
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
To: PORTSIDE@LISTS.PORTSIDE.ORG

Bush's delusions die in Gaza

Subj: Gazans' Mass Jailbreak Smashes Illusions

Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Note:  I have ommitted several paragraphs here to keep this article short and readable, and to draw your attention to the most important passages.

Even the most progressive candidate, Barack Obama, went
out of his way to take Israel's side. In a letter to
U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Obama urged the United
States not to allow a resolution condemning Israel's
illegal collective punishment of the Palestinians to
pass unless it also acknowledged Palestinian rocket
attacks, which Israel's latest closure was a response
to. "Israel is forced to do this," Obama wrote.

Obama's objection to the resolution as one-sided was
legitimate -- up to a point. Of course the Palestinian
rocket attacks that have killed 18 Israelis in four
years are morally indefensible. But as usual with
American pronouncements about anything involving the
Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Obama's letter completely
failed to address the context of those attacks,
including the harsh Israeli military actions (including
extrajudicial executions) in Gaza that have killed more
than 816 Gazans, including 379 noncombatants, since
January 2006. And, of course, it failed to mention the
most crucial fact: Gaza has been under a brutal
occupation for decades.

But even leaving those matters aside, Obama's claim that
Israel was "forced" to impose a total siege on the
population of Gaza to try to end rocket attacks by
Palestinian militants is simply false. Israel was not
"forced" to do that any more than America was "forced"
to invade Iraq. Yes, Israel has the right to defend
itself against the Qassam rocket attacks. But it was not
forced to cut off power, medicine and food to do that.
It chose to impose that siege (with Bush's obvious, if
unspoken, blessing) because it hoped that by punishing
the people of Gaza, they would overthrow their Hamas-led
government.

One need not defend Hamas to recognize that "sending a
message" by punishing the people who live under its rule
is a textbook case of collective punishment, which is
illegal under international law. Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert not only confirmed that this is Israel's
policy, but unabashedly revealed its purely retributive
nature. "We won't allow a situation in which people in
Sderot walk around in fear day and night, while Gazans
lead a completely normal life," Olmert told members of
his ruling Kadima party. "We won't allow for a
humanitarian crisis, but have no intention of making
their lives easier. And the harder their lives,
excluding humanitarian damage, we will not allow them to
lead a pleasant life. As far as I am concerned, all of
Gaza's residents can walk and have no fuel for their
cars, as they live under a murderous regime."

Forget Olmert's pious cant about "not allowing for a
humanitarian crisis." The truth is that Gaza has been in
such a crisis for years, as Israeli journalist Amira
Hass documented in her 1999 book "Drinking the Sea at
Gaza." The furor over Israel's latest blockade obscures
the fact that Israel has long used collective punishment
as a tactic in Gaza. As Hass shows, Israeli policies
during the Oslo years had the effect of slowly
strangling Gaza. Israel had complete control over the
Gaza economy. Gazans couldn't work or visit sick
relatives without Israeli permission. Israel could make
life in Gaza better or worse with the flick of a pen.
And most damningly, Hass shows that contrary to Israeli
claims, Israel's stifling closures (the Strip was
completely sealed 18 times between 1994 and 1996, for
example) were not carried out solely because of security
concerns, but for various strategic reasons.

Since Hamas took over, and the West decided to try to
bludgeon it into submission, the crisis has gotten even
worse. In effect, the slow strangulation simply became
faster. It's like a macabre social science experiment
sanctioned by the civilized West, a clinical study of
whether you can get people to do what you want by
depriving them of necessities. Rocket attacks? Turn the
thermostat down to 48 degrees. More attacks? Let raw
sewage flow in the streets. Still more? Cut power to the
hospitals.

By punishing all Gazans for the indefensible actions of
a few, Israel and its ally America are validating the
argument used by the militant Palestinians who insist
that all Israelis are fair targets because they all
serve in the Israeli army, or the jihadists who insist
that all Americans are fair targets because they vote
and are therefore responsible for their government's
actions. One of the ironies of the situation is that in
Israel these policies are openly criticized, as in this
Haaretz column by Bradley Burston; in America, these
points are almost never raised.

If it were just a matter of morality, we could ignore
the agony of Gaza. After all, we countenance immoral
actions all over the world. But this isn't a matter only
of morality, but of national security. For we are seen
by the Arab-Muslim world as Israel's co-jailers -- and
ultimately, we are. We support and pay for Israel's
occupation. If we were to demand that that occupation
stop, sooner or later Israel would be forced to comply.
The people in the region know this, and they are deeply
angry and frustrated, and as a result some of them are
driven to fight us. There is no troop surge big enough
to defeat the jihadis and anti-American militants our
Middle East policies are breeding.

The Gaza jailbreak represents the end of Bush's
delusional attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian
peace. Annapolis is now dead, killed before it even
started. The fatal flaw of Bush's approach was that it
assumed that dividing the Palestinians would lead to
peace, when just the opposite is true. Bush and Olmert
planned to squeeze Gaza until Hamas collapsed, while
simultaneously pumping up Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian
Authority. They reasoned that by getting rid of the
extremists in Hamas, they would smooth the way to make a
deal with the moderates in Fatah.

But this approach was doomed for two reasons. First,
Olmert is unwilling or incapable of taking the steps
required to strengthen Abbas -- certainly not fast
enough to make his Fatah party a viable alternative to
Hamas in Palestinian eyes. (The announcement on Jan. 24
that Israel is freezing all settlement growth was a
positive development, but too little, too late.) And
Bush, "the greatest friend Israel has ever had," is not
about to put the pressure on Olmert that alone could
force his hand. Second, Hamas is not going away.
Collectively punishing the people of Gaza, far from
causing them to rise up and throw out Hamas, as Bush and
Olmert fantasized, only further radicalized them.
American and Israeli intransigence and ineptitude have
only succeeded in strengthening the hard-liners and
weakening the moderates.

By destroying the wall, Hamas instantly gained enormous
prestige among Palestinians -- and proved that it cannot
be excluded from political discussions. And, perhaps
most significantly, it also opened what could be an
entirely new economic and political frontier with Egypt.

For his part, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in an
extremely delicate position. He also bears
responsibility for the plight of the Gazans, as a paid-
off collaborator in the U.S.-Israeli policy. But Mubarak
is also hostile toward and afraid of empowering the
Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, of which Hamas is an
offshoot. He allowed the Palestinians to burst through
into Egypt only when Arab and Muslim anger over his
collaboration with the United States and Israel became
too great to resist. But now that the precedent has been
set, it will be extremely difficult for Mubarak to
return to the status quo ante.

Egypt is moving to reclose the border and has closed
shops to discourage Palestinians. But if Mubarak closes
the wall and Israel imposes another blockade, or invades
the Strip, and he refuses to open it again, he will be
perceived as a traitor and collaborator -- possibly
threatening his regime. Mubarak will try to work out
some compromise that will absolve him of full
responsibility for Gaza but will keep the border porous
enough to serve as a safety valve from the Gaza pressure
cooker. Of course, any such safety valve strengthens
Hamas.

The Rafah breakout shows the limits of Washington's
policy of trying to cajole and bully "moderate" Arab
regimes into doing our bidding. Right-wing commentators
are fond of disparaging the "Arab street," but people
power, it turns out, can still make a decisive
difference in the Middle East. When popular outrage gets
too great, even bought-and-paid-for despots like Mubarak
have to yield to it. The situation closely parallels
what happened during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, when
Israel tried to bomb the Lebanese into overthrowing
Hezbollah. The moderate Sunni regimes initially
condemned Hezbollah but were forced by public outrage to
reverse course, just as Mubarak was.

In the end, the road to peace remains the same. The
United States and Israel need to accept Hamas' offer of
a cease-fire. Then they need to bite the bullet and
accept that even though Hamas refuses to recognize
Israel and renounce terror, it is a rational actor and
can be persuaded to accept a two-state deal so long as
the final goal of a viable Palestinian state, as
described in the Arab League plan, is clearly on the
table. And they need to bring Fatah and Hamas back
together and negotiate final-status issues -- Jerusalem,
security, borders, refugees -- with both at the same
time. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley argued recently
in the Washington Post, so long as each of the three
players in what they call the "Middle East triangle"
regards a gain by either of the other two as their loss,
no progress is possible. But if each of the three
players can be made to understand that a gain for one is
a gain for them all, then a deal could be possible.

The recent Gaza jailbreak showed that a deal is urgently
necessary. The pot just boiled over. It hasn't exploded
yet, but if it does, it won't just be the Palestinians
and Israelis who get burned.

-- By Gary Kamiya
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