Gerald Giam / Senior Writer
Israeli blogger and former army reserve “AronT”, who blogs at Aron’s Israeli Peace Weblog, claimed that Israelis have long been indoctrinated by three political/military laws which dictate their dealings with Palestinians.
The first is one is: If force doesn’t work, apply more force.
The second law that most Israelis blindly accept is that “in a tough neighborhood, you have to be the toughest, whatever the cost.” This is used to justify any “disproportionate response” to Palestinian attacks.
Finally Aron’s third Israeli political law is: Arab leaders are intractable terrorists out to destroy Israel, so there is no one on the other side to talk to.
Aron’s full explanation of his three laws is at this blogpost.
Looking at the situation in Gaza right now, it is hard not to be convinced that these three laws are at play.
Let’s have a quick situation report at the time of writing:
Following the end of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Palestinian faction Hamas and Israel in December, Hamas resumed short range rocket attacks on Israeli towns bordering Gaza. This prompted Israel to launch its most blistering and sustained attack on Gaza since the 1967 Six Day War. As it stands now, there are about 470 Palestinians killed and over 2,000 injured. The UN says that about a quarter of the dead Palestinians are civilians. Four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has just launched a ground offensive into Gaza, with infantry, artillery, engineering and intelligence forces now inside the territory.
On the diplomatic front, the United Nations Security Council has failed to agree on a statement condemning the Israeli attacks because the US has blocked it, claiming it is unbalanced. The US, Israel’s staunchest ally, is the lone major power in the world overtly supporting Israeli attacks, saying that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that a one-way ceasefire that leads to rocket attacks from Hamas is not acceptable.
Meanwhile, the President of the UN General Assembly, who represents all 192 member nations, has called Israeli actions a “monstrosity”.
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the Israeli ground operations “an extremely disturbing development” and said “it can only exacerbate the already grave humanitarian situation”.
Reactions from some Singaporeans
While Singaporeans have understandably not taken to the streets to protest, unlike in other major cities like Sydney, New York and Jakarta, I asked two Singaporeans for their views on the current situation. (Note: These are their personal opinions. I make no claims that they are representative of all Singaporeans.)
On whether Israel’s current response is appropriate, lecturer Dr Syed Alwi questioned whether this attack by Israel is aimed at defending itself or for Israeli public consumption prior to elections.
NUS law student Cynthia Tang had this view:
The ferocity of Israel’s response to Hamas in the Gaza Strip must be understood within the conundrum of Israeli domestic politics. Israel’s general elections will be held on 10 February, where the prospect of a return to power of hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party is not low. Hence, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (from the more moderate Kadima Party who had advocated land for peace) feels the pressure to harden his position on Hamas. There was initially a wave of Israeli sentiments towards land for peace (when Ariel Sharon was prime minister and first pushed for it), however the tide on the ground has changed since Olmert took over and failed to deliver the security benefits which would presumably materialise under the land concession and his government’s weak response in the second Lebanon war (in 2006), where the overwhelming deterrence once enjoyed by the almost invincible Israeli military was severely dented.
Israel’s response has worsened the situation in Gaza as, in addition to the attacks, they have, more damagingly, locked down the Gaza crossings which have completely crippled the Palestinian economy. Such actions only serve to back Hamas and the Palestinian people into a corner, and make an agreement for a ceasefire difficult.
US support for Israel
On the one-sided US support for Israel, Ms Tang was of the view that the “US has to support Israel due to its domestic politics. Outside of the Jewish lobby in Washington, the general public opinion in the USA is still very much for Israel.”
She quoted an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, which stated that “widespread gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) support for Israel is one of the most potent political forces in the U.S foreign policy”. She opined that incoming President Barack Obama will be no exception.
Dr Alwi felt that the US’ response has added to its credibility problem in the Muslim world.
I am personally disappointed at Mr Obama’s silence on this matter. He has stated that he does not want to undermine the outgoing administration’s position. However, I believe it is a cop-out to avoid confronting a political hot potato. I’m sure he knows what is right, but is afraid to say it for fear of losing political capital with conservatives and the Jewish lobby.
In fact, I agree with some analysts that Israel has decided to seize the chance to attack Hamas now before January 20, when Mr Obama — who is much more fair minded on the Israeli-Palestinian issue — takes over as President.
Negotiating with Hamas?
Israel has categorically stated that it will not sit at the negotiating table with Hamas, which it brands a terrorist organisation.
Dr Alwi pointed out:
The problem with the word “terrorist”, is that one man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom-fighter. But I do agree that Hamas used to target civilians and this works against her image. Yes, I think Israel has to sit at the negotiating table because just about every other Arab Muslim group has had “terror” in its repertoire. If you do not deal with Hamas then who are you going to deal with? Once again is this because of altruistic moral reasons or is this refusal to deal with Hamas just for the consumption of the Israeli conservative lobby?
Hamas is a poor Muslim response to an organised militant Israel. You are not dealing with sophisticated ideas here. Its a raw response that plays on the Arab Muslim aspirations. Part demagoguery and part Rambo — but mostly poverty! These are people who feed on a sense of hopelessness, American double standards and Islamic rhetoric. I do not like Hamas, but then, the rest are no better.
Ms Tang added:
I have no doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organisation today. At present, the organisation routinely and systematically perpetrates acts of terror against Israel and had vowed itself against the very existence of Israel. However, that does not mean that there is no room for Hamas to gain legitimacy down the road as a political entity.
When Fatah was first founded and led by Yasser Arafat and other members of the Palestinian Diaspora in the 1960s and 1970s, it was one of the chief terrorist groups conducting terrorist attacks against Israel and also provided training to other Islamic militant groups. However, it gained legitimacy in 1993 when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) renounced terrorism and signed an agreement of mutual recognition with Israel. This is not to say the Fatah re-entered into the mainstream out of the goodness of their heart, but because all political entities are pragmatic and will do the necessary to stay in power. In this case, Fatah did so to become the de facto government in the Palestinian Territories. If Fatah, the original armed nationalist group, could gain legitimacy and re-enter into the mainstream along the way, who is to say that Hamas can’t or will not? Hence, are they a terrorist group now? Yes. But it is an unknown if they will continue to be a terrorist group indefinitely. The key question is how do we incentivise Hamas to see it in their interest to enter into the mainstream, quite akin to Gaddafi’s Libya.
I agree that eventually Israel will need to negotiate with Hamas if it is to find a political solution, as distasteful as it might seem to them. The reality is that Hamas won the popular vote of the Palestinians (partly due to a fatal miscalculation by the US and Fatah).
And not just the PLO, but other political movements which started out with violence took the peaceful, responsible path after coming to power. South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) is another example (although the violence committed by the ANC pales in comparison with that committed by the PLO and Hamas).
It should be pointed out that Hamas, along with all other Arab countries, actually supported the Arab Peace Initiative proposed in 2002 by Saudi Arabia. The Arab Peace Initiative, among other things, considers the Arab-Israeli conflict ended and establishes normal relations with Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967.
This is not to defend Hamas, which has, like the IDF, committed dastardly deeds against civilians. But one thing is for sure: Continued eye-for-an-eye violence is not going to bring peace — at least not in this conflict.
Picture from the BBC.