DIPLOMACY CANNOT QUELL GAZA VIOLENCE
By Dr. Michael Rubin
It won't work. Knee-jerk diplomacy -- demanding a truce regardless of the cause of the fighting -- does more to accelerate conflict than to resolve it.
The root of the current crisis lies in Hamas policy. Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip in 2005, giving the Palestinian Authority an unprecedented opportunity to govern. Hamas took 76 of 132 seats in the January, 2006, elections -- and, while the group used the poll to claim democratic legitimacy, it eschewed the responsibility of leadership. It had built popularity on violence, and found opposition easier than governance. It did little to improve Palestinian life. Rather than develop industry, it destroyed the multimillion-dollar greenhouses which Israel left behind to help build the Palestinian economy; rather than eliminate corruption, it diverted millions into Hamas coffers.
Here, the United Nations and donor countries have been unintentionally complicit. By subsidizing Palestinian schools, health and welfare, donors removed the accountability upon which good governance depends. Hamas need not make the improvement of Palestinian life a priority when it knows that donors will bail it out. And, because money is fungible, aid furnishes Hamas with resources to expend on arms.
Hamas rocket attacks on Israel have increased in tandem with European and UN assistance. Rocket fire from Gaza into Israel increased more than 500 percent in the year following Hamas' rise to power, and almost doubled again in 2008, as 1,730 rockets and twice as many mortar rounds struck Israel. Diplomats interceded to promote peace, but, during each period of truce, Hamas rearmed with more sophisticated weaponry. In light of the escalating attacks on Israel, the United States is understandably reluctant to demand Israel cease defending itself, especially after urging Israel's initial withdraw from Gaza.
Nor are Iranian hardliners alone in their call for Israel's destruction. While reformist former President Mohammad Khatami spoke of the dialogue of civilizations to Western diplomats, he told Iranian television, "If we abide by the Koran, all of us should mobilize to kill."
Indeed, the Iranian regime has worked consistently to undermine any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Seven years ago this week, the Israeli navy intercepted the Karine-A, a Gaza-bound freighter carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms, supplied during a fragile truce. Four-and-a-half years later, war erupted after Hizballah, an Iranian-sponsored group, attacked Israel. The United States then pressured Israel to accede to a ceasefire, and Iran claimed victory. Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei's top foreign policy advisor, declared that the war had shown Israel to be a "paper tiger."
Palestinians undoubtedly suffer under the Israeli assault. Israeli strikes have killed an estimated 500 people, one-fifth to one-quarter of them civilians. While the civilian deaths are tragic, the low proportion of non-combatant casualties in a densely populated area demonstrates Israel's desire to avoid collateral damage. Unlike Hamas rockets, Israeli strikes are neither aimed at civilians nor designed to terrorize.
Hamas launched rockets for demagogic gain. Governments can pursue war, but, when they do so, they should recognize that opponents fight back. Those who choose war must understand the likely cost of their decision to the economy and their constituents. To exonerate an elected government from accountability undermines the foundation of democracy.
Diplomats mean well, but, to shield protagonists from peril, fuels conflict and condemns the Palestinians to misery, given that a sustainable peace requires that both sides recognize the true cost of war. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat won a Nobel Peace prize for his 1977 landmark visit to Israel and the subsequent 1978 Camp David Accords. He may be remembered as a peacemaker today, but he made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem only after realizing in 1973 the futility of seeking war.
Until the Palestinians and their elected government learn Sadat's lesson, diplomacy is doomed. The road to peace lies not in a ceasefire, but jointly in Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist and in the international community's understanding that Israel's right to live without terrorism and rocket attacks is no different than that of Germany, Japan, or Canada. If Palestinians chose peace and education over war and hatred, Gaza could become a Singapore, Hong Kong, or Dubai. Moral equivalency and mistimed diplomacy only delay such a reckoning, however, and so do far more harm than good.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, January 5, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2042)
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