Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Israel Hamas: Round X

The renewal of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the bosses of the largely ungoverned Gaza territory, adds to the difficulty of a complex, intractable situation.  Israel has put up with indiscriminate Hamas-sponsored rocket attacks on their homeland for too long. President Obama has tried to respond constructively--in particular, he has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to try to seek a cease-fire.  Obama is probably grateful to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for holding off until the election was over. 

As for Netanyahu, no doubt the offensive will provide a little extra boost to his party's performance in upcoming Likud elections, though he already seemed to be headed for re-election. The Israeli military has had a good amount of time to prepare a set of targets for a limited campaign of shock and awe; there is no need to go forward with the actual threatened ground invasion, which would be counterproductive.

It is beyond the Israelis' power to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, much as they would like to do that.  Hamas has deep roots in the suffering populace, and the more Israel demonizes them, the more the people will support them.  The real danger to Hamas was continuation of the peace under the unfavorable conditions that prevail there, because it makes clear the limitations of their self-governance under the current scheme.

There are many other players with a stake in this game, though.  The Israel-Hamas confrontation marginalizes the Al Fatah leadership which controls the West Bank, at least for the time being.  Their big production, arranging for the U.N. General Assembly to recognize them as the representatives of a sovereign state, will not have the desired effect--focusing the world's attention on their bid for statehood--when their rivals are in active resistance against the Israelis.  Egypt's new President Morsi has to back Hamas, which like his own party is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, by providing them humanitarian aid, at the least, but he must also strive for peace or lose the backing of the US, which provides billions of aid annually and has no doubt put continuation of that aid at stake on his cooperation.

The new regional powerhouse, Turkey, also has the capability to become involved, as they have relations with both parties.  The Turks seem to have a role in all of the Mideast's issues, and they would no doubt like the world's attention to move from Israel-Hamas back to addressing the problems of Syria, as the civil war there affects Turkey much more directly.

I am optimistic that all this mess will lead somewhere, which is more than can be said for the stale impasse of the last couple of years.  The US will need to find a new emissary:  Secretary Clinton wants out and looks tired.  Israel actually has a potential Palestinian party with which it could negotiate in the current Al Fatah leadership, though it has been reluctant to engage (the Israelis say, "we have been willing to negotiate without preconditions", but don't seem to have actually made any effort to do so).  I feel that Hamas may agree to allow Egypt to represent them in direct negotiations with Al Fatah, and then with Israel.  Bad as this current situation is, it at least broke up the stasis of the last couple of years.

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