Nov 20th 2012

Gaza: No Lessons Learned

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

The escalating violence between Israel and Gaza should remind us of old lessons that still need to be learned and new realities to which attention must now be paid.

First and foremost among the old lessons is the fact that the successive waves of violence that have characterized the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have produced nothing but more death and destruction, more suffering and insecurity, and more anger all around. Every attack or assault that was intended to "teach a lesson" or "exact revenge" only laid the predicate for the next attack. And so it has gone for decades. The lesson that should have been learned, and apparently has not been learned, is that just as violence will not end the occupation, neither will violence put an end to the resistance to the occupation.

One can only wonder whether when the Israelis made the decision to assassinate Ahmad al Jabari they were foolish enough to assume that their attack would be the end of it. Having been down this same road before, where assassinations only led to escalation and then full-scale hostilities, one might have hoped that someone in the Israeli high command would have recalled 2008 or 2006 (and so many other tragic, bloody episodes in the past) and cautioned that "no good will come of this". When I heard an Israeli Ambassador tonight saying that "we must finish them off, so we can sit with moderates and talk peace", it became all too clear that no lesson had been learned.

More callous-minded Israeli journalists speculated that the Netanyahu government was itching for a skirmish as a pre-election display of muscle that would sideline the opposition parties just two months before voting. If the Israelis were making such a crass political calculation for short term gain, serious questions must be raised about their leadership. It might be noted, that when Israeli governments made similar calculations in the past they all too frequently lost significant electoral support. If, on the other hand, Netanyahu & Co. were simply trying to teach Hamas & Co. a lesson, then even more serious questions must be raised about their judgment.

The same goes for the Palestinian side. At what point do they learn that revenge is not a political strategy and that aimlessly firing a barrage of missiles into Israel is nothing more than a criminal and stupid act? Criminal, because it can result in the deaths of innocents, and stupid, because it gives the Israelis the pretext to respond with overwhelming and disproportionate force. Since this, too, has played out so many times in the past, one can only wonder why this lesson has never been learned.

There is plenty of speculation in the Arab media regarding Hamas' calculations and its competition with other groups in Gaza. Since they won in national elections more than a half decade ago, Hamas has had to face a choice whether to attempt to govern or to continue to operate as a "resistance" group. For a short while, it appeared that they might have been ready to behave as a responsible authority attempting to control cross border attacks and planning, with Qatari assistance, a massive Gaza reconstruction effort. But that phase was short-lived. After the assassination of al Jabari, Hamas took the Israeli bait and, risking their gains, began behaving as just another one of the groups. No lessons learned.

There is also a lesson in all of this for the rest of the world - namely, that it is unwise to write off Palestine. At least once every decade, pundits and politicos pronounce the Palestinian issue dead, suggesting that the region has moved on and is now focused on "bigger things". This, of course, is the Israelis most fervent wish. Netanyahu spent the better part of four years working to derail Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, seeking to have Iran placed the top of the U.S. agenda. With the help of pressure from a pliant U.S. Congress, he appeared to have been successful. Add to that the "Arab Spring's" upending of the old regional order and the bloody mess that has become of Syria, it seemed that the issue of Palestine had fallen off the table.

The Arab World does have a lot on its plate and the region is unsettled, but as is so often the case, in an instant, Palestine comes roaring back front and center. This too is an old lesson: never assume that what happens in Palestine, will stay in Palestine. For reasons of history and deep culture, when Palestinians are hurt, the Arabs bleed. Palestine, for Arabs, remains "a wound in the heart that has never healed".

It is an old lesson, but with a new twist. In the past, when Israel was having its way with the Palestinians (or with Lebanon, as was the case in 2006, and throughout the 1990's), despite widespread outrage, Arab leaders largely remained on the sidelines. But in the aftermath of the "Arab Spring", Arab public opinion matters. Governments, new and old, have their ears to the ground and are more responsive to their public's unrest. Should Israel seek a replay of 2008/2009 and undertake a massive ground assault into Gaza, the new Egyptian government would be hard-pressed to remain quiet, since its very legitimacy would be at risk. Jordan, facing growing public discontent, would also feel compromised.

Escalating violence would even place the Obama Administration in a bind. Still attempting to recover from the devastating blunders of the Bush years and the setback encountered by its own failed Israeli-Palestinian peace bid, the last thing the Administration needs is to be confronted with a bloodbath in Gaza that enflames the region.

To some extent, Washington had its short-term Middle East agenda set. It appeared ready to attempt renewed engagement with Iran in an effort to reach an agreement on that country's nuclear program. And having successfully worked with regional allies to restructure the Syrian opposition, creating a somewhat more representative body that could receive aid, the U.S. and its partners were prepared to try to hasten the end of that conflict. These plans would be derailed should the clashes in Gaza spin out of control, with the U.S. coming down squarely on Israel's side, alienating Arab public opinion.

Here, too, is an old lesson that needs to be recalled: an Administration is judged not by its success in implementing the agenda it has set for itself, but in how successful it is in dealing with the unexpected.

Since no one will win and everyone will lose, it might be assumed that sanity will prevail, and the current clashes will stop short of full-scale war. But given the record of the participants, that might be hoping for too much. With the Israelis threatening yet another "final" showdown; some Palestinian groups threatening "big surprises" yet to come; and the U.S. Congress giving its unconditional support to Israel, under-cutting the Administration's more cautious support of the right of self-defense while urging restraint on all sides - it appears we may be "off to the races" - with no lessons learned and new realities ignored. God save us from our folly.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "The ideas behind MMT [=Modern monetary theory] were mainly developed in the 1970s, notably by Warren Mosler, an American investment fund manager, who is also credited with doing much to popularise it. However, there are many threads that can be traced further back, for instance to an early 20th-century group called the chartalists, who were interested in explaining why currencies had value. These days, prominent supporters of MMT include L Randall Wray, who teaches regular courses on the theory at Bard college in Hudson, New York state. Another academic, Stephanie Kelton, has gained the ear of politicians such as Bernie Sanders and, more recently, Democrat US presidential candidate Joe Biden, providing theoretical justification for expanding government spending."
Jul 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So we are left with herd immunity and viable treatments as the world’s only realistic near term solution. Sweden has been roundly criticized and shunned by its neighbors for embracing herd immunity at the outset of the pandemic. It has paid a price for having done so based on accelerated infection and death rates. But while the jury will remain out for some time to come about the wisdom of having done so, Sweden may prove to have been ahead of the curve in its approach. Herd immunity is an option that should be seriously considered by the world’s governments, for a safe and effective vaccine could be many years away, and may not be achieved at all. PICTURE: Daniel Wagner.
Jul 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "The war on Yemen begun in 2015 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has been a failure militarily and a vast drain on resources that, in the age of Covid-19, neither country can any longer afford. Not only has the war been Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam, it has inflicted untold human damage on Yemenis. UNICEF has a new report out warning that millions of Yemeni children are on the brink of starvation. Yemen, with a population of about 28 million (think Texas), is one of the poorest countries in the world. Saudi Arabia, with a citizen population of some 21 million, is one of the richest. The United Arab Emirates, with a citizen population of a little over 1 million, is likewise very rich. Both have waged a high-tech air war on the indigenous Yemeni Houthis, but in the past year have pitched their Sunni proxies against one another."
Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."