Real Peace-Making Needed for Gaza

Some Israeli leaders joke about their periodic slaughter of Gazans as “mowing the grass,” a chore that needs regular repeating. Though a ceasefire has stopped the killing for now, real peace-making is needed to stop Israel from bringing out the lawn mower again, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Nick Casey of the Wall Street Journal, reporting from Gaza, noted one indication that the latest announced ceasefire in the war there may actually stick: a salvo of outgoing rockets launched shortly before the starting time for the ceasefire.

Belligerents often try to get in a last lick before a ceasefire they expect to take hold, so that evidently was the expectation of Hamas. This brings back memories of being at Tan Son Nhut airbase near the end of the Vietnam War, when the Viet Cong unleashed a rocket barrage on the base 90 minutes before the ceasefire negotiated between Washington and Hanoi was due to begin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6, 2014, announced the success of Operation Protective Edge, which killed more than 1,800 Gazans. Netanyahu said, "The goal of Operation Protective Edge was and remains to protect Israeli civilians." (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 6, 2014,
announced the success of Operation Protective Edge, which killed more than 1,800 Gazans. Netanyahu said, “The goal of Operation Protective Edge was and remains to protect Israeli civilians.” (Israeli government photo)

Israel’s timing in wrapping up its operation may be part of the natural rhythm of the Israeli lawn mower. Operation Protective Edge has been somewhat larger, but not greatly so, than Israel’s last previous big assault on the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.

Cast Lead went on for 23 days, about a week less than Protective Edge. The number of Palestinians killed in Protective Edge appears to be just short of 1,900, compared to about 1,400 in Cast Lead, with most of the dead being unarmed civilians in both cases, although with perhaps even a larger proportion of them being so in the latest assault.

The biggest difference between the two episodes has been in Israeli military casualties. In Cast Lead ten Israel soldiers died, four of them from friendly fire. In Protective Edge 64 have died; we do not yet know how many of those were from friendly fire. Israeli civilian deaths in the two conflicts were the same: three in each case.

Although there is a basis for near-term optimism that the suffering that already has occurred will not be compounded by additional bloodshed tomorrow or next week, there are grounds for little but pessimism about anything else that is likely to ensue from this tragedy for the foreseeable future.

One could conceive of possible agreements that would involve some kind of monitoring of access to Gaza (to keep out munitions being acquired by Hamas) in return for allowing at least some legitimate imports. Israel has given Hamas almost no incentive, however, to change its positions or to take any risks in making any concessions.

It is hard to imagine Hamas agreeing to something that could be called demilitarization when it and the civilian Palestinian population have just sustained a highly destructive month-long assault, there will be no demilitarization involving the Israeli forces that conducted the assault, and those forces already are getting their depleted stocks of munitions replenished with U.S. help.

Moreover, the principal demands that Hamas has been making, to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip and to release the Palestinians who were incarcerated in mass round-ups in the West Bank last month, would involve Israel living up to commitments it already made in previous agreements and on which it later reneged.

On the Israeli side, we have observed during this war further indications of longer-term trends, toward hard-line militancy, unwavering reliance on force, and hostility toward Palestinian Arabs, that have been in evidence for some time. This has been reflected not only in the strong domestic support the Netanyahu government has had for this war but in dissents, including from those within the ruling right-wing coalition, that argue, with proposals that chill the spine, for even more extreme uses of force.

It would be nice to think, as relief from the pessimism regarding prospects for the months ahead, that the refreshingly and unusually direct criticism by the Obama administration on Sunday of what was then the latest Israeli military attack on civilians had something to do with the ceasefire. It probably did not.

Mark Landler most likely has it right in his front-page article in the New York Times, portraying the Netanyahu government as having the political confidence to swat aside such criticism. Unanimous consent resolutions in Congress speak more loudly than Jen Psaki at the State Department.

The tendency to personalize disputes has led to an overemphasis on how much U.S.-Israeli frictions are an Obama-Netanyahu thing, when in fact there are deeper and more fundamental conflicts of interest between the United States and Israel that will continue, especially as long as an Israeli government with anything like the coloration of the current one remains in power, notwithstanding the political reasons in both countries to try to downplay those differences.

The Israeli government can look past 2016, however, and anticipate that the next time they crank up their lawn mower either a Republican or Hillary Clinton will be in the White House, and they may not have to put up with even the sort of firmer-than-usual criticism they heard this week.

The whole awful cycle of endless lawn mowing can be broken only by addressing the underlying issues of occupation and self-determination. That would mean, among other things, dealing even with the hated Hamas, and as a political player, not just as a firer of rockets. But from the perspective of today, even if things stay quiet in the Gaza Strip, it is hard to see much basis for hope that will happen.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

4 comments for “Real Peace-Making Needed for Gaza

  1. N Dalton
    August 8, 2014 at 21:07

    What every peace loving and morally right-minded person needs to know.

    They all support the massacre in Palestine – just disgusting beyond belief.

  2. August 8, 2014 at 05:53

    Disarming: Gaza or Israel?

    Nasir Khan, August 7, 2014

    Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation; they have been frequent targets of destructive Israeli wars and massacres. If common sense can be our guide in this situation than the solution is to disarm Israel and prosecute its war criminals for war crimes and crimes against humanity in ICC. Disarming Hamas? Hamas has no army, no air force, no missiles, no navy, no naval gunships, no tanks, no anti-aircraft missiles. If Israel has played havoc with the homes and buildings of the Gazans and killed people then the main reason for the Gazan tragedy lies in their inability to defend themselves.

    Ideally, for Gazans to defend themselves against Israel’s military might they need a matching military power and weapons. It is obvious that without this they have no chance to defend themselves and their homes. We have seen this what Israel is capable of doing in the 29-day war on Gaza. The Gazans have been at the mercy of Israeli missiles and powerful bombs that pulverised their homes and other structures. Unless Israel lifts the blockade, ends the occupation and develops a new approach towards the people of Palestine the conflict will not disappear.

    But how can the Gazans under Hamas do that, to defend themselves militarily, remains an open question. The leaders of the ‘New World Order’ especially the United States will not allow that. There is no major country that is ready to give substantive material support to the Palestinians. Therefore the prevailing conditions will remain intact.

    We need to keep in mind that Gaza is beleaguered by Israel from all sides including its air space. It is the largest open-air prison in the world. Now Israel by intentional destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza has made sure that its people would not raise their heads again against the ongoing occupation and blockade for years to come. But if they did at some stage then they would have Israeli war-machine on their heads again. It is as simple as that if we want to understand the Israeli position.

    No doubt, this is an undefendable situation. To my mind the only explanation lies in the fact that it is military might that decides the fate of a subjugated people, not their rights according to international law or humane considerations. Yet the struggle of the Palestinians for their national liberation from the Zionist yoke needs universal support. The public demonstrations in many countries around the world denouncing the Israeli genocide and carnage in Gaza have been positive. They show a growing awareness among the people of the world about the plight of the colonised Palestinians.

    • John J
      August 8, 2014 at 14:01

      The Palestinians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are hemmed in on all sides, “put on a diet”, and if they go to the ICC America and some other Western countries threatened to cut all aid. Israel to some nations, is seen as a necessary fixture in their regional control concept. It has helped Britain and America in many clandestine international activities. In the 50s it abetted Britain in an attempt upset Egyptian nationalism and embarrass Nasser. For America the Irangate Contra scandal. What the West will do as this nation becomes more and more fascist in appearance is troubling, as is the control Zionism seems to have over our democratic functioning.
      Jonathan Cook has just written a piece concerning the West Bank where another Palestinian goat herder has been killed. Their land has been taken over to use as weapon practice areas. Actually its ethnic cleansing so Israel has complete control over the Jordan river, but they don’t tell you that.
      I hope the voices of thoughtful caring Jews at Mondoweiss, and Jewish Voice for Justice motivate other Jews to get thinking about this tragedy. As Alan Hart titles his telling books, “Zionism the Real Enemy of the Jews.”

  3. Zachary Smith
    August 7, 2014 at 20:58

    Good essay here, but I fear Israel is not going to behave decently. The whole place is crazy, and the ‘leadership’ even more so. From a description I found of Netanyahu:

    “He’s always been a hugely arrogant, vain person, the power and prestige have always gone straight to his head – but he’s never had such power and prestige as he has now, and his head is the size of the sun. Obama is nothing to him, America is nothing to him, other people’s opinions are nothing to him. He’s invincible. He will do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.”

    Israel has nukes. Lots of them. It totally owns the US Congress – both houses. The citizens over there preen – they’re God’s Favorite People.

    They’ve just ‘whacked’ Gaza. We’re coming up on Fall, and then Winter. The food situation there has always been critical because Israel has been slowly starving them. Now no water or electricity. This is what they planned to do from the outset. I can see no reason at all why they’ll do any more than a few ‘concessions’ strictly for the Media. And when the camera looks away, of course they’ll renege once again. When you’re God’s Chosen you write the rulebook, not somebody else.

    By the way, it’s still not widely known that Israel recruits people to spam the hell out of forums like this one. It’s their ‘patriotic duty’ to guide the goyem in looking at Israeli behavior in the correct manner. Here are two manuals I’ve located. The first is an older one, and the second is more recent.

    The second and newer one was surprisingly difficult to locate this time – perhaps somebody is busy bollixing the links. If mine has stopped working, google Global Language Dictionary for the 116 page how-to manual.

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