[Overseas view]Losing the political war

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[Overseas view]Losing the political war

‘Since 1948 and up to now, Israel has followed a security doctrine in which military efficiency takes the opposite direction of the political aim. If Israelis increase their military security, they diminish their chance of political recognition.”

This was not written recently but in 1976 by the influential French intellectual Raymond Aron in a book on strategic issues. “Think War: Clausewitz” was dedicated to the Prussian strategist and his intellectual legacy. Aron was not hostile toward Israel. In 1967 he was opposed to the ending of the strategic alliance between the Israeli state and France, decided by General Charles de Gaulle. But 10 years later he was struck by the contradiction between Israeli military power and its political ineffectiveness.

Indeed Israel has always been unable to make peace with Arab states. The same could be said of the present war between Hamas and Israel.

Beside the moral argument over the bombings of Hamas’ infrastructure which inevitably also strike civilian populations living in the tiny territory of Gaza, we must wonder if Israel could reach its goals.

Are the bombings, as officially heralded, supposed to weaken Hamas and to help moderate Palestinians, who with Mahmoud Abbas as their leader, want to negotiate with Tel Aviv?

These goals could be considered legitimate, not only in Israel, but also in almost every European and Arab state. But unfortunately the way their goals are pursued could well backfire and lead to the very opposite result.

With a certain obstinacy, Abbas made the strategic choice to negotiate with Israel - despite not having received any official acknowledgement from Israel since he was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005. And despite the negotiations, no tangible results have been achieved on any touchy subjects: [Jewish] settlers, borders, Jerusalem, building of the wall, checkpoints, refugees and so on. He was unable to show his citizens any improvement in their economic or social plight and offered no better political perspective for the future. Although he is thought of highly by Israelis, Americans and Europeans, his term is notable for the lack of any concrete results for the Palestinians. His failures have helped fuel Hamas, which has constantly advocated against the Oslo agreements.

For sure, Hamas has achieved no better outcomes. Instead of launching rockets on Israeli towns, they should have chosen the path of peaceful protest with massive demonstrations and demolition of the wall.

But even if Hamas has deficiencies and has made mistakes, it is not by bombing Gaza that Israel will make it unpopular. On the contrary, in a period of suffering the more credible and legitimate you are, the harder you resist. The expectation that by bombing the Gaza population the responsibility and blame would be passed to Hamas is an illusion. The victims of the bombings, generally speaking, blame the people conducting the attacks rather than their own leaders, despite their failures.

In the West Bank, the Palestinians side with the Gaza population and thus with Hamas. Fatah appears as an Israeli ally and therefore is weakened. In the whole Arab world those who favored the negotiations and a peaceful solution are on the defensive and are loosing ground against the radicals.

Once again, there is a gap between Israel’s strategic and military goals. To reach its military goal of dismantling Hamas, Israel might increase the civilian death toll and in so doing provoke further anger, opposition and even hatred in the Arab world with which it is supposed to be making peace.

For sure Israel has few reasons to fear European or American sanctions. But nevertheless Israel might be compelled to stop the bombing [it has], under pressure from worldwide public opinion.

For sure the military balance will benefit Israel. No one in the region can defeat the powerful Israeli army, but what would be the political achievement? In the long run, Israel needs to make peace with its neighbors and be accepted by them. This war has led Israel the opposite way.

Israel needs to have Palestinian partners. Fatah has been weakened and Hamas, despite being defeated militarily, will be reinforced politically as Hezbollah was in 2006.

Israel is sure to win every war but the military option is a dead end for long-term political ends.

The writer is director of the Institute for International and Strategic elations in Paris.

by Pascal Boniface

Israeli tanks invade Gaza at the height of last month’s attacks. [AP]
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