Oct 29th 2014

Delusional Victory Holds The Promise Of Change

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Although the expected resumption of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Cairo was postponed, it will likely take place in the next few weeks as the two sides appear to seek a new and more sustainable ceasefire. Should Israel and Hamas achieve their stated objectives – namely, the complete lifting of the Israeli blockade as well the building of sea and airports as demanded by Hamas, against the total demilitarization of Gaza as demanded by Israel – the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as a whole, will take a dramatically different turn, change the nature of the conflict, and substantially improve the prospect for peace. The question is, will their political circumstances and the reality they face lead to such an outcome?

It should first be noted that while they deny each other’s right to exist, the fact that they are negotiating, albeit indirectly, amounts to a de facto recognition of each other’s reality and certain prerogatives.

Second, contrary to their claims of victory, the last war produced no winners – only losers – and their weaknesses and failures were on full display, forcing them to reassess their plans and objectives for the future.

Israeli intelligence was taken by surprise about how extensive Hamas’ tunnel network was and how they were strategically constructed to attack Israel from the rear. The military assigned untrained, poorly informed, and ill-equipped soldiers to destroy the tunnels.

In fifty days of fighting, the military ran low on munitions and called on the US to come to its rescue while suffering from intense international condemnation for the death of nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians.

Hamas’ ability to rain nearly 4,600 rockets on Israel sent shockwaves throughout the country, forcing thousands of Israelis to flee to shelters while Hamas continued to fire rockets up to the last minute; it was still left with thousands more that Israeli forces could not destroy.

Hamas did not fare any better. It subjected Gaza to destructive Israeli air raids, far surpassing previous fighting that left nearly half the Strip in ruins along with the destruction of tunnels, on which hundreds of millions of dollars were spent.

While Hamas is claiming victory, it emerged more isolated than ever before and remains vulnerable to Israel’s military incursions and at its mercy to ease the blockade.

In an interview with Egyptian television, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said: “I don’t delude myself by saying, ‘It was a victory.’ What victory?… For what did we suffer through those 50 days? We had 2,200 fatalities, 10,000 injured, 40,000 homes and facilities and factories destroyed. Tell me, what did we achieve?”

Notwithstanding what both sides have suffered, under the current circumstances, Israel will not meet Hamas’ demands to lift the blockade and allow it to build a sea and airport. Conversely, Hamas will reject Israel’s demands to demilitarize Gaza and surrender its cache of rockets.

That said, is there any prospect that they can still achieve their goals, and under what circumstances? Hamas knows the futility of provoking Israel and the destruction it would incur, and conversely, Israel knows that Hamas is a reality, a grassroots movement, resilient, can sustain pain and pressure, and is there to stay.

There is a strong likelihood, then, that another ceasefire agreement will be reached that would entail concessions by both sides: Israel would ease the blockade provided that PA security personnel be permitted to monitor the border crossings, and UN observers would ensure that all building materials are used for housing and infrastructure.

Although historically reason has eluded Israelis and Palestinians, I believe that the last war just might have awakened both sides to a new bitter reality. Israelis and Palestinians in the know, with whom I spoke, strongly suggest that to prevent another deadly flare-up, a new and longer-lasting ceasefire agreement must not be an end in and of itself.

Since neither can wish the other away and because the status quo is not sustainable, only an agreement that consists of a number of phases over a period of at least three years with the ultimate objective of demilitarizing Gaza and lifting the blockade would work.

That is, built-in reciprocity would allow for confidence-building, provided that both live up to the commitments they make. For example, by destroying a mutually agreed upon number of rockets, Israel would allow the building of a seaport.

The second phase may entail the destruction of another batch of rockets against allowing freer travel to and from Gaza, etc. Each phase will have to be implemented at specific intervals and monitored by an EU commission, supported by the US, to ensure compliance by both sides.

Indeed, as long as Israel undisputedly does not want to reoccupy the Strip and Hamas does not want to see Gaza in ruins time and again, such an agreement will stand the test of time. It will make the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians more substantive and a peace agreement far more plausible than before.

Egypt’s role as the facilitator now and in the future is extremely important as Cairo has a national interest in preventing another Israeli-Hamas war, and also has concerns over the intensifying terrorist activities in the Sinai. Moreover, Cairo wants to keep Hamas at bay and distance it from Iran and Turkey.

There should be no public disclosure about the full extent of the agreement, as both sides do not wish to reveal how far they have gone in one swoop. Indeed, only what will transpire on the ground and how mutually beneficial it is, is what will matter.

Just as critical is the requirement that both sides stop their acrimonious public narratives in order to prepare their citizens for changing their attitudes toward one another, with historic implications.

It should be remembered that the damage inflicted by Israel in the West Bank during the second Intifada in 2000, which destroyed much of what the PA built since 1993, provided a rude awakening to the PA, which realized that the use of force against Israel is futile and counterproductive.

This lesson was not lost in Israel either, which suffered from 117 suicide bombers that killed more than 1,000 Israelis during the same period. This led to a renunciation of violence by the PA and security cooperation between the two sides.

The last Hamas-Israel war should be no less instructive. Notwithstanding the ideological differences between the secular PLO and the religiously-committed Hamas, the latter will inevitably come to the same conclusion as history has shown even religious convictions will eventually adapt to the unshakable reality and inevitable change.

Both reason and reality point to this direction, which neither Israel nor Hamas can ignore without serious and potentially ominous consequences.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."