Geopolitical Diary: The Latest Phase of Israeli-Palestinian Fighting
“The Israeli military attacked Hamas-controlled Gaza this weekend. On Friday, Hamas had terminated its unilateral truce with the Israelis. The decision was accompanied by rockets fired into Israel and claims by Hamas that it had longer-range rockets capable of striking even deeper into the country. The Israelis responded with a massive attack that was designed to smash Hamas’ infrastructure, impose heavy penalties on Gaza for Hamas’ decision, and attempt to preempt not only rocket attacks but also a new campaign of suicide bombers. Whether the campaign will achieve Israel’s goals or trigger an escalation from the Hamas side is now the issue. What is not at issue is that a new round of fighting in Gaza had been expected for weeks. Hamas had made it clear that it was going to end the truce, and Israel had made it clear that it would consider the war resumed and respond accordingly. The first question is why Hamas chose to end the truce, opening the door to an Israeli attack. The answer might lie in the fact that Palestinian elections are coming up. While Hamas was a pure opposition party, it was an effective critic of Fatah’s governance. But having been responsible for Gaza for a while, Hamas now bears criticism for the conditions there, and thus the party’s popularity had slipped. Having failed to make significant inroads into the West Bank — where Fatah dominated — and having drawn criticism for its administration in Gaza, Hamas saw its momentum blunted. Hamas was much more effective as a combat party, fighting the Israelis, than as an administrative party dealing with the intractable problem of Gaza. The longer it remained passive toward the Israelis and the longer it remained responsible for Gaza, the less it was likely to appeal to Palestinian voters. Hamas made a strategic decision to re-establish its credentials as the only Palestinian force effectively fighting Israel. In doing so, it also reinforced the perception of Fatah as collaborating with the Israelis (and an Israeli attack is also a mechanism to prompt Palestinians to rally behind Hamas). From Hamas’ point of view — facing a hopeless situation governing Gaza and a showdown with Fatah — ending the truce made sense in the long term, on the premise that a conventional attack by Israel would not decisively break Hamas’ capability. The Israeli response was also, on one level, driven by public opinion. Hamas’ ability to attack Israeli positions with rockets, or potentially to launch another round of suicide bombings in Israeli population centers, was quite real. If it happened, Israeli public opinion not only would create a crisis for any Israeli government, but also would strengthen those forces that felt that any peace process with the Palestinians was impossible. Ehud Olmert, still prime minister pending a new government, saw the Hamas move as an opportunity. Hamas created a situation that had to be dealt with. Waiting for his successor to deal with the problem would bog that successor down in an issue with the international community that would cripple any ongoing diplomacy. Launching a security campaign as a lame-duck prime minister takes the issue off his successor’s plate. In an odd way, this increases the chance of some sort of settlement with the Palestinians, by allowing Olmert to be cast as a villain. If this seems more complicated than it should be, that is not an incorrect impression. Underneath all of this is a core reality: A Palestinian state on the 1948 borders is an impossibility for both Palestinians and Israelis. For the Palestinians, it would mean a state divided physically between Gaza and the West Bank, without an independent economic foundation. It would be a fiasco. For the Israelis, the 1948 borders would allow the Palestinians to rocket Tel Aviv easily, with no guarantee that a Palestinian state would or could put a stop to it. The Palestinians need more than the 1948 borders, and the Israelis can’t even give that. Therefore, the current cycle of violence is simply one of many such cycles that are hardwired into the geography of Israel and Palestine and from which there is no escape. It is almost unnecessary to go through the political reasoning that has led each side to this point, except to explain why it is happening now instead of earlier or later. The politics simply determine the time and shape of conflict. Geography determines that the conflict is intractable.”
Another poignant analysis from the folks over at Stratfor. The last lines are the most important: “The politics simply determine the time and shape of conflict. Geography determines that the conflict is intractable.“
link: Geopolitical Diary: The Latest Phase of Israeli-Palestinian Fighting | Stratfor
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