Friday, October 21, 2011

Dying of Shmaltz

While uneasy about the asymmetry of the Shalit deal between Israel and Hamas--a thousand Palestinian prisoners ( invariably described in Israel as “terrorists”) for one Israeli--the Israeli and the American Jewish media are also full of hymns of self-praise for us wonderful Jews: the “price” we paid was “a moral victory for Israel,” demonstrates our adherence to “profound Jewish values” such as “the pride in the value we place on every single human life,” is “a sign of humanity” that is “sadly absent in large parts of the world, especially in this region,” and the like. The implication is unmistakable: we are different from them, the parents of the 1000 Palestinians, and the nation they represent, either did not grieve or had no right to grieve over their “children” in Israeli prisons, nor rejoice over their release.

The blatant racism and infuriating claims of moral superiority aside, there are indeed significant differences between the Israeli and Palestinian prisoner situations. While some of the Palestinian prisoners were truly terrorists seeking the unjust cause of the destruction of Israel, surely many others were essentially soldiers in a just cause, national liberation and the creation of an independent state in a small part of Palestine. On the other hand, Shalit was a soldier of a nation whose real cause (continuing the de facto occupation of the Palestinians and Jewish expansion into what remains of their territory) is unjust and whose “profound Jewish values” and “adherence to the dignity of all human lives” does not prevent it—stop me when you think I’m misstating the facts—from occupying, killing, repressing, imprisoning, blockading, and deliberately inflicting deep economic as well as psychological pain on another people.

Who are these people, anyway? Never mind our supposed Jewish moral values, how about our celebrated commitment to reason? Or even self-preservation? Are they quite mad?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Query

A follow-up to my commentary on the meaning of the Shalit deal.  Today's NY Times editorial on the matter asks: "If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas [which does bad things]...why won't he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority...?"

So, my question is this: Is the Times cynically disingenuous on nearly all Israeli matters, or is it merely terminally stupid?

The Real Meaning of the Shalit/Hamas Prisoner Exchange Agreement

On September 27, Israel announced plans to build 2600 new homes in East Jerusalem; an October 18th Haaretz editorial noted that “the creation of the new Jewish neighborhood will reduce the likelihood of reaching a peace agreement over Jerusalem.” The ongoing Jewish expansion into formerly Palestinian neighborhoods, not only within the pre-1967 boundaries of Jerusalem but beyond them as well, will “complete the ring that will cut off East Jerusalem completely from the southern West Bank,” Haaretz noted.

Two days ago a Hamas leader reported that an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza was a central component of the Shalit/Palestinian prisoners agreement; Haaretz reports that Israeli officials have essentially confirmed the Hamas report and that the Shalit agreement “marks a turning point in relations between Israel and Hamas.”

Almost certainly, these two recent developments are connected: taken together, they make the overall Israeli strategy unmistakably clear: to separate the West Bank from Gaza and to make a two-state settlement even more impossible. Unlike in the West Bank, Israel no longer has territorial, nationalist, or religious claims in Gaza; consequently, since its 2005 withdrawal of the Jewish settlements, Israel’s only interest in Gaza is that it not be attacked from there—regardless of who rules it.

Indeed, the return of hundreds of Hamas prisoners and the gradual ending of the Israeli economic siege of Gaza will assuredly strengthen Hamas’s control of Gaza and should be regarded as essentially a reward for the organization’s willingness to continue the de facto ceasefire with Israel—regardless of its policies and actions in the West Bank--that has been in effect since the end of the Israeli attack on Gaza in January 2009.

At the same time, the deal with Hamas has had the effect--in all probability the intended effect-- of marginalizing and humiliating Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, and other Palestinian moderates in the West Bank. Current international pressures (feeble as they are) focus only on an Israeli willingness to seriously negotiate a settlement with the Abbas government, but not Hamas: hence, it is likely that the logic of the Netanyahu government is that the weaker the PA in the West Bank, the stronger Hamas in Gaza, the less likely a two state settlement and the freer hand Israel has in the West Bank.

It is not the first time in Israeli history that it has actually preferred dealing with Hamas than with Palestinian moderates, precisely because the pressures on Israel to grant Palestinian independence in a viable state are far greater when it must negotiate a true compromise settlement with moderates, as opposed to reaching partial, unofficial, and reversible de facto agreements with Islamic radicals. The Shalit deal and the apparently impending end of the economic siege of Gaza, then, reflects a larger Hamas-Israeli agreement, tacit or negotiated: you leave us alone in Gaza, we leave you alone, not only in Israel proper, but in the West Bank as well.

The likely future is revealing itself: no Palestinian state, and certainly no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem: just two “entities,” the one in essentially disconnected and probably smaller and smaller Bantustans dominated and controlled by Israel, the other in a tiny sliver of land of no interest to Israel. If anything, irony of ironies, Hamas-controlled Gaza may well end up being freer of Israeli pressures, military incursions, and economic control than the West Bank under the most moderate and responsible Palestinian leadership in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.