Analysis of conflicts and destruction should not be done in the heat of the moment when emotions are high. In wars, everybody loses but to variable degrees. But certain parties can claim achieving certain goals they set for themselves. Taking stock of the attack on Gaza, the players in this game come out differently (Civilians, Hamas, Fatah, the Israeli government, the U.S. etc) and it is worth reflecting.
-The civilian population: As in all modern wars, most of the casualties are civilians. 162 Palestinians and 5 Israelis were killed during the Israeli attack and one Palestinian killed after the ceasefire was declared. This includes 30 Palestinian children. Over 1000 Palestinians were injured and many will have to live with life-long injuries. The damage in Gaza to infrastructure and homes is tremendous. Gaza has not even recovered from the last attack 4 years ago. Donors promised to rebuild but never did. In the West Bank, several Palestinians demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza were killed and many injured and hundreds imprisoned by the Israeli occupation forces. And Gaza remains the largest prison on earth. The last election war in Israel in 2008-2009 cost 1400 Palestinian lives (13 Israelis). The number of injured is ten times more and is also skewed 100 to 1 (Palestinian to Israeli injuries). The damaged structures including infrastructure is not even comparable. Israeli occupation forces bombed Mosques, residential buildings, electricity grids, media offices, and government offices in Gaza while damage in reprisal attacks in Israel was minimal. Depleted Uranium and other weapons also continue to increase cancers among civilians.
-Hamas: The recent conflict started when Israel assassinated a moderate military leader who was holding other factions to previous ceasefire understandings. The goal was electoral and for internal preparedness against a possible conflict with Iran. Israel's own estimates is that the stockpile of rockets was 12-14,000 and that Hamas used only10% which they will replenish. Most analysis predict more money and weapons coming to Hamas since it gained much politically among Palestinians and among others. The philosophy of Hamas includes things like "what was taken by force can only be reclaimed by force" and that "resistance works." The ideology was certainly bolstered in the minds of many people. But Hamas needs to show evidence of a coherent strategy to achieve its own goals beyond slogans and celebration of withstanding and resisting Israeli terror.
-Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian authority in Ramallah (PA) used to describe rockets fired from Gaza as stupid and ineffective. Hillary Clinton visited to bolster the PA but the US position backing Israeli massacres meant further weakening. The Oslo accords became a distant memory and the PA largely irrelevant. The long touted Palestinian reconciliation was talked about but few believe leaderships of Hamas or Fatah are genuinely seeking reconciliation. The increased emphasis on the bid for admission to the UN as a "non-member State" is done without explanations about the exact language that is already being negotiated with the US/Israel to emasculate it from any real meaning. There are also side agreements being worked out to have a PA promise not to bring Israel before International courts. Losing face is not something that men, including Arab men, take easily. Abbas and his colleagues in Fatah who benefited in the past from Oslo find it harder to climb down. But Gaza formed a joint operation room with all resistance fighters. Perhaps the decent people in Fatah who joined the resistance will provide the needed bridge. Perhaps also people like jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi can help (he called for ending the useless negotiations and security coordination with Israel). Perhaps with help of Dr. Nabil Shaath, Barghouthi can play a role in allowing for a face-saving exit strategy from the muddy sink hole of Oslo.
- Egypt after the revolution put itself squarely as a major player in Middle East politics and began to shed its Mubarak era image (if not substance) of being a puppet of the US government. The Egyptian government led by President Morsy brokered the cease fire deal and managed to show diplomatic and maneuvering skills that gained it respect. But the main audience was the Egyptian street and the anouncement right after the ceasefire deal was of consolidating power for Morsy. Demonstrations were held in Egypt complaining about the dictatorial powers. Using Palestine to strengthen internal control is a very old strategy used by many Arab leaders. What Egypt does about the gas fields off of Gaza shore or about allowing arming of the resistance is a more practical barometer of any real change in Egypt.
-The three architects of this war (Barak, Netanyahu, Lieberman) held a press conference and were grim and unsmiling as they announced that they “achieved their goals” and they will not hesitate to hit Gaza again “if rockets resumed”. It seems even Israelis did not buy this. But I think it is too simplistic to describe Israel as having “lost this war” (as some pundits are saying). The publicly declared goals from this attack on Gaza are actually different from privately held goals. The public goal to end the “threat to the south” (hence the name pillar of defense) is actually not the real goal. In any case that goal failed since Hamas came out stronger from this. But there are other undeclared goals: 1) bolstering election chances, 2) testing the weakest chain of the forces of resistance (Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran), and 3) testing the Israeli defense/preparedness mechanisms (a massive and real drill) including the iron dome missile defense system to prepare for wider conflicts to come (with Hizballah and Iran). In the first, polls will soon show if the three benefited politically for the upcoming election. To the second goal, the tested subject proved stronger than expected by Israel (the use of longer range Fajr-5 shocked many Israelis especially when these rockets reached Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). The third goal had mixed results but now Israel will spend a few weeks acquiring more iron dome batteries and organizing their warning system in a better way. It augurs poorly for Israel since they spent $750 million for a conflict with imprisoned Gaza Palestinians! A fourth goal may have been to test what the Obama administration does in its second term in office. Some analysts predicted that Obama will be free in his second term in office to fulfill some of what he said in his Cairo speech nearly four years ago. But the evidence showed he is still subservient to AIPAC and the Israel lobby in Washington. Both in Israel and the US, there is a hope that toppling the Syrian regime if done soon may help in the war on the remaining axis (Hizballah and Iran). Others believe the issue of Iran can’t wait. In fact, before the ink was dry on ceasefire agreement, Israeli papers were reporting that Iran is moving dirt in one location in ways that suggest they are hiding nuclear activity.
-Turkey had a hand in moving towards a Gaza settlement. If the siege on Gaza is indeed reduced as stipulated in the ceasefire deal in significant ways, this will remove one of the three conditions laid down by Ankara on resumption of normal friendly relations with Israel. Overall, Turkey is interested in getting NATO support for its defense capability (including Patriot missiles) and cares more about its own interests than about the interests of people in Gaza. Turkey would be satisfied with new calmer arrangements in Gaza even if it end-up profiting Israel.
-Iran: Hamas did acknowledge Iranian help in developing its defense capabilities. Iran said that Arab and Islamic countries should now see the value of helping the Palestinians and Lebanese defend themselves against US/Israeli aggression and hegemony. If the ceasefire holds and if Israel improved its iron dome abilities with US support, and if Netanyahu/Lieberman succeed in being elected to form the next government, then it is very likely that Israel will be freer to attack Iran. The Israeli right wing politicians are trying to get their house in order and to ensure US support to proceed to create more wars (they already started 6 wars in the Middle East with similar patterns). Iran is obviously studying developments and lessons to deal with the contingencies.
-The USA: US foreign policy is simply domestic policy as Henry Kissinger once said. Absent Muslim-American and Arab-American effective lobbies, the Zionist lobby dictate US policy. This may be changing as US elites realize that unconditional support of Israel has persistently weakened the US economically, politically, and morally. More and more US citizens are connecting the dots between the frail and unsustainable economy of the US and its domestically generated (anti-American) foreign policy in support of apartheid and repression. People increasingly see that the Israeli push to get the US into a war on Iraq cost thousands of American lives and nearly three trillion dollars. Hopefully they will see the repercussions of the Israeli push for conflict with Iran before it is too late.
-Perhaps the biggest loser was the truth. Israel massive propaganda effort paid off as western media showed Israel “defending itself” and failed to report reality. There was no organized counter efforts to tell the real story or to pressure western media which dominate world media to move to balanced reporting. Social media and electronic transfer of information helped a little by showing the extent of suffering and damage in Gaza but even here the effort could have been far better from the millions who sympathized with Gaza but did little to help get the truth out. We as people of conscience need to do much better at challenging journalism that is biased, shoddy, and in some cases criminally complicit.
The impact of the latest attack also needs to be analyzed in terms of Israeli plans to cut-off Gaza from the Palestinian equation and dump it southward minus its rich gas fields offshore (which Israel still controls hence preventing fisherman from going to fish lest they disturb the lucrative potential $1 trillion in development). Joing impoverished Gaza with Egypt while keeping the natural resources would relieve a huge demographic problem for colonial Israel (1.6 million Palestinians live in Gaza including 1 million refugees). This danger of “segregating” Gaza and making some long-term arrangement for it with the help of Egypt would free Israel to focus on building settlements in the West Bank, developing gas fields off Gaza shore line, Judaicizing Jerusalem, and tightening control of the West Bank Palestinians living in shrinking ghettos/people warehouses. These ghettos can be either declared a state (archipelago state that would be transportationally contiguous via tunnels) or annexed to Jordan (which already has 3.5+ million Palestinians).
Both Hamas and Israel propagated the myth that there are two sides to the issue in occupied Palestine and that it is a religious conflict. But you cannot equate occupier with occupied, colonizer with colonized. Israel is an advanced country with the fifth or sixth strongest army on earth (or as one Israeli academic put it an army which has a country). Palestinians are occupied colonized people, two third of us are refugees or displaced people. Further, the struggle here is not between Israelis and Palestinians (or worst between Jews and Muslims) but a struggle between those who support apartheid (of all religions and backgrounds) and those who oppose it (of all religions and backgrounds).
Many of us believe this is the time to push forward our human and humane vision of one democratic state in historic Palestine. This pluralistic state would solve once and for all the historic injustice that afflicted the Palestinian people with the advent of Zionism. It would lead to a durable peace. The only available alternative is now seen to be a balance of terror for years to come and this is not appealing to anyone except those who mistakenly think it could allow them to form or retain their religious state. But history shows that Palestine was always multiethnic and multireligious and always rejected becoming a monolithic society.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD