June 7, 2010
Israeli arrogance at its best
DAVID T. DUMKE
‘To a man with a big hammer, every problem looks like a nail’
It is hard not to conclude from this Israeli action, and also from other Israeli actions in recent years, that the Israeli leadership simply does not care any longer about what anybody thinks. It does not seem to care about what even the United States — its only real friend, even in the choppy era of Obama — thinks,” Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic.
The quote above captures the essence of the latest in a long series of tragic events which have marked the endless Arab-Israeli conflict. As an American who has tracked regional issues closely over the past two decades, from inside and outside government, it is hard to foresee a promising path forward — or merely find a silver lining.
The elements of peace all remain on table. All parties know what the outcome of a peace process would be: a two-state solution, a return of the Golan Heights, and full diplomatic relations between the Arab world and Israel. Moreover, after an 8-year hiatus, the United States has a president committed to the peace process, sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, and mindful of Israel’s security concerns.
Yet sadly, at a time when all parties suffer from exhaustion, are losing — economically, politically, or spiritually — ground, and should recognize the golden opportunity before them, we face a new round of self-inflicted setbacks which makes peace increasingly illusive.
To be certain, there is plenty of blame to go around. No party has acted in to its fullest in the interests of peace. Pettiness, recrimination, and domestic politics have surely played a negative role in the calculations of each party in contributing to today’s acrimonious climate.
Yet Israel’s actions this week set a standard for audaciousness. While the international community has long since concluded the humanitarian situation in Gaza is unacceptable, one can certainly debate the merits of the Gaza blockade — and the invasion which preceded it — on political grounds. But acting well outside the bounds of international norms, if not laws, as Israel has done since the Netanyahu government gained power, is a truly troubling development.
On its face, the attack on the flotilla seems illegal because Israel conducted it in international waters. This does not include additional considerations, like proportionality, the likely international reaction, and observing diplomatic tact as it relates to key partners such as Turkey, Egypt, and the United States.
The flotilla itself was obviously threatening to the Israeli government. It presented a complex political problem — the effectiveness of the blockade, the use of nonviolent resistance, and the increasing visibility of international activists to highlight Palestinian suffering.
But responding to the threat — deploying elite military forces to blunt what was, without questioning the motives of the flotilla, essentially a humanitarian mission — with blunt force only highlights Israeli weakness. Israel seems to have no solution except force. Or, as noted by prominent Israeli writer Amos Oz, “to a man with a big hammer, says the proverb, every problem looks like a nail.”
Could Israel have failed to calculate the likely reaction of Turkey? Even without violence, storming Turkish-flagged ships in international water would surely sour relations. While relations with Ankara have steadily been souring of late, did Israel not consider, or care, that this act would further alienate the one Muslim nation which could be considered an ally? The lack of care seems particularly troubling to a nation which is increasingly isolated.
Of course, the incident also has implications on Egypt, the most populous Arab nation and the first to reach a peace agreement with Israel. Egypt’s decision to seal the Gaza border already came at a price to Cairo — it remains a deeply unpopular decision within the Arab world and among the Egyptian public, and emboldens critics —Islamist and secular alike — of the Mubarak government.
Coming at a time when the US is already pressing Cairo to democratize, it would seem the most popular critique of the government in this, an election year, would be to attack Mubarak’s pro-peace policy — which includes respecting the Gaza blockade until a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process can be completed.
Israel would also have been wise to note the recent rise in Turkey’s regional popularity. Much of this is attributable to its increasing diplomatic activism, most notably its hostility, despite friendly relations, to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
And then there is the United States. In recent months, Israelis have observed with growing alarm the apparent deterioration of relations between the Obama administration and Israeli government — highlighted with the embarrassment of Vice President Joseph Biden who was welcomed to Israel with the announcement of new, sensitive settlement construction in Jerusalem. At the time of the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route to what was seen as a high stakes, fence-mending visit to President Obama.
Obama is supportive of Israel, yet has made it clear he values America’s relations with the entirety of the Arab world and is concerned about the US regional position as it wages war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on “terror.” Obama’s support of regional nonproliferation is aimed at Iran, yet he has recognized too that Israel must enter the NPT agreement in order to best isolate Tehran. On the peace process, he is growing increasingly impatient over what some of his advisors believe is Israeli provocation — supported by Netanyahu.
Lastly, did Israel consider the international consequences of the raid — which were easily foreseeable? Clearly, Israel has concluded that the international community is against it and thus has opted — as it did in Gaza, with the Goldstone report, and in the Dubai assassination of a Hamas operative — to ignore the established rules.
Again, in assessing the Arab-Israeli conflict no party is blameless. But when Israel opts out of international norms, ignores its most important partners, and chooses force to meet any threat — violent or nonviolent — it seems the peace process has become much more problematic.