Monday, November 19, 2012

Mowing the Lawn; Some Thoughts About the Conflict in Gaza

There are a few arguments that I discount out of hand when I get into a discussion about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and I'd like to get them out of the way before we start.

First off, I do not care who started the most recent escalation in violence. This is a continuous problem and there is enough dirt on both sides that one could make a very reasonable argument in either direction. I'm taking the adult stance here and spending a lot less time here thinking about who'se at fault rather than who can act to improve on the situation.

I also have no historical memory of territorial realities beyond about 1967. This is not to say that I agree with all of the fairly Zionist ideologies that influenced the geographical result in 1948, it is just to say that the cultural, economic and political realities today more closely mirror the lines drawn in 1967 rather than 1948 and if there is going to be any two state solution emerging from the mess, 1967 represents the path of least resistance - as best as I can tell. This amnesia extends back far beyond recent history as well. There is a long and complex history to the place and it has very little bearing on what we should do now. My goal Is simply to improve the lot of as many human beings as possible in the region, not historical reenactment.

To be clear, I do not care what God said. If you insist on being a biblical literalist on this matter, then I do not take you seriously simply because the bible actually promises Abraham land all the way to the Euphrates, which is an insane proposition by any rational standard. So too is it insane to suggest that Israel can settle the West Bank because of a divine mandate; anyone who advocates this needs to be ridiculed and ignored.

Finally, I do not care if it is your right to use force. That does not mean that it is a good idea.

On occasion we come up with a term or an expression to describe some geopolitical reality, it makes it's way around the news, maybe even history books, and somehow seemingly without anyone actually taking the time to think tangibly about the implications, the phrase has been inducted into our collective consciousness - now it's normal, like peanut butter and jelly.
I've always thought of nuclear deterrence or Mutually Assured Destruction in this way. How do such sane people come to view the potential destruction of civilization as a legitimate strategy? What about democratizing a country as an external force? To loosely quote the late George Carlin, going to war for peace is like fucking for virginity.

The better comedians are pretty good at pointing out this sort of nonsense and maybe even bringing some rationality to the table. I'm afraid I'm not nearly as deft - but in a similar spirit, I would like to bring some attention to a phrase I have been hearing people throw around:

"Mowing the Lawn"

This is an expression and attitude that is informing political decisions in the upper ranks of Israel's leadership and only a firm belief that the enemy lacks any human decency could possibly convince such smart people that it is a rational strategy. Mowing the lawn obviously refers to a periodic maintenance that must be carried out in the occupied territories to keep the peace, and any truce is condemned to be uneasy if Israel acts under these assumptions.

To be clear, both sides are at fault. I am frequently criticized for blindly siding with the Palestinian plight, ignoring the atrocities committed by them as well as the legitimate needs of the Israelis, and to a large extent I think that is true. I do tend to spend more time dwelling on how the Israelis can change their approach and what atrocities they are committing. But I only do so for two reasons.

The first of which is simply that I grew up in Israel, and therefore I have a better idea than most of the national psychology that goes a long way towards fueling this quagmire. My understanding of Palestinian society is admittedly one dimensional, as would be my proposed solutions. Hamas (or any other Palestinian leadership) must denounce violence, and it must recognize Israel's right to exist. That is evident, and I'm unequivocal about that. I just see a lot more ways to achieve that by modifying Israeli behavior rather than Palestinian. There is a good chance that I have a limited scope and I'll leave it up to the Palestinians to pick up that slack.

The second reason is related and is simply to say that Israel has a greater array of choices. Israel's policy towards Gaza is a stranglehold on its economy and as the occupier, Israel quite literally has the ability to fine tune the economic environment in the strip. And it has been wielding that power with a great lack of responsibility. If Israel has any intention to shed the title of occupier, it must create an environment that will allow Gaza to grow into a society it can trust with autonomy. This will not happen with 60% unemployment, a freeze of assets and commerce, and periodic incursions that kill up to 0.1% of the population.

Moreover, the heavy handed approach that Israel has been taking towards Gaza only strengthens Hamas while decimating the rest of the population, and the Israel's righteous rage renders them blind to this fact. The most obvious benefit is that the blockade creates a convenient choke point for essentially all economic activity in or out of the strip, which is exploited by Hamas in the form of a tunnel surcharge. But most important is that oppression from an outside force is the lifeblood of any freedom fighter.

But Israel does not trust Gaza with prosperity under the pretext that it will be abused and used to raise an army against them. Though I agree that this may very well happen for a time, I should note that it is happening now as well. And the deterioration of the Palestinian plight has only further destabilized the precarious environment surrounding the conflict.

This time around, Hamas' missiles reach further. This time around, the West Bank is beginning to realize that their peaceful approach has only given them more settlements and marginalized leaders. This time around, nascent democracies across the Arab world are shaping their policies towards Israel.

It does not have that same visceral sense of security that strong military action imparts, but allowing Gaza to have hope and giving Palestinians responsibility on the world stage will moderate them. Nearly every contemporary criticism of Hamas could also be said of Fatah just a bit over a decade ago. Though Mahmoud Abbas is not perfect, he is a far cry from his organization's political heritage as terrorists in the mountains of Lebanon.

We need to replicate that with Hamas. All of those people are not going to disappear, no matter how often you cut the grass. This ceasefire will not last forever. Neither side thinks it will.

No comments:

Post a Comment