Harold Feld over on LiveJournal wrote a well-thought-out peice on Israel's lack of forward paths in the current crisis, and why we should have a cease-fire now. I take issue with some of his premises, and thus his conclusion as well. My comment was a bit too long for LJ, so I'm posting it over here.
Still, the Hamas folks aren't stupid. To the extent they have a crappy hand, they have tried to play it. The diplomatic end game they have tried to play for is referred to in Arabic as "hudna" and what I refer to as the "Taiwan solution." Fatah, Hamas' predecessor government, basically gave up and decided to lie their butts off while siphoning as much loot as possible for their personal gain.
Hudna doesn't mean "cease-fire while we bilk the world out of money to line our pockets". Hudna means "cease-fire while we re-arm". Which is the game they've played - Israel pulled out of Lebanon 6 years ago, and since then, Hezbollah has re-armed, imported thousands of rockets and launchers and missiles, and has re-started the war against the Northern towns.
Hezbollah, like Hamas, has failed to consider just how thoroughly the Israeli government and Israeli public have been radicalized. After all, Hamas and Hezbollah know that it is the PA, not imperialist Israel, that are the victims here. Israel “knows” it is the imperialist, the bully, and therefore is fully capable of stopping when it wants. And the only way to make it stop is to hurt it.
But Israel doesn’t “know” anything of the sort. What Israel sees is a sudden two front war with an enemy that has built its capacity because Israel pulled out of the relevant geographic territory. For Israel, the only reward for territorial concessions has been an increase in enemy capacity. It must be stamped out NOW, because force is the only thing “these people” understand and negotiating and cease fires only give them time to rearm.
"These people" indeed do view unilateral withdrawal as weakness - again look at the situation in the North. Ruling the buffer zones with an iron hand really does suppress the terrorism, really does suppress the moral ambiguity, really does wag the dog to avoid the internal tensions between the religious and the secular.
Unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon led to re-arming and re-starting the war. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza led to re-arming and continuing the bombardments of Sderot and other close-by towns.
On the other front, suicide bombing didn't really start until 2000. Suicide bombers are trained in the schools. This training didn't start until Israel showed signs of weakness by attending the Madrid peace conference, and starting the Oslo process, in 1991. Within less than ten years, Arafat's and Hamas' schools started pumping out a never-ending stream of shaheedin. And it would never have started had Israel not shown itself soft and weak, by having peace conferences shortly after Intifada I.
The lesson? Terrorism does pay! So start a program of insane terrorism, with suicide bombers, and the payoff will be tremendous! And the Oslo Process was unstoppable. Even when Israel was changing Prime Ministers every year or two, and each would campaign on a platform of No More Oslo, each time, once they got into office, they had to continue with the Oslo Process, until the great hawk Sharon came, and cynically pushed through the unilateral withdrawal. Only Nixon could go to China? Only Sharon could actually withdraw from Gaza.
And the current crisis proved exactly what the Israeli Right was saying all along - that withdrawal is perceived by the Arabs as weakness, and thus as bait for stepping up the violence, because Terror Pays. Israel ran away from southern Lebanon, was practically routed by Hezbollah, that retreat in disorder was the most shameful thing, unlike the dignified and planned withdrawal from Gaza - it gave the Arabs exactly the wrong message.
Withdrawal now, while accepting an international buffer force, is exactly what led to the current problem. Why do you think a buffer force made up of NATO countries, such as Britain, France, and even Poland, who have no love for Israel or Jews, will be any better than the useless blue-helmet UN force that has been in Lebanon since 2000?
So what is the solution? It is clear that driving Hezbollah out of Lebanon is going to take actual all out war, and may well spill over into other states. It may, in fact, exceed Israel’s military capacity – especially if Syria and Iran become fully engaged. Actually losing such a confrontation would be disastrous for Israel. At the same time, Hezbollah risks suffering the same fate that befell the PLO when Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon. They survived, but became disconnected from their people and centers of power, ultimately being supplanted by other organizations. Nor can Hezbollah be indifferent to the long-term damage done to Lebanon and how that impacts their popularity (and that of the Shia generally) once passions cool.
As you point out, Hezbollah is backed by foreign powers, which the PLO never was, at least not after 1973. Arafat would go to pan-Arab meetings every few years and beg for aid, and the other Arab countries turned away.Why do you think the West Bankers haven't been able to get any substantial weapons other than what Israel has given them for the PA Police Force? They have no coastline, no common border with a friendly power. Gaza has a coastline, and a weakly-defended border (viz. all the tunnels) with Egypt, which is pretty thinly populated (ever take the bus across the Sinai? It's pretty grim). And even Gaza can't get anything more powerful than Kassams, since the Karine-A was taken.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, quoted by a commenter:
Two issues cannot tolerate any delay. One is the issue of the prisoners, because of the human suffering. The second issue is any attack against civilians. I told them on more than one occasion that we are taking the issue of the prisoners seriously, and that abducting Israeli soldiers is the only way to resolve it.
The "issue of the prisoners" is yet another smoke-screen. The only Lebanese national in Israeli prisons before this war was one guy, a serial killer, who snuck over the border, killed a family in their house in the North, then killed someone else outside the house. He was apprehended and tried, and is serving multiple life sentences.
Should Israel have killed this guy? That's a separate argument about capital punishment in a non-Torah state. Israel doesn't execute anyone, except Eichmann. If they had executed this guy, though, it would have eliminated that particular Hezbollah claim.
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A cease-fire, yes, eventually, but not until there has been some real change on the ground in Lebanon. Withdrawal now will simply be a replay of 2000, only worse, because it's a retreat under fire - a real rout.
And if it becomes regional war, Bush and the neocons have been champing at the bit to go after Iran. They won't make a direct nuclear challenge, but a [private little] proxy war might be just the ticket. With us caught in the middle, but that's been our fate for thousands of years, between Egypt and Mesopotamian powers.
To go out even further on a limb: the two-state solution is the only solution, even if the Arabs never accept it. Separation is the only way to avoid demographic suicide within Israel. And when the Arabs, in their Pal-Arab state, decide to invade Israel, then, just as with withdrawn-from Gaza and withdrawn-from southern Lebanon, the moral issue will be clear: full invasion, chase them out, or once again rule as an army of occupation.