Sunday, August 03, 2014

Hadar Goldin is dead, and Israel may be moving toward a unilateral pullout from Gaza

Yesterday the IDF officially announced it is convinced that Lt. Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier thought to have been captured by Hamas Friday morning, is dead. I find it strange to feel some sense of relief about the death of someone for whom I bear no dislike whatsoever. But under the circumstances, and given the alternative, I can't avoid feeling that way. Goldin's death deprives Hamas of a significant victory, given the bizarre logic of Hamas-Israel conflicts. And this outcome also makes it politically less difficult for the Israeli government to move toward ending the war in Gaza.

Some of the reasons why it is urgently necessary for Israel to find a way to extricate itself from this Gaza war, before it gets sucked in even further, were cogently explained by Will Saletan in a piece he wrote on Thursday (from which I quoted here). As of Thursday night (or, more precisely, the middle of the night on Friday morning), there were signs that the Israeli government was thinking along broadly similar lines. That probably helps explain why it accepted the 72-hour cease-fire plan announced by John Kerry and Ban Ki-Moon.

But then later Friday morning the cease-fire collapsed almost immediately, with Hamas apparently capturing Goldin in the process. It seemed quite possible that the level of fighting in Gaza might actually escalate further. But it now looks as though the Israeli government, or at least a majority of the cabinet, had already decided to move in the opposite direction, and to start winding down Israel's military operation in Gaza instead. According to Barak Ravid's report in Haaretz on Saturday:
Israel's security cabinet decided after a five-hour meeting Friday night that Israel will no longer seek a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip via negotiations with Hamas, senior Israeli officials said. Therefore, Israel does not intend to send a delegation to the Cairo truce talks as previously agreed in the course of the last cease-fire, before it was violated by Hamas.

The senior officials said that ministers were unanimous in the cabinet meeting in their position that there is no point in pursuing cease-fire negotiations after Hamas violated the previous one by capturing an IDF soldier on Friday. According to the officials, the ministers also agreed that the captured soldier will not change Israel's overall strategy. In other words, the IDF will continue its operations to destroy the tunnels and the ground operation will not be significantly expanded at this stage. [....]

The senior officials said that in light of the failed cease-fire efforts, Israel will consider ending the operation and unilaterally leaving Gaza, relying on deterrence. [....]

Israel's aim to end the operation unilaterally also stems for its interest in stopping the severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and in preventing the collapse of essential infrastructure. The senior officials also said that a deeper entry into Gaza would result in a dramatic rise in civilian Palestinian casualties, which would in turn increase the pressure and international condemnation of Israel while serving Hamas' interests.

Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, responded to the reports and said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will not commit Hamas to anything, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
According to more recent reports, the IDF has indeed begun scaling down its operations in Gaza, pulling back from urban areas and sending some troops out of Gaza entirely. In so far as these really do turn out to be the first steps toward an end to the fighting, this is potentially good news. But whether or not Israel will actually be able to end the war unilaterally (assuming it actually is committed to doing that) will depend, of course, on unpredictable events and other uncertain factors.

Although it's understandable that the Israeli government might feel inclined to give up on the cease-fire route at this point, it would probably be better if the war ended through a mutually agreed cease-fire (along the lines of the original Egyptian cease-fire proposal), accompanied by negotiations that brought in Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as well as other significant players. That might enhance the (very slim) possibilities that the resolution of this latest Hamas/Israel war, with its terrible effects for everyone involved, might actually lead to some constructive long-term consequences. Another passage in Ravid's report seems to hint that the Israeli government is aware of the need for these sorts of follow-up negotiations—though only up to a point:
The senior officials said Israel will also try to reach an understanding with Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the international community on the issue of reconstructing the Gaza Strip, preventing Hamas from re-arming itself and monitoring material entering Gaza.
I myself feel more in accord with the spirit of the Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations issued last Monday by the Israeli Peace NGO Forum (see below). Events since Monday have rendered some details of that proposal outdated. But its basic thrust remains correct.

Meanwhile, we have to wait and see what happens next. The war isn't over yet. As I said in 2009, in the closing stages of that Hamas-Israel war, "Neither Palestinians nor Israelis deserve this unending misery."

—Jeff Weintraub
Call for a Cease-Fire and the Resumption of Negotiations
July 28, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Israeli Peace NGO Forum supports the call for an immediate cease-fire based upon the Egyptian proposal, to be followed by renewed negotiations for a two-state solution between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of the Palestinian people. The rising number of deaths, around 50 Israeli soldiers and civilians already, and over 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, men, women and children, requires immediate action to halt the mutual violence.

There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Israelis reserve the right to self-defense and deserve to live in security and peace, without the threat of rockets fired at them and enemy tunnels dug into their midst. Equally, Palestinians are entitled to lead a dignified and independent life in a united Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. That future Palestinian state, consisting of Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, with mutually agreed upon border amendments based on the 1967 lines, will be demilitarized, in line with mutually accepted security arrangements.

The present crisis, tragic as it is in human lives and suffering, calls for increased resolve by all moderate forces in the region, supported by the international community, to stand together in a joint effort to finally bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end through a mutually agreed political settlement rather than a return to the cycle of devastating and pointless use of force.

The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by the Arab League in Beirut in 2002, which offers end of conflict, peace, security, and, normal relations with Israel by the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state, can play a crucial role in achieving peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, an international fund to rebuild Gaza to ensure a constructive life for its people should be launched.

We also express our deep concern about the internal threats to democracy that have emerged in the current crisis. There is no place in our society for calls to "kill Arabs" and "kill leftists". Also, expressions of joy over the death of Israelis or Palestinians, particularly children, in either community, should be totally unacceptable. The right to freedom of expression and differences of opinion lie at the bedrock of Israeli democracy, and must be preserved.