Posted by: williamjsykes | January 20, 2009

Conflict in Gaza – Did Israel Go Too Far?

For many years since the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the creation of a new world order accordingly, a Washington policymaker could often daydream about an ideal state of Pax Americana that would last for decades to come.

Speaking of present tense, it seems to be an utter nonsense to assert that the United States still is an unrivaled superpower across the globe after years of debacle under the Bush Administration –unless you didn’t read news for past three years or are Karl Rove or Robert Kagan.

The grim portrait of an alarming decrease in America’s stature throughout the world cannot be more vividly seen than in Middle East. A struggle against global terrorism as carried out by the Bush Administration saw America’s military power largely contained in Afghanistan and Iraq and its diplomatic arsenal nearly depleted. A major obstacle in building more constructive relations with many Arab states in the region was Washington’s close alliance with Israel, which the former has assured an “unconditional support” despite the latter’s often reckless behavior that has alienated many of America’s potential allies in the region.

That brings us to today’s topic: the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza Strip and how the United States should react when in its stature in the region is in its peril arguably for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

Throughout its history, Israel has repeatedly asserted its nature as a Jewish-dominated state despite the continuing presence of native Palestinians, many of whom Israeli citizens who face de facto discrimination in many respects, according to a research conducted by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. During the Cold War years, this nominally democratic if belligerent nation made a considerable amount of territorial gains facing its equally confrontational Arab neighbors. It was during which Jerusalem’s hard-liners, at least partially inspired by a religious ideology of a creation of the so-called “Greater Israel,” launched an aggressive settlement of Jewish population in these newly-won territories.

Amongst those was Gaza Strip, which already experienced an influx of non-Jewish refugees during the creation of the State of Israel prior the Six-Day War, which Israel emerged victorious and took control over occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian relations seemed to have seen a thaw during the Clinton years, when the Oslo Accords of 1994 guaranteed the Palestinians a good degree of autonomy.

Reality, however, was not as promising.

The state of affairs in Gaza Strip after the passage of the Oslo Accords saw a disturbing amount of political instability and deteriorating economic situations that bolstered, not weakened the amount of grievance by the local populace. The economic hardship in the region, which now borders to the conditions suffered by sub-Saharan African nations, was at least partially inflicted by Israel’s unwillingness to overhaul a general border closure throughout the region.

In addition, Jerusalem’s approach towards a violent insurrection by Palestinian dissidents for years has been a stern reaction against the belligerents using Israel’s superior military force, a policy that put 1.4 million Gazans as something of a collateral for a small group of violent dissidents.

The end product of such circumstances was the emergence of Hamas, a borderline terrorist organization, in the Palestinian general election in 2006.

Israel’s policy of answering violence by a wholesale onslaught can be clearly shown in the course of the latest conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas. Data from Bloomberg News shows that during the latest conflict, about 1,300 Palestinians –many if not most of them civilians– died with thousands more insured or left homeless while only thirteen Israeli militants perished.

Should Jerusalem not manage to mend its wanton ways, it would actually strengthen the cause of militant Palestinians a la Hamas, who would be then able to cast Israel as the main belligerent without much difficulty.

In his interview with a German magazine Der Spiegel, the former American Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk made a number of interesting points. Amongst those was a suggestion that given America’s influence in Middle East that diminished considerably in recent years, Washington will need to collaborate with its allies in Europe and Middle East to a greater degree than it did during the Bush years. If so, Washington will have to take a tougher stand on Jerusalem to meet the standards of its potential allies and work to recover American prestige in the region and across the globe.

It is also at Jerusalem’s best interests to work with non-Israeli Palestinians rather than trying to keep ruling them by force. The non-Jewish population in Israel and occupied territories, given their high fertility rate, will outnumber the Jewish portion of the country within not a distant future, as projected by a recent TIME article titled Can Israel Survive Its Attacks on Gaza?

The United States has been Israel’s strongest and most durable ally for decades by far. The prospect of a continuation of a tight-knit alliance between Washington and Jerusalem, however, doesn’t necessarily look good given the concerns I have presented in this column.

An eventual demise of violence and radicalism in Palestine will be anchored only through a substantial degree of socio-economic development throughout Palestinian territories; something Israel has put little –if any– vigor in recent years. Should Israel not consider such options, the incoming Obama Administration may have to take a tougher stand on Israel for the greater good for the country it serves.

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