I’ve just returned from a short holiday in Eilat with my family, where we got very little in the way of news for the two days we were gone. This means I have only been able to follow what has been happening from very occasional headlines and absurdly biased articles from the one newspaper we were able to purchase while we were away. I have also not read the gamut of opinions recorded by my fellow bloggers. What follows is my own read of the current situation in Israel and Gaza.
I read one blogger who surmised that Israel’s counter-attack on Gaza (because that’s what it is) is timed to coincide with the end of President Bush’s presidential term. I don’t agree with this assessment. Israel has been aggressively badgered by Bush and Condoleezza Rice to make unilateral concessions to the Arabs in this conflict, and engaging Hamas in Gaza now could serve no useful purpose. Bush is as good as out the door, with no mandate to govern or make any lasting contribution to the Middle East at this time. (If Bush really wanted to make Israelis happy, though, he could pardon Jonathan Pollard. Post on that coming up soon.)
No, Israel acts in its own interest and is informed by its own political situation rather than that of the U.S. As such, Israel’s counter-attack on Gaza is between Israel and Hamas. President Abbas’s term is up this month, and while he is scrambling to stay in office for an extended period, the man has no mandate in Palestinian society. The only people who will be sorry to see him go are those who have deluded themselves into believing that he is a “moderate.” As luck would have it, his designated successor is a Hamasnik, which means that Israel will have Hamas operating in both Gaza and the West Bank–not a pleasant situation for Israel, to be sure. And for Arabs? Hamas is much more popular than the P.A., though their appeal seems to lie more in what they do to the Israelis than what they do for the Arabs under their control. They run a dangerous totalitarian state where opposition to the government can mean imprisonment or death. Will Israel be endangered having Hamas on two fronts? Indubitably. Will the lives of Palestinians be improved by having Hamas operate out of Yosh (the West Bank)? Absolutely not. Huge numbers of Arabs’ livelihoods depend on employment inside Israel or for Israelis (construction and businesses) in Yosh. If a militant terrorist state were to be established in Yosh, a large sector of the Arab population here would lose its daily bread. Hamas-generated security concerns aside, an utterly impoverished and bitter population living next to a population whose growth and labor force have been cut off would involve misery for Jews and Arabs alike.
But I’m not sure what sort of choice the Arab population will have when Abbas leaves office. There will be no elections to choose his successor, and even if there were, no rational candidates with sound economic and social policies who desire peace would have a prayer of being put on a ballot. (Such people, I am given to understand, can only survive in exile in the West.) As I have said before, if the Arabs took the energy they invest in trying to destroy Israel and applied it to building a society and economy worthy of its people, the world (especially their world) would be such a better place. But as things stand now, they would rather do what they can to try to make Israel miserable, at any cost to their own people.
Israel knows it cannot destroy Hamas with its current campaign in Gaza. What it can do is remove some of Hamas’s worst leaders, cripple its weapons stock, and send a message that attacks on Israel will not be greeted with a turned cheek. This is an important message to send on the eve of a fateful regime change. (Had Israel had a different set of leaders governing it, such a message might have been sent long ago, perhaps saving the population of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the southern Negev years of fear and trauma.) How much good it will do in the long run remains to be seen, but for the nonce, I can be counted a supporter of the action.
As I mentioned, we were on holiday in Eilat. Driving south along the border with Jordan, our biggest concern was whether it would rain, causing the road to wash out in places. (This did not come to pass.) The road entering Eilat had a checkpoint set up where soldiers took down license plates and driver’s license numbers. I wondered if this was to keep careful tabs on who enters the city during Israel’s Gaza action, but friends informed us that New Year’s Eve in Eilat is a rather wild affair, and that the security checks probably have more to do with that than with the political situation. We enjoyed a lovely, relaxing few days in the (relatively) warm south, where our biggest concern was seeing careless Israelis and tourists allow plastic bags to be washed out to sea where they are often swallowed by sea turtles who mistake them for jellyfish and die gruesome deaths as a result. Our ride home was a little less relaxing than the ride down since we chose to take the central road through the desert. Tank firing ranges lined several kilometers of the road, and there was plenty of activity on them. From one of the air bases, we watched a helicopter take off, turn around, and drone its way west toward Gaza. As it got dark, several military planes landed (no lights on their tails or wings), probably after sorties over Gaza. Due to rain, the darkness, and possible Arab unrest along the road from Beer Sheva to the West Bank, we chose instead to take a more westerly route via Beer Sheva, Kiryat Gat, and Beit Shemesh–within rocket range of Gaza. (Choices, choices.)
I am pleased to report that the most grueling part of the journey was the whining, squabbling, and wailing, “When are we gonna be home?” coming from the back seat of the car. Baruch Hashem.