May 25th 2010

A Self-Defeating Fixation

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates
Last week, an effort by the Qatari government to improve diplomatic relations with Israel and aid the reconstruction effort in Gaza has ended with a freeze in all official ties between the two countries. Qatar's offer to carry outinfrastructure reconstruction projects in Gaza in exchange for re-opening up Israel's diplomatic mission in Doha would have been a positive development for both sides. The rejection of this offer by the Israeli government is both short-sighted and self-defeating. The Netanyahu government's failure to seize an opportunity to normalize relations with an Arab state-against a limited risk that Hamas would act against the Qatari government and seize some of the construction materials for fortification of its defenses-demonstrates not only intransigence but a lack of a coherent policy as to how to bring about an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Israeli government may justifiably suspect Hamas' menacing intentions, but that too must be balanced against the reality of Hamas which cannot simply be wished away by the Israelis. At some point a pragmatic policy must be introduced to demonstrate how Israel is going to calibrate its risks and opportunities and better manage its relations with the Arab states that are making goodwill gestures.

By now it has become abundantly clear that Israel's blockade of Gaza has not weakened Hamas, but in fact it has increased its popularity in the Arab street and heightened international sympathy to the beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza. The fact that Israel allows ample supplies of food and medicine to pass through the crossings to Gaza while denying other critical material to rebuild has created the wide-spread perception of indifference and disdain by Israel towards the plight of ordinary Palestinians. Ten of thousands continue to live in squalor which defies any political logic the Netanyahu government may wish to employ and from which Israel could conceivably benefit. Israel will have to coexist with the Palestinians in Gaza under any political configuration regardless of who may govern the area. The question is, does the Netanyahu government have a specific plan to change the current dynamics to entice Hamas into the political process? Engaging in wishful thinking that may in fact scuttle other peace overtures such as the Qataris is futile and profoundly counterproductive.

Had the Qatari offer been accepted by Israel, it could have had serious positive implications from which Israel could greatly benefit. To begin with, Israel would have sent a clear message to the international community that although it has genuine concerns about Hamas' continuing militancy, in light of the Qatari assurances that the material will be used for housing and other civilian institutions, the welfare of the Palestinians will override such concerns. In addition, unlike a similar offer made by Turkey's Red Crescent organization which came on the heel of a growing tension between the two countries and was seen by Israel as pandering for domestic and Arab political support, the Qatari offer provides Israel with a critical opportunity to establish formal relations with an Arab state. This would have allowed other Gulf States such as Bahrain, the Emirates and other Arab countries to follow suit. Qatar in particular has taken several initiatives toward Israel in the past, including inviting then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to speak in Doha, and its current offer represents a continuation of a policy which has received, albeit tacitly, the endorsement of other Arab states. Moreover, the timing of the Qatari offer is particularly auspicious as it comes when the proximity talks are underway and a goodwill gesture is both needed and expected of Israel.

More important is the fact that involving other Arab governments in the internal affairs of Gaza and working with Hamas' leaders would have the effect of moderating Hamas' position over time. Indeed, the only way to distance Hamas from Iran is by encouraging it to return to the Arab fold. But that can happen only through constructive, gainful and lasting engagement of Hamas, especially by official Arab governments which are much harder to rebuke than aid organizations or non-profit groups. Qatar could have paved the way for other Arab countries to be involved in the reconstruction efforts in Gaza, something that the Israeli government must support if it ever wishes to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egypt has voiced its dissent of the deal, as it jealously guards its hegemony in Israel's relations with Hamas due to its own problem with the Muslim Brotherhood, and because of its shaky ties to Qatar after much criticism from Doha based al Jazeera broadcasts. Yet ultimately, Egypt has not yet proved to be effective in dealing with this problem of Hamas and ameliorating the situation in Gaza, so Israel needs to start looking at this problem on a wider scale. Allowing other Arab players into Gaza could open up various channels of communication between Israel and Hamas that were heretofore unproductive under Egypt's ownership.

Although the Qatar offer was rejected, it is not too late to revive it and unfreeze ties, particularly since Israel's rejection was carefully deliberated and even the astute right-wing National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister Uzi Arad argued in its favor. The Israeli security concerns about Hamas' potential threats are genuine and cannot be dismissed on the grounds of simple paranoia. The problem here though is to what extent Israel should allow itself to be fixated on Hamas as an irredeemable militant group bent on Israel's destruction without searching for ways to reconcile with its existence. The Gaza war has clearly demonstrated that Israel cannot change Hamas' current militancy either by brutal force or by a continuing blockade which has not worked and has deleterious effects on Israel's standing in the international community.

Regardless of why Hamas is currently pursuing a non-violent posture toward Israel, the Israeli government must demonstrate its willingness to reward such behavior. After all, Israel has rightfully demanded in the past cessation of all hostilities as a precondition to improved relations, it must now demonstrate the readiness to respond and deny Hamas the pretext of resuming violence under the continuing unbearable conditions. Unlike other foreign attempts to reconstruct Gaza, Qatar's offer comes from a moderate Arab state and has the potential to influence the nature of relations with Hamas by accepting it as a political movement and by allowing the Palestinians in Gaza to develop vested interest in the improved conditions.

This experiment may entail some risk for Israel, but such a risk needs to be seen in the bigger picture, because the tremendous benefit Israel could potentially garner should the effort work far outweighs the potential risk. Without a long-term strategy, Israel's fixation on Hamas will prove to be self-defeating, playing willfully into Hamas' hand especially when the patience of the international community is wearing thin.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."