Nov 20th 2012

Gaza: No Lessons Learned

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

The escalating violence between Israel and Gaza should remind us of old lessons that still need to be learned and new realities to which attention must now be paid.

First and foremost among the old lessons is the fact that the successive waves of violence that have characterized the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have produced nothing but more death and destruction, more suffering and insecurity, and more anger all around. Every attack or assault that was intended to "teach a lesson" or "exact revenge" only laid the predicate for the next attack. And so it has gone for decades. The lesson that should have been learned, and apparently has not been learned, is that just as violence will not end the occupation, neither will violence put an end to the resistance to the occupation.

One can only wonder whether when the Israelis made the decision to assassinate Ahmad al Jabari they were foolish enough to assume that their attack would be the end of it. Having been down this same road before, where assassinations only led to escalation and then full-scale hostilities, one might have hoped that someone in the Israeli high command would have recalled 2008 or 2006 (and so many other tragic, bloody episodes in the past) and cautioned that "no good will come of this". When I heard an Israeli Ambassador tonight saying that "we must finish them off, so we can sit with moderates and talk peace", it became all too clear that no lesson had been learned.

More callous-minded Israeli journalists speculated that the Netanyahu government was itching for a skirmish as a pre-election display of muscle that would sideline the opposition parties just two months before voting. If the Israelis were making such a crass political calculation for short term gain, serious questions must be raised about their leadership. It might be noted, that when Israeli governments made similar calculations in the past they all too frequently lost significant electoral support. If, on the other hand, Netanyahu & Co. were simply trying to teach Hamas & Co. a lesson, then even more serious questions must be raised about their judgment.

The same goes for the Palestinian side. At what point do they learn that revenge is not a political strategy and that aimlessly firing a barrage of missiles into Israel is nothing more than a criminal and stupid act? Criminal, because it can result in the deaths of innocents, and stupid, because it gives the Israelis the pretext to respond with overwhelming and disproportionate force. Since this, too, has played out so many times in the past, one can only wonder why this lesson has never been learned.

There is plenty of speculation in the Arab media regarding Hamas' calculations and its competition with other groups in Gaza. Since they won in national elections more than a half decade ago, Hamas has had to face a choice whether to attempt to govern or to continue to operate as a "resistance" group. For a short while, it appeared that they might have been ready to behave as a responsible authority attempting to control cross border attacks and planning, with Qatari assistance, a massive Gaza reconstruction effort. But that phase was short-lived. After the assassination of al Jabari, Hamas took the Israeli bait and, risking their gains, began behaving as just another one of the groups. No lessons learned.

There is also a lesson in all of this for the rest of the world - namely, that it is unwise to write off Palestine. At least once every decade, pundits and politicos pronounce the Palestinian issue dead, suggesting that the region has moved on and is now focused on "bigger things". This, of course, is the Israelis most fervent wish. Netanyahu spent the better part of four years working to derail Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, seeking to have Iran placed the top of the U.S. agenda. With the help of pressure from a pliant U.S. Congress, he appeared to have been successful. Add to that the "Arab Spring's" upending of the old regional order and the bloody mess that has become of Syria, it seemed that the issue of Palestine had fallen off the table.

The Arab World does have a lot on its plate and the region is unsettled, but as is so often the case, in an instant, Palestine comes roaring back front and center. This too is an old lesson: never assume that what happens in Palestine, will stay in Palestine. For reasons of history and deep culture, when Palestinians are hurt, the Arabs bleed. Palestine, for Arabs, remains "a wound in the heart that has never healed".

It is an old lesson, but with a new twist. In the past, when Israel was having its way with the Palestinians (or with Lebanon, as was the case in 2006, and throughout the 1990's), despite widespread outrage, Arab leaders largely remained on the sidelines. But in the aftermath of the "Arab Spring", Arab public opinion matters. Governments, new and old, have their ears to the ground and are more responsive to their public's unrest. Should Israel seek a replay of 2008/2009 and undertake a massive ground assault into Gaza, the new Egyptian government would be hard-pressed to remain quiet, since its very legitimacy would be at risk. Jordan, facing growing public discontent, would also feel compromised.

Escalating violence would even place the Obama Administration in a bind. Still attempting to recover from the devastating blunders of the Bush years and the setback encountered by its own failed Israeli-Palestinian peace bid, the last thing the Administration needs is to be confronted with a bloodbath in Gaza that enflames the region.

To some extent, Washington had its short-term Middle East agenda set. It appeared ready to attempt renewed engagement with Iran in an effort to reach an agreement on that country's nuclear program. And having successfully worked with regional allies to restructure the Syrian opposition, creating a somewhat more representative body that could receive aid, the U.S. and its partners were prepared to try to hasten the end of that conflict. These plans would be derailed should the clashes in Gaza spin out of control, with the U.S. coming down squarely on Israel's side, alienating Arab public opinion.

Here, too, is an old lesson that needs to be recalled: an Administration is judged not by its success in implementing the agenda it has set for itself, but in how successful it is in dealing with the unexpected.

Since no one will win and everyone will lose, it might be assumed that sanity will prevail, and the current clashes will stop short of full-scale war. But given the record of the participants, that might be hoping for too much. With the Israelis threatening yet another "final" showdown; some Palestinian groups threatening "big surprises" yet to come; and the U.S. Congress giving its unconditional support to Israel, under-cutting the Administration's more cautious support of the right of self-defense while urging restraint on all sides - it appears we may be "off to the races" - with no lessons learned and new realities ignored. God save us from our folly.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "