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Israel’s Gaza assault backfires and strengthens Israeli extremists
By Ray Hanania — No one will really know why Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to attack the Gaza Strip on November 4, 2008, but if his purpose was to strengthen his party in the face of Israel’s growing public extremism, it failed.
There was no real Hamas provocation to justify the massive onslaught, although Hamas had not backed down from its fiery rhetoric and militant threats. In fact, in the months after agreeing to a ceasefire that began June 19, rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip all but disappeared.
But there were real political considerations that threatened not only Olmert but also his political allies in what remains of the so-called “Israeli left.” Clearly, a brutal military invasion of Gaza would, Olmert must have hoped, counter-balance those political challenges.
The first challenge was Olmert’s personal problems. He was forced to withdraw from re-election as the leader of his Kadima Party in late 2008 after he
was accused of double dipping on payments made by public bodies for his many trips abroad. No longer able to head Kadima meant he could not be re-elected prime minister in Israel’s national elections that take place this week (Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009).
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The corruption weakened Kadima as a political party and also the Labor Party, its one major ally supporting the two-state solution and continued peace with the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah.
And that meant that Olmert’s expected successors, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister and Israeli “Defense Minister” Ehud Barak, who botched the 2000 peace negotiations with PNA President Yasir Arafat, were severely weakened, too.
In fact in every measure except by body count, Israel “lost” the Gaza War. Israel lost three civilians and seven soldiers after the assault began, while the war took more than 1,600 Palestinian lives including an estimated 700 civilians, many women and children.
Rather than weaken Hamas, the war strengthened it in the eyes of the Arab World and the Palestinians who viewed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “weak” and ineffective. It is a view shared by most Israelis.
And despite a vicious military strategy driven by an absence of conscience, and despite the cheerleading of the war from in the Israeli media and from the floor of the U.S. Congress that ignored Israeli military aggressions against civilians, Olmert’s Gaza War also turned off most Israelis.
Instead of weakening Hamas and strengthening the Abbas government, Israelis view Abbas as being marginalized and crowning Hamas as the clear political leader.
Simply by stepping out of the way, Benjamin Netanyahu, one of Israel’s most vitriolic fanatics second only to Avigdor Lieberman, was able to once again achieve election dominance. He didn’t have to do anything. His foes did all the work.
This is the way of Israel’s electorate and public politics. After every major military campaign in the past 15 years, the Israeli public has soured on peace and turned towards extremists who have vowed to undermine real peace with the Palestinians.
In 1996, Netanyahu came from behind to defeat then Prime Minister Shimon Peres, now Israel’s President, after a wave of Hamas suicide bombings designed by Hamas to torpedo the peace process started by Peres’ predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was assassinated the year before by an Israeli alleged to have been a Netanyahu follower.
In 2000, Barak pulled the rug out from the Camp David Peace accords hosted by President Clinton by refusing to meet with Arafat face-to-face. Barak used pro-Israeli American mediator Dennis Ross as his messenger to take Israeli proposals and present them to Arafat as if they were neutral American ideas.
The collapse of the negotiations and provocations by Netanyahu’s extremist colleague Ariel Sharon sparked the second Intifada and resulted in Sharon’s election.
Ironically, marginalized in the entire process were Palestinians who are masters at cutting off the nose of their own self-interests to spite the face of their needs.
Rather than viewing Israeli politics as a choice between the lesser of two evils – the fundamental formula of all Western election systems including in the United States — Palestinians view all Israeli governments as being “the same.”
They’re wrong, at least from the standpoint of achieving their goals for independence.
Palestinians have a knack of consistently embracing futility and snatching defeat from the jaws of compromise. If Israelis are hardening their attitudes against compromise, Palestinians are already there. Deep down, Palestinians cannot seem to reconcile their tragedy against the only option available, compromise.
The situation is so bad that if Netanyahu wins on Tuesday by galvanizing the growing religious fanatics and the hardline right, as many polls predict, we can expect another Intifada, another decade of conflict, and another period of unending violence.
Rather than undermine the Hamas extremists, the war in Gaza turned the Hamas organization into martyrs faster and better than Hamas members could have done it themselves.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at email@example.com.)
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