Another five comments on the situation

A guest post by Alex Stein of

1. Those who see Operation Cast Lead as some kind of Israeli election stunt often also view Hamas as itching for compromise. They might, we are told, accept some kind of long-term ceasefire based on Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. If only Israel would talk to them! If this is your view, perhaps explain to me this conundrum: Israeli elections are very simple. When the country is under attack, the right-wing generally performs better. The firing of Qassams on the Gaza envelope means that the more centrist parties (I accept the redundancy of the notion of a left/right split in mainstream Israeli politics) have to show their military muscle. Hence the decisiveness of the current operation. If Hamas wanted to maximise the chance of compromise, they could have eased off the rockets, at least until the new government was settled in. Why didn’t they?

 2. How did this sentence, from Tariq Ali, get published? “The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely…to help the incumbent parties triumph in the upcoming elections?” I assume that Mr Ali does not know as much about internal Israeli politics as he does about those of Pakistan, but here are a few pointers: How did Barak (the architect of the contigency plan for an attack on Gaza in the event of the breakdown of the truce)  know that the current government would collapse just a few weeks before the truce was due to expire? How did he know that Ehud Olmert would be indicted on corruption charges, leaving Tzipi Livni to try and form a coalition? How did he know that she would reject Shas’ demands on child payments, thus leaving no other option apart from early elections? This sounds like the work of a Timelord, not of a former failed Prime Minister. If only we had leaders of the foresight that Tariq Ali grants them.

3. One thing to add to Carlo Strenger’s trenchant critique of Nir Rosen.  Rosen, like many other on the left, cannot see beyond the paradigm of power differentials. According to this logic, all responsibility lies with the more powerful side in the conflict; their power means they can more safely offer concessions and magnanimity towards the weak. This is why one friend on Facebook refused my request that his call for an Israeli ceasefire be balanced by a call for a Hamas one. Power differentials are indeed an important factor in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they do not tell the whole story. They describe a material reality, but do little to explain the irrational intractables that have made the conflict so difficult to solve. Being weak, or being a victim, does not make you morally superior: you remain as responsible for your actions as anyone else. Even if you accept the pitiful account of Hamas’ rise, the responsibility for this conflagration remains theirs.

4. The criticism of Obama’s silence over the hostilities is unfair. He is right to state that there is only one president at a time, and he is right to take a holiday before embarking on what is arguably the toughest job in the world. Getting over-involved would have little point; he can have little impact until he is President, and there is no sense in compromising his stature with either party by taking sides.

5. In the interests of transparency, I should point out that this “five comments on the situation” series is inspired by the occasional “five comments on the situation” columb published by Yoel Marcus in Haaretz. I think there’s a lot to be said for this type of format, particularly during a conflict such as this. It offers a chance to try out ideas without having to milk them out over an entire page, thus ensuring that things remain much more focused. Or at least that’s the intention.