The New York Times recently reported that unidentified Israeli officials claimed that Israel is looking to unilaterally end the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. After more than 1800 Palestinian casualties in three weeks of fighting, international pressure to cease hostilities appears to be working. However, this strategy of the “silent treatment,” rather than a negotiated settlement may not be right course of action. In fact, there may be no morally right way forward, given the complexity of this case.
The anonymous Israeli officials told the Times that they did not want to “reward” Hamas with negotiations or a ceasefire. Thus Israel would merely wind down operations, since it has destroyed many of the tunnels it claimed were its primary objectives. The logic, reportedly, is that officials hope that a slow truce will take hold, as it did after hostilities in 2009.
At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites, facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the 'targeted' operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term 'genocide' is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only 'extreme' activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like 'indiscriminate' 'disproportionate' or 'criminal.' The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community's 'punishable' role as actors 'complicit' to a genocide.
"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. "
“Mutti,” aka Angela Merkel, is not amused. Neither is the rest of the German political establishment, the German media, or the vast majority of German people. Three days ago, some of the protesters against the Israeli campaign in Gaza yelled anti-Semitic hate paroles, a man wearing a kippah was chased through Berlin, and the police didn’t interfere. This is absolutely shameful for all of us Germans and it is very understandable that the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, condemned the acts in the strongest words. However, Mr. Hadas-Handelsman is wrong to insinuate parallels between the current situation and the Germany of 1938.
The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.
R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a contentious and nuanced doctrine. How it applies to the current situation in Gaza is not at all evident, given that this particular situation is not an “easy” case. The conflict is not “internal” in the way that Syria’s civil war is, and as such, few have called upon the parties to clearly uphold their “responsibility to protect.” Thus before anyone rings the death knell for R2P (again), we ought to consider the facts of the case.
What's the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, "The IDF's objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure."
Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante -- albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn't want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn't want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes :
Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir -- I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues. We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.
As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation.
Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms' length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?
Recent work on conflict management suggests not. Less intrusive approaches to mediation, such as information provision, fail to solve the problem that poses an obstacle to efficient negotiate between the belligerents in the first place. More intrusive approaches such as deploying armed peacekeepers are often successful, at least if they come after a conflict ends, but entail great costs. You want lasting peace on the cheap? Good luck with that.
Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.
In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace---but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kavita Khory, Professor of Political Science at Mount Holyoke College.
Last spring the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston invited me to participate in a weeklong study tour to Israel. Designed for scholars of international relations, political science, and public policy, the purpose of the educational tour was to provide an “in-depth firsthand exposure” to Israel and promote a “deeper understanding” of its politics and society. The faculty study tour, now in its fourth or fifth iteration, is billed as the cornerstone of the organization’s public diplomacy initiative and its program for Israel advocacy. I never made it to Israel, but I quickly developed a profound understanding of the Israeli government’s double standards and the limits of an American passport.
I was excited at the prospect of visiting Israel for the first time and yet skeptical about the value of a politically motivated program. I wondered whether my participation would be seen as an endorsement, as some colleagues argued, of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. If I did not go on the trip, would I be passing up a unique opportunity to learn about Israel in the company of exceptional scholars and teachers? Conversations with colleagues, including past participants in CJP tours, convinced me of the educational benefits of the program, despite its obvious drawbacks. So I set aside my reservations and signed up.
A week before our departure, the CJP informed me that I (the only member of the group and a US citizen) would need to carry a separate identification document at all times—a “card” certifying that I had been “prescreened” by the Israeli Consulate in Boston. While “technically traveling with a U.S. passport is sufficient in Israel,” additional documentation, I was told, would ensure a “smooth” trip.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.
When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.
While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.
This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.
My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.
Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized.
This is a guest post by Brent Sasley. Sasley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix and Open Zion. Follow him on Twitter.
The Israeli election results are far messier than anyone had hoped, leading to furious debates about who got what right about the Israeli electorate. This seems to be especially true among Western analysts and media that aren’t close Israel watchers but do comment on Israeli politics.
And it is messy. On the face of it, the religious (Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home) and rightwing (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and National Union) bloc did drop from 65 seats to 61 (a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home).
Yet United Torah Judaism increased from 5 to 7 mandates, while Jewish Home went from 3 to 12 seats. At the same time, the “soft” or center right also dropped: Kadima went from 28 seats in the previous Knesset to 2 today, while a new party, Yesh Atid, appeared with 19.
And the center-left and left did better at the same time: Labor picked up 2 seats (13 to 15) while Meretz doubled its representation from 3 to 6 seats. The Arab parties stayed the same at 11 mandates.
This is a guest post by Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama) and Daniel Bertrand Monk (Colgate University). Daniel J. Levine is author of Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique. Daniel Bertrand Monk is the co-editor, with Jacob Mundy, of the forthcoming: The Post-Conflict Environment: Intervention and Critique (University of Michigan, 2013). The authors’ names for this essay have been listed alphabetically.
tl;dr notice: ~2600 words.
"As Ambassador Gillerman has said many times on our show, ‘Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood." -- Fox News, 16 November 2012
“As he was asking instructions…a man in his early 20’s came up, stuck the point of a knife against his back and ordered him into the lobby of adjacent building….The youth was…ordered to surrender his money. He explained that the only reason he was there at all was that he had no money…. The man closed his knife and said: “Look, this is a very dangerous neighborhood. You should never come to this part of the city.” Then he instructed him to his destination via the safest route, patted him on the back and sent him on his way.” -- New York Times, Metropolitan Diary, Lawrence Van Gelder
The Arab Middle East may have undergone significant political transformations in the period between Israel’s 2008 ‘Cast Lead’ Operation against Gaza and the recent ‘Defensive Pillar’ campaign, but no one in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv appears to think that a review of Israel’s ‘grand strategy’ is warranted. If anything, seasoned observers suggest, the Arab Spring seems to have driven Israelis to assume out of resignation a position which Zionist nationalists like Vladimir Jabotinsky once held with fervor. Writing in 1923, Jabotinsky evocatively described a metaphorical “iron wall” that would protect Zion from the ire of its neighbors; for their part, contemporary Israelis (we are told) can only imagine a future in which they will be perpetually enclosed within a (quasi-literal) Iron Dome. Hence, Ethan Bronner reports: Israelis have concluded that “their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous…”’ To them “that means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted” in the region.
Interpreters of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the ‘Anglosphere’ and seasoned Middle East watchers often resort to the same curious euphemism: seeking to make the region’s unique patterns of violence intelligible to American audiences and to themselves, they explain Israel’s impatience with diplomacy, and its reliance on disproportionate use of force, by referring to the “dangerous neighborhood” in which it finds itself. Bolstered by an “ideology of the offensive” that has been present in Israeli strategic/operational thought since the 1950s (see here, here, and here), and by the ostensible ‘lessons’ of the Shoah for Jewish self-defense, this euphemism evokes positions so pragmatically self-explanatory that no further justification is felt to be needed. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit even released a meme (see the opening image) with the intention of rendering this logic visually explicit.
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