Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’


September 29, 2014

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com,my

farish-a-noorTHE ongoing bombardment of Syria — ostensibly to remove the threat of the Islamic State (IS) — has sparked off a bout of serious questioning about the propriety of the campaign, and whether such a strategy would actually work.

Interestingly, many of these questions are also being raised in the Western press, where opinion makers have argued that such a strategy may well end up entrenching IS further and angering ordinary civilians, who will also be the victims of such attacks, for it is well-known that “smart weapons” are seldom truly smart, and that civilian casualties are bound to be incurred.

But more worrying still is the talk of a “war against evil” and the need to fight against IS in the defence of “civilisation”, “law and order”, and “justice”.The somewhat simplistic dialectics of such arguments are embarrassingly clear, where the insurgents of IS are being labelled as uncivilised and barbaric, while those who attack them have summarily assumed the mantle of a higher moral authority.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder if critical thinkers the world over have opined that what we are seeing today is a nasty prelude to a larger conflict that will be fought along the fault-lines of culture and civilisation?

Lest it be forgotten, we need to remember that IS does not represent the civilisation of Arab-Muslims in any way. In their deeds and words IS does not represent the same grand civilisation that was the product of thinkers like al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun.

As many contemporary Muslim leaders have argued, what we see in the ranks of IS is a travesty of Arab civilisation that was once the fountainhead of science and rational thinking.  But equally worrisome is the language and vocabulary of IS’s opponents, who have applied to them a pathology that is general, sweeping and reductionist.

To argue, as some Western leaders and policymakers have, that IS is the result of blind hate and anger, would be to reduce the frustrations and anxieties of millions of Arabs to bare emotions and reactionary action, without any attempt to understand and recognise the very real political-economic underpinnings of such collective anxiety.

It is dumfounding that hardly any of these leaders have noted the obvious fact that IS has emerged in a region that has been torn apart for three decades, since the Iran-Iraq war, that was also supported by external states and other actors.

It is equally perplexing to note that none of these leaders have acknowledged their own culpability in their policy of intervening in that region — in the name of “regime change” — and by doing so, weakened the states of the Arab world to the point where none of them can really rein in radical movements and splinter groups like IS. Do we seriously expect a moderate society to emerge from a region that has been reduced to a war zone for so long?

It is for this reason that the term “Clash of Civilisations” is so misleading, and dangerously so. As a glib slogan that reduces and over-simplifies the complexity of the problems of the Arab world, it is a convenient by-word that allows external actors and players to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the mess they have created.

The term is dangerous in the manner that it reduces the phenomenon of violent radical resistance to the level of primordial irrational sentiments, and reinforces the racist stereotype of Arabs as inherently violent and pathologically fatalistic.

In dealing with the real problem of groups like IS, a degree of honest, objective analysis is required that would also unveil the hidden hands at work, the connections with external agendas and interests.

What we do not need at the moment is some convenient slogan that white-washes the facts about intervention, regime change/manipulation and their monstrous outcomes.

And, we need to remember that the idea of the “Clash of Civilisations” itself is a concept that was never invented by us, but rather imposed upon us and other communities — perhaps in an effort to deny our genuine political-economic needs and aspirations, and to discard serious critical thinking for simplistic oppositional dialectics instead.

Najib: Moderation the way to check extremism


September 28, 2014

Najib: Moderation the way to check extremism

by Mergawati Zulfakar in New York

http://www.thestar.com.my

Najib in New York 2014Najib talks Moderation at UN ( but remains silent on Extremism at Home)

NEW YORK: Malaysia pushed further its moderation agenda on the global stage amid growing concern over increasing violent extremism, religious intolerance and threats of a self-declared Islamic State.

US welcome Najib to NYC.

US welcome Najib to NYC.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the moderation agenda should involve all religions to pursue the path to peace.“The fight against extremism is not about Christians versus Muslims or Muslims versus Jews but mode­rates versus extremists of all religions.We therefore need to rally a coalition of moderates, those willing to reclaim their religion and pursue the path to peace,” Najib said in his address at the 69th United Nations General Assembly here.

The Prime Minister in his 20-minute speech on Friday welcomed Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine and his efforts to bring moderate Pales­tinians and Israelis together to pray for peace.

Malaysia's PM Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor arrive at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali“By demonstrating moderation in the political process, we can ensure no one is left outside society.By practising moderation in religion, we can marginalise the extremists,” he told the gathering of world leaders and dignitaries. His wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was also present.

Najib said Malaysia rejected the so-called IS, which is defined by extremism, and condemned the violence being committed in the name of Islam.Muslims, he said, were watching in despair as Islam, a religion of peace, had been used to justify atrocities.“We know the threat to world peace and security is not Islam but extremism: intolerant, violent and militant extremism.”

It was time, he said, for the world to respond differently as previous wars against terror attacked one evil only to see a greater evil emerge.

“First, security and statehood must be returned to the people of Syria and Iraq and secondly, we must pursue a different kind of politics.We must break the cycle where one group gains power only to wield it against the other. We should commit to more inclusive politics.”

Malaysia, Najib said, was ready to share its moderation approach, which he believed could make a valuable contribution to fragile states and international affairs alike.The Prime Minister said countries must confront extremist pro­paganda and defeat the message that seduced the young into acts of violence.

“This is the work of a generation. To begin, we should focus on the real world conditions that allow disillusion to grow.That means building sustainable economies that bring opportunity for our people and addressing legi­timate concerns that drive radicalisim The fight against extremists must be won not just in Syria and Iraq but in Britain, Belgium, the United States and Malaysia,” he said.

“We must confront the myth that committing atrocities in the name of an Islamic State is an act of faith and that death brings martyrdom.Now is the time to advance a vision of peace and moderation. Let us show that Muslims, united in faith, can be a powerful force for progress, knowledge and justice, as we were in the greatest periods of our history,” he added.

Related:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46114&Cr=general+debate&Cr1=#.VCd4ZBb1KQL

 

In ‘World Order,’ Henry Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy


September 10, 2014

Books

Long View of History Includes Today

In ‘World Order,’ Henry Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy

Mr. Kissinger, now 91, strides briskly from century to century, continent to continent, examining the alliances and divisions that have defined Europe over the centuries, the fallout from the disintegration of nation-states like Syria and Iraq, and China’s developing relationship with the rest of Asia and the West. At its best, his writing functions like a powerful zoom lens, opening out to give us a panoramic appreciation of larger historical trends and patterns, then zeroing in on small details and anecdotes that vividly illustrate his theories.

This book is less concerned than Mr. Kissinger’s earlier ones — including “Diplomacy” (1994), which thisnixon volume draws upon heavily at times — with spinning or with rationalizing his own policy-making record as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon. Still, there are troubling passages: the handful of pages dealing with Vietnam, for instance, will remind many readers of Mr. Kissinger’s disingenuousness on that subject. Once again, he sidesteps questions about decisions that he and Mr. Nixon made that prolonged and expanded the war, as well as their devastating consequences.

As for Mr. Kissinger’s descriptions of prominent acquaintances or colleagues, they tend toward the anodyne or ingratiating. He doesn’t provide a plausible explanation for why he supported the invasion of Iraq, a position that weirdly aligned him more with Wilsonian neo-conservatives eager to export democracy than with realists like his former associate Brent Scowcroft, who presciently warned of the dangers of implementing regime change in Iraq. Instead, Mr. Kissinger talks vaguely about his respect and affection for President George W. Bush, praising him for guiding the country “with courage, dignity and conviction in an unsteady time.”

Mr. Kissinger also plays down his role as an informal, outside adviser to the George W. Bush White House. (In his 2006 book, “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward wrote that Mr. Kissinger had “a powerful, largely invisible influence” on that administration’s foreign policy, and met regularly with Vice President Dick Cheney.) In a 2005 essay, Mr. Kissinger wrote that “victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy” for the United States in Iraq; in this book, he writes that seeking to implement American values “by military occupation in a part of the world where they had no historical roots” proved “beyond what the American public would support and what Iraqi society could accommodate.”

TalleyrandMr. Kissinger’s sketches of historical figures like Talleyrand and Cardinal Richelieu remind us of his gifts as a portraitist while fleshing out his belief in the ability of great leaders to sway — or at least moderate — the course of history. He also provides a succinct summary of his long-held views on the destabilizing dangers of revolution: The French Revolution, he writes, “demonstrated how internal changes within societies are able to shake the international equilibrium more profoundly than aggression from abroad,” a lesson underscored by the upheavals of the 20th century, from Russia to Iran.

Known in the Nixon White House for his backstage maneuvering, Mr. Kissinger delivers some shrewd analysis here of the role that psychology can play (both in the case of individual leaders and entire countries) in foreign policy. He writes as well about how patterns of history often repeat themselves. For instance, of Russia, he asserts that “it has started more wars than any other contemporary major power, but it has also thwarted dominion of Europe by a single power,” holding fast against both Napoleon and Hitler; at the same time, he notes, it has undergone tidal rhythms of expansionism that have remained extraordinarily consistent “from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin.”

The model for world order that Mr. Kissinger repeatedly returns to is the so-called Westphalian peace, negotiated in Europe at the end of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48 at a time when conditions in Europe, he says, roughly approximated those of the contemporary world: “a multiplicity of political units, none powerful enough to defeat all the others, many adhering to contradictory philosophies and internal practices, in search of neutral rules to regulate their conduct and mitigate conflict.”

Old forms of hierarchical deference, he says, were quietly discarded by the dozens of battle-hardened, battle-weary parties (“the delegations, demanding absolute equality, devised a process of entering the sites of negotiations through individual doors, requiring the construction of many entrances”). And a set of straightforward ideas was embraced, most notably the recognition that the state — not the empire, dynasty or religious belief — was “the building block of European order,” and the establishment of state sovereignty (“the right of each signatory to choose its own domestic structure and religious orientation free from intervention”).

Balance of PowerThe Concert of Europe

The principle of balance of power (ensuring that no country augmented its strength to a point where it threatened to achieve hegemony) became a key to maintaining equilibrium in the Westphalian system, Mr. Kissinger says, even though it would often be “maligned as a system of cynical power manipulation, indifferent to moral claims” (charges that would frequently be made by critics of Mr. Kissinger’s own policy making).

Sometimes, in this volume, Mr. Kissinger assumes the role of history professor. In that sense, “World Order” brings his career full circle, back to the doctoral dissertation about the 19th-century statesmanship of Metternich and Castlereagh that he wrote six decades ago at Harvard and that contained all the seeds of his doctrine of realpolitik, now well-known.

As he’s done in earlier writings, Mr. Kissinger argues here that there are two main schools of American foreign policy: the realist school (based on national interests and geostrategic concerns, and exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt) and the idealist school (based on a sense of moral mission, and exemplified by Woodrow Wilson).

Mr. Kissinger, renowned as a practitioner of realpolitik, often sounds as if he were mouthing platitudes when he tries to articulate the importance of the idealistic strain in American diplomacy. (“There is a special character to a nation that proclaims as war aims not only to punish its enemies but to improve the lives of their people.”) He is way more persuasive when dissecting the dangers of the Wilsonian urge to “base world order on the compatibility of domestic institutions reflecting the American example” and the perils of failing to analyze “the cultural and geopolitical configuration of other regions and the dedication and resourcefulness of adversaries opposing American interests and values.”

When efforts to export democratic American ideas of order have fallen short, Mr. Kissinger argues, the country has frequently responded by abruptly retreating, resulting in a pattern that has risked “extremes of over extension and disillusioned withdrawal.” Three times in two generations — in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — he adds, “the United States abandoned wars midstream as inadequately transformative or as misconceived.” With the volatility of the world today, he writes, it is crucial for the United States to stay engaged on the world stage as a “balancer” in places like the Middle East and Asia, especially at a time when Europe seems to be turning inward.

There has always been a dark, almost Spenglerian cast to Mr. Kissinger’s thinking, and he sees ominous signs today of a descent back into a Hobbesian state of nature — in the bedlam overtaking Syria and Iraq, where “no common rules other than the law of superior force” seem to hold; in the spread of weapons of mass destruction and “the persistence of genocidal practices”; and in the Wild West of cyberspace, which has “revolutionized vulnerabilities.”

In fact, he says, we are “insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” at this moment in history when “chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence.”

Israel’s Colonialism Must End


August 5, 2014

OPINION

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/05/opinion/ali-jarbawi-israels-colonialism-must-end.html?ref=opinion

Israel’s Colonialism Must End

Centuries of European colonialism have provided the world with certain basic lessons about subjugating colonized peoples: The longer any colonial occupation endures, the greater the settlers’ racism and extremism tend to grow. This is especially true if the occupiers encounter resistance; at that point, the occupied population becomes an obstacle that must either be forced to submit or removed through expulsion or murder.

PalestineIn the eyes of an occupying power, the humanity of those under its thumb depends on the degree of their submission to, or collaboration with, the occupation. If the occupied population chooses to stand in the way of the occupier’s goals, then they are demonized, which allows the occupier the supposed moral excuse of confronting them with all possible means, no matter how harsh.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is one of the only remaining settler-colonial occupations in the world today.And it is not limited to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although Israel withdrew its settlers and army from Gaza in 2005, it is still recognized by the United Nations as an occupying power, due to its complete control of Gaza’s airspace, sea access and of almost all of its land borders.

Over the years, Israel has used all forms of pressure to prevent the Palestinians from achieving their national rights and gaining independence. It hasn’t been enough for Israelis to believe their own claims about Palestinians; they have sought incessantly to impose this narrative on the world and to have it adopted by their Western allies.

Unsurprisingly, all of this has led to complete shamelessness in mainstream Israeli rhetoric about Palestinians. After all, if one is not held accountable, then one has the freedom to think — and do — what one wants. With no internal or external checks, one can act with impunity.

The Israeli left is a relic, all but extinct, and the extremist right is entrenched in the Israeli political establishment. Attacking the Palestinians has become officially sanctioned policy, embedded in Israeli public consciousness and politely ignored in Western political circles.

There is now an extremist, racist ideological current in Israel that not only justifies the recent onslaught on the Gaza Strip, but actually encourages the use of enormous and disproportionate violence against civilians, which has led to the extermination of entire families.

Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, recently called on the Israeli army to attack and occupy Gaza, paying no heed to anything but the safety of Israeli soldiers. He then demanded that Gaza be annexed to Israel, and asked the army to use all means at its disposal to “conquer” Gaza, by which he meant that obedient Palestinians would be allowed to stay, while the rest — the majority — should be exiled to the Sinai Peninsula. This cannot be understood as anything less than a call for ethnic cleansing.

Ayelet Shaked, a Knesset member for the Jewish Home Party, a member of the governing coalition, called on the Israeli army to destroy the homes of terrorist “snakes,” and to murder their mothers as well, so that they would not be able to bring “little snakes” into the world.

And Mordechai Kedar, a Professor at Bar Ilan University, publicly suggested that raping the mothers and sisters of “terrorists” might deter further terrorism. The university did not take any measures against him.

Such statements are no longer isolated incidents, but reflective of the general sentiment within a country where chants of “Kill the Arabs” are increasingly common. It is no longer an aberration to hear these opinions expressed in public, or by politicians and academics. What is unexpected — and unacceptable — is that such statements are not met with any sort of condemnation in official Western circles that claim to oppose racism and extremism.

The rise in Israeli racism and extremism against Palestinians would not have happened without the unconditional support that Israel receives from its allies, most significantly the United States. Israel cannot continue to be the exception to the rule of international law and human rights. The international community must hold it accountable for its rhetoric and its actions, and begin to treat it like all other countries. It should not be allowed to continue to enjoy its state of exceptionalism and to use this to wreak destruction on the Palestinian people.

After 47 years of occupation, two decades of stalled peace talks and almost eight years of a strangulating siege of the Gaza Strip, the international community must demand that Israel clearly state what it intends to do with its occupation of the Palestinian people. Since the Palestinians are not the occupiers, but rather those living under occupation, this question cannot be asked of them.

If Israel wants to continue its occupation and hinder Palestinians’ path to freedom and independence, then it should be aware that the Palestinian people will continue to resist with all the means at their disposal. If Israel intends to end the occupation, then it will find that the Palestinians are more than ready for an agreement.

What the Palestinians are enduring today in Gaza should be a clarion call for the entire world to end the bloodshed. But it will take more than a cease-fire. It will take peace. And peace cannot happen without an end to the occupation.

Ali Jarbawi is a political scientist at Birzeit University and a former Minister of the Palestinian Authority. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.

US Unconditional Aid to IsraelUS-Israel Partnership

NOTE: It is no secret that the unconditional backing of the United States—in providing funds, weapons, and vetoes at the United Nations—is one of the primary factors behind the impunity with which Israel and its colonial policy violate international law. That backing is also a considerable obstacle to serious negotiations between the Israeli regime and the colonial functionaries like Hamas who it loves to hate, but whose presence are also essential to its continued hegemony in Gaza.

http://californiamwananchi.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-alliance-unhinged.html

My Take on GAZA: The Israeli-Hamas Conflict


August 3, 2014

My Take on GAZA: The Israeli-Hamas Conflict

by Din Merican

Israeli Protest

I am tempted to offer my views of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict after reading a lot of comments by Malaysians on Facebook. There are basically two groups exchanging tirades against each other, one using Israel propaganda to justify military actions taken by the Israeli Government against the Hamas and the people of Gaza, and the other group criticising Israeli’s use of overwhelming force against the people of Gaza who have been pushed into a corner with no option but to defend themselves against the Israeli aggression.

dinmericanWhat is disturbing is that this debate is along Muslim-Malay versus the other non-Muslim Malaysian lines. The impression I feel that this is a kind of a proxy fight between Muslims (UMNO) and Non-Muslims in our country. This is an unhelpful development since it is a reflection of the state of political discourse  and the rising racial tensions in Malaysia. We cannot even have a decent debate without resort to racial slurs, feminist remarks, and uncouth language. Our politicians should take the blame for playing race and religion.

In war, we will never know who is right and who is wrong, thanks to psy war. In truth, war never solves problems. In fact, war creates scars to the human psyche. Observers can debate, while people in war situations suffer the loss of their loved ones, the old, the sick, women and children and property. For peace, we must learn to respect human dignity.

The conflict between Israel and the Hamas is complex and has a long history of hatred and mistrust among the Israelis and Palestinians, fueled by big power rivalry, with the United States unashamedly taking the side of Israel, while trying to play the honest broker to the broader Palestinian Question. The truth is that the US President and the US Congress cannot stop military aid to Israel. In fact, it is in the self interest of the United States (access to oil and gas resources) to maintain a strong Israel while allowing the Arab World to remain weak and divided between Sunnis and Shia. Look at Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq and client states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The role of Iran in the Sunni-Shia divide too cannot be ignored.

In his article http://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/63563/, George Friedman said, “[W]e have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel with minimal effect. The Israelis are carrying out a broader operation to seal tunnels along the Gaza-Israel boundary. Like the previous wars, the current one will settle nothing. The Israelis want to destroy Hamas’ rockets. They can do so only if they occupy Gaza and remain there for an extended period while engineers search for tunnels and bunkers throughout the territory. This would generate Israeli casualties from Hamas guerrillas fighting on their own turf with no room for retreat. So Hamas will continue to launch rockets, but between the extreme inaccuracy of the rockets and Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, the group will inflict little damage to the Israelis.

The most interesting aspect of this war is that both sides apparently found it necessary, despite knowing it would have no definitive military outcome. The kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers followed by the incineration of a Palestinian boy triggered this conflict. An argument of infinite regression always rages as to the original sin: Who committed the first crime?

For the Palestinians, the original crime was the migration into the Palestinian mandate by Jews, the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of Arabs from that state. For Israel, the original sin came after the 1967 war, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. At that moment, the Israelis were prepared to discuss a deal, but the Arabs announced their famous “three nos” at a meeting in Khartoum: no negotiation, no recognition, no peace. That locked the Israelis into an increasingly rigid stance. Attempts at negotiations have followed the Khartoum declaration, all of which failed, and the “no recognition” and “no peace” agreement is largely intact. Cease-fires are the best that anyone can hope for.

For Hamas, at least — and I suspect for many Palestinians in the West Bank — the only solution is Israel’s elimination. For many Israelis, the only solution is to continue to occupy all captured territories until the Palestinians commit to peace and recognition. Since the same Israelis do not believe that day will ever come, the occupation would become permanent…

For the Israelis, the point of the operation is that they are willing to carry it out at all. The Israelis undoubtedly intend to punish Gaza, but they do not believe they can impose their will on Gaza and compel the Palestinians to reach a political accommodation with Israel. War’s purpose is to impose your political will on your enemy. But unless the Israelis surprise us immensely, nothing decisive will come out of this conflict. Even if Israel somehow destroyed Hamas, another organization would emerge to fill its space in the Palestinian ecosystem. Israel can’t go far enough to break the Palestinian will to resist; it is dependent on a major third-party state to help meet Israeli security needs. This creates an inherent contradiction whereby Israel receives enough American support to guarantee its existence but because of humanitarian concerns is not allowed to take the kind of decisive action that might solve its security problem.”

I share Tariq Ali’s view http://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/disgrace/ that “[T]here is no military solution in the region. Israel is a nuclear state and has the sixth largest army in the world (so talk of parity with Hamas – moral, political or military – is grotesque). It is threatened by itself, not by an outside force. The only solution left is the creation of a single state with equal rights for all and till this is achieved the only way to help the Palestinians in the medium-term is via the BDS campaign. It is not enough, I know, but it is the very least we can do.”

http://inpec.in/2011/10/26/oil-and-the-arabian-peninsula-blessing-or-curse/

Gaming Israel and Palestine


August 3, 2014

Gaming Israel and Palestine

G.FriedmanBy George Friedman

We have long argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inherently insoluble. Now, for the third time in recent years, a war is being fought in Gaza. The Palestinians are firing rockets into Israel with minimal effect. The Israelis are carrying out a broader operation to seal tunnels along the Gaza-Israel boundary. Like the previous wars, the current one will settle nothing. The Israelis want to destroy Hamas’ rockets. They can do so only if they occupy Gaza and remain there for an extended period while engineers search for tunnels and bunkers throughout the territory. This would generate Israeli casualties from Hamas guerrillas fighting on their own turf with no room for retreat. So Hamas will continue to launch rockets, but between the extreme inaccuracy of the rockets and Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, the group will inflict little damage to the Israelis.

War Without a Military Outcome

The most interesting aspect of this war is that both sides apparently found it necessary, despite knowing it would have no definitive military outcome. The kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers followed by the incineration of a Palestinian boy triggered this conflict. An argument of infinite regression always rages as to the original sin: Who committed the first crime?

For the Palestinians, the original crime was the migration into the Palestinian mandate by Jews, the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of Arabs from that state. For Israel, the original sin came after the 1967 war, during which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. At that moment, the Israelis were prepared to discuss a deal, but the Arabs announced their famous “three nos” at a meeting in Khartoum: no negotiation, no recognition, no peace. That locked the Israelis into an increasingly rigid stance. Attempts at negotiations have followed the Khartoum declaration, all of which failed, and the “no recognition” and “no peace” agreement is largely intact. Cease-fires are the best that anyone can hope for.

For Hamas, at least — and I suspect for many Palestinians in the West Bank — the only solution is Israel’s elimination. For many Israelis, the only solution is to continue to occupy all captured territories until the Palestinians commit to peace and recognition. Since the same Israelis do not believe that day will ever come, the occupation would become permanent.

Under these circumstances, the Gaza war is in some sense a matter of housekeeping. For Hamas, the point of the operation is demonstrating it can fire rockets at Israel. These rockets are inaccurate, but the important thing is that they were smuggled into Gaza at all, since this suggests more dangerous weapons eventually will be smuggled in to the Palestinian territory. At the same time, Hamas is demonstrating that it remains able to incur casualties while continuing to fight.

For the Israelis, the point of the operation is that they are willing to carry it out at all. The Israelis undoubtedly intend to punish Gaza, but they do not believe they can impose their will on Gaza and compel the Palestinians to reach a political accommodation with Israel. War’s purpose is to impose your political will on your enemy. But unless the Israelis surprise us immensely, nothing decisive will come out of this conflict. Even if Israel somehow destroyed Hamas, another organization would emerge to fill its space in the Palestinian ecosystem. Israel can’t go far enough to break the Palestinian will to resist; it is dependent on a major third-party state to help meet Israeli security needs. This creates an inherent contradiction whereby Israel receives enough American support to guarantee its existence but because of humanitarian concerns is not allowed to take the kind of decisive action that might solve its security problem.

We thus see periodic violence of various types, none of which will be intended or expected to achieve any significant political outcome. Wars here have become a series of bloodstained gestures. There are some limited ends to achieve, such as closing Palestinian tunnels and demonstrating Palestinian capabilities that force Israel into an expensive defensive posture. But Hamas will not be defeated, and Israel will make no concessions.

Sovereignty and Viability Problems

The question therefore is not what the point of all this is — although that is a fascinating subject — but where all this ends. All things human end. Previous longstanding conflicts, such as those between France and England, ended or at least changed shape. Israel and Palestine accordingly will resolve their conflict in due course.

Many believe the creation of a Palestinian state will be the solution, and those who believe this often have trouble understanding why this self-evidently sensible solution has not been implemented. The reason is the proposed solution is not nearly as sensible as it might appear to some.

Issues of viability and sovereignty surround any discussion of a Palestinian state. Geography raises questions about the viability of any Palestinian polity. Palestine has two population centers, Gaza and the West Bank, which are detached from one another. One population center, Gaza, is an enormously crowded, narrow salient. Its ability to develop a sustainable economy is limited. The West Bank has more possibilities, but even it would be subordinate to a dynamic Israel. If the Palestinian workforce is drawn into the Israeli economy, both territories will become adjuncts to Israel. Within its current borders, a viable Palestine is impossible to imagine.

From the Israeli point of view, creating a Palestine along something resembling the 1967 lines (leaving aside the question of Jerusalem) would give the Palestinians superb targets, namely, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Given its history, Israel is unlikely to take that risk unless it had the right to oversee security in the West Bank in some way. That in turn would undermine Palestinian sovereignty.

As you play out the possibilities in any two-state solution, you run into the problem that any solution one side demanded would be unbearable to the other. Geography simply won’t permit two sovereign states. In this sense, the extremists on both sides are more realistic than the moderates. But that reality encounters other problems.

Israel’s High-Water Mark

Currently, Israel is as secure as it is ever likely to be unless Hamas disappears, never to be replaced, and the West Bank becomes even more accommodating to Israel. Neither of these prospects is likely. Israel’s economy towers over its neighbors. The Palestinians are weak and divided. None of Israel’s neighbors pose any threat of invasion, a situation in place since the 1977 neutralization of Egypt. Jordan is locked into a close relation with Israel, Egypt has its peace treaty and Hezbollah is bogged down in Syria. Apart from Gaza, which is a relatively minor threat, Israel’s position is difficult to improve.

Israel can’t radically shift its demography. But several evolutions in the region could move against Israel. Egypt could change governments, renounce its treaty, rearm and re-enter the Sinai Peninsula. Hezbollah could use its experience in Syria to open a front in Lebanon. Syria could get an Islamic State-led government and threaten the Golan Heights. Islamists could overthrow Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy and pose a threat to the east. Turkey could evolve into a radical Islamic government and send forces to challenge Israel. A cultural revolution could take place in the Arab world that would challenge Israel’s economic superiority, and therefore its ability to wage war. Iran could smuggle missiles into Gaza, and so on.

There is accordingly an asymmetry of possibilities. It is difficult to imagine any evolution, technical, political or economic, that would materially improve Israel’s already dominant position, but there are many things that could weaken Israel — some substantially. Each may appear far-fetched at the moment, but everything in the future seems far-fetched. None is inconceivable.

It is a rule of politics and business to bargain from strength. Israel is now as strong as it is going to be. But Israel does not think that it can reach accommodation with the Palestinians that would guarantee Israeli national security, a view based on a realistic reading of geography. Therefore, Israel sees little purpose in making concessions to the Palestinians despite its relative position of strength.

In these circumstances, the Israeli strategy is to maintain its power at a maximum level and use what influence it has to prevent the emergence of new threats. From this perspective, the Israeli strategy on settlements makes sense. If there will be no talks, and Israel must maintain its overwhelming advantage, creating strategic depth in the West Bank is sensible; it would be less sensible if there were a possibility of a peace treaty. Israel must also inflict a temporary defeat on any actively hostile Palestinian force from time to time to set them back several years and to demonstrate Israeli capabilities for psychological purposes.

The Palestinian position meanwhile must be to maintain its political cohesion and wait, using its position to try to drive wedges between Israel and its foreign patrons, particularly the United States, but understanding that the only change in the status quo will come from changes outside the Israeli-Palestinian complex. The primary Palestinian problem will be to maintain itself as a distinct entity with sufficient power to resist an Israeli assault for some time. Any peace treaty would weaken the Palestinians by pulling them into the Israeli orbit and splitting them up. By refusing a peace treaty, they remain distinct, if divided. That guarantees they will be there when circumstances change.

Fifty Years Out

Israel’s major problem is that circumstances always change. Predicting the military capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds in 50 years is difficult. Most likely, they will not be weaker than they are today, and a strong argument can be made that at least several of their constituents will be stronger. If in 50 years some or all assume a hostile posture against Israel, Israel will be in trouble.

Time is not on Israel’s side. At some point, something will likely happen to weaken its position, while it is unlikely that anything will happen to strengthen its position. That normally would be an argument for entering negotiations, but the Palestinians will not negotiate a deal that would leave them weak and divided, and any deal that Israel could live with would do just that.

What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline. Meanwhile, the relative strength of the Palestinians may increase, though this isn’t certain.

Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/gaming-israel-and-palestine#ixzz39GnidByO