Leading article: Gaza: the cycle can be broken

Share
Related Topics

More than 30 years ago, the American political philosopher Michael Walzer wrote: "First oppression is made into an excuse for terrorism, and then terrorism is made into an excuse for oppression." It was a good description of the Israel-Palestine problem then, and a good description of the dynamic that would make it worse over the following three decades.

It is a dynamic that operates in contravention of the simple, comforting and wrong principle that two democracies have never gone to war against each other.

The conflict between Israel and the people of Gaza is driven by democratic impulses. Hamas, the Islamic political party and paramilitary organisation, won control of the Gaza Strip in free and fair elections in January 2006. Its charter famously calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, although that was hardly the issue on which those elections were fought, there can be little doubt about the depth and extent of hostility towards Israel felt by the majority of the population of Gaza.

On the other side, Israeli politics are dominated at the moment by the campaign for Knesset elections on 10 February in which Tzipi Livni faces the hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu. Ms Livni, having advocated a policy of restraint, now supports the use of military force against the Hamas infrastructure.

The recent story of Israeli public opinion is one of retreat from the possibility of a two-state solution. Most Israelis were willing to negotiate in principle, but have become increasingly convinced that they have no one with whom to negotiate. The Fatah faction, led by Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, cannot deliver Gaza; and Hamas, which can, refuses to negotiate.

At some point, this cycle must be broken. It will not be this weekend, however. The most that can be done today is to urge the Israelis not to follow up their air strikes on targets in Gaza with a ground assault. In doing so, the word "counter-productive" is more likely to appeal to Israeli self-interest than the word "disproportionate".

There are, in any case, problems with the notion of proportionality in situations such as these. No state can be expected to tolerate rockets being launched at its civilians. No leader of such a state can be expected to shrug and say that it is not worth trying to stop small mobile rockets being fired from high-density residential areas. On the other hand, the persuasive argument against too heavy a military response is that it is counter-productive.

The last time that Israel launched an all-out military attack on territory from which terrorist rockets came – in Lebanon in 2006 – it did nothing to enhance long-term security for the Israeli people. Its main effect was to recruit a new generation of soldiers for Hizbollah, just as the main long-term impact of yesterday's air strikes on Gaza may be to recruit new armies for the most fundamentalist elements of Hamas.

Even in the midst of this depressing new turn of the cycle of violence, however, there may be hope. Already, we can imagine how Barack Obama, as US President, might respond to this bloodshed, and contrast it with George Bush's refusal to criticise the Israeli action in Lebanon.

No one should be naive about the ability even of a visionary leader such as President-elect Obama to change the realities on the ground in the Palestinian territories and to break this cycle of violence. But there are always grounds for hope. Before yesterday's attacks, there were some signs that disillusion with Hamas was setting in among the people of Gaza. Partly because of the continuing Israeli blockade, Hamas has failed to deliver higher living standards. Some Gazans even complain that life was better under the Israeli occupation.

Equally, most of the Arab world has lost patience with Hamas – most importantly the Egyptian government, which helped broker the recent ceasefire.

If Israel draws back now, it is possible that such erosion of Hamas support could continue. If there is a pragmatic wing of Hamas, it may be possible to strengthen it. A policy of restraint sounds like a politician's platitude, but in this case it is the wisest course of action.

There are precious few signs of hope in the Middle East today. But it is possible to imagine how, over time, Hamas could be given fewer excuses for terrorism, and Israel fewer excuses for actions that are bound to be seen as oppressive.

It is not because Barack Obama is a liberal that he offers hope, but because he has a creative and sympathetic intelligence. If the cycle is to be broken, his inauguration may be the moment.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?