So what was it all for? The 11-month old Palestinian baby killed with its entire family by an Israeli pilot, the 150-odd Palestinian dead – two thirds of them civilians – the six Israeli dead, 1,500 air raids on Gaza, 1,500 rockets on Israel. What fearful symmetry! But was all this done – and let us forget the billions of dollars of weapons spent by Israel – for a ceasefire? Not a peace treaty, not even a treaty, just a truce. Before the next Gaza war.
Cynics abound in Israel, and not without reason. “End of a military operation, beginning of an election campaign,” ran a headline in The Jerusalem Post yesterday – albeit in a newspaper that has given its usual support to war in Gaza.
But surely Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for the January elections began the moment he ordered the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas leader, just over a week ago. Indeed, the bombing of Gaza moved seamlessly into the Netanyahu election project: if Israelis want security, they know who to vote for.
Or do they? It was evident after the ceasefire began on Wednesday night that Mr Netanyahu was worried.
“I know that there are citizens who expect an even harsher military action…” he began, but “Israel’s challenges” had become more complicated down the years. “Under these conditions, we need to steer the ship of state responsibly and with wisdom.” An interesting choice of words, but Churchillian it was not.
For years now, Mr Netanyahu has been pressing ahead with Jewish colonies on West Bank land stolen from Arabs, effectively denying any future Palestinian statehood – and steering his own “ship of state” into a future tempest. If the Palestinians can have no state, Israel will have no peace, and Hamas rockets will in time look like an inconvenience in comparison to what is to come.
Benjamin Netanyahu has certainly improved Hamas’s election chances, and more or less doomed the political future of Mahmoud Abbas – Israel’s and America’s chosen Palestinian “interlocuteur valable” – who has frittered his time away in his Ramallah palace, growing ever more irrelevant with each Israeli air raid.
Scrabbling for non-state recognition at the UN – if he still intends to go ahead with this plan – doesn’t equal Hamas’s new popularity, nor the importance which we now have to attach to Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. The statesmen of Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf – if statesmen they can ever be called – travelled to Gaza to give their moral support to Palestinians, not to Ramallah.
Oddly, the self-delusional policies which Israel has often fed upon – in its second Lebanon war in 1982, for example – returned this month. In Washington, the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, has been arguing that the Gaza war began in 1948, “the day Arab forces moved to destroy the newly declared state of Israel.” But this is untrue.
The Gaza war began when Israel drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in that same year, many tens of thousands of them herded into the refugee camps of – yes, Gaza. It is their children and grandchildren who have been firing rockets into Israel – in some cases on to the very lands which their families once owned.
But Michael Oren follows up with some strange “history”. He seems to believe that the Arabs of 1948 were “inflamed by religious extremism”, and that the 1956 Suez crisis – plotted in advance by Israel, Britain and France after Nasser nationalised the canal – was an Arab attempt to destroy Israel.
Yesterday, Ophir Falk of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya managed to write that the Israeli military had “constrained itself to targeting combatants and their facilities, whereas Hamas primarily and premeditatedly targets civilians and their homes”.
But if Israeli pilots only targeted combatants, how come two-thirds of the 140 Palestinian dead were non-combatant men, women and children? Are Israeli pilots that ill-trained?
“You are not understanding how serious these rocket attacks are on our people,” a government official admonished me yesterday. I’m not so sure. And I wondered if he understood how serious were the Israeli attacks on Palestinian people.
But now, I suppose, for the election.
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