|Palestinians in Gaza celebrate ceasefire|
A Strategic Asset in Danger of becoming a Strategic Liability?
A highly interesting article from Adam Shatz in the latest edition of London Review of Books. Why was the attack on Gaza relatively short-lived and why were the main aims of the attack, the military defeat of Hamas found a ground offensive, not met?
My own view, which coincides with Shatz’s is that as the Middle East slowly changes politically, Israel only has the one option it has ever considered – military force – backed up by a bombastic propaganda offensive that makes more enemies than it wins. As the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks let slip in an unguarded moment, this was primarily about Iran. But although he was right to say that it wasn’t about Gaza, he wasn’t necessarily right about the real target being Iran.
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Israel is finding it difficult these days because it has become a litmus test for the post-Arab Spring regimes, as well as Turkey. With concentration on change in Syria, which the West would love to see but which has not been as easy as was forecast, Gaza was a diversion. It was also a threat to Egypt, because the transparent aim of ‘encouraging’ Gazans to flee to Egypt – hence the talk about levelling the place and returning Gaza to the stone-age.
What has been secured is a ceasefire which Israel has no intention of sticking to. But despite its rhetoric about ‘rockets’ anyone with eyes to see can discern the difference between laser-guided missiles fired from American FI6s and a besieged people retaliating with what amounts to pop-guns. There can be no equivalance between the people in Sderot and those in Gaza. The BBC may not find this balance to their liking but to most people it is obvious.
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But what the attacks has also disclosed is that Israel’s previous belief that it was the primary if not sole strategic asset in the region for the United States may be an overassumption. In certain circumstances, as David Petreus, former commander of the US’s Iraq Army and the CIA, hinted at, Israel might actually prove to be a unifying symbol for the disparate forces of Arab resistance.
Below Shatz’s article is a similar one by Norman Finkelstein, who when he abandons the batty idea that 2 States is good can still talk some sense.
There is no doubt that with up to 70% of the Israeli population against the ceasefire that the popular mood in Israel understands, if not the reason for the ceasefire, its implications.
The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.
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The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.
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Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in the Jerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.
Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however. And the ‘jungle’ – the Israeli word not just for the Palestinians but for the Arabs as a whole – may have the last laugh. Not only did Hamas put up a better fight than it had in the last war, it averted an Israeli ground offensive, won implicit recognition as a legitimate actor from the United States (which helped to broker the talks in Cairo), and achieved concrete gains, above all an end to targeted assassinations and the easing of restrictions on the movement of people and the transfer of goods at the crossings. There was no talk in Cairo, either, of the Quartet Principles requiring Hamas to renounce violence, recognise Israel and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: a symbolic victory for Hamas, but not a small one. And the Palestinians were not the only Arabs who could claim victory in Cairo. In diplomatic terms, the end of fighting under Egyptian mediation marked the dawn of a new Egypt, keen to reclaim the role that it lost when Sadat signed a separate peace with Israel. ‘Egypt is different from yesterday,’ Morsi warned Israel on the first day of the war. ‘We assure them that the price will be high for continued aggression.’ He underscored this point by sending his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza the following day. While refraining from incendiary rhetoric, Morsi made it plain that Israel could not depend on Egyptian support for its attack on Gaza, as it had when Mubarak was in power, and would only have itself to blame if the peace treaty were jeopardised. After all, he has to answer to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s parent organisation, and to the Egyptian people, who are overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. The Obama administration, keen to preserve relations with Egypt, got the message, and so apparently did Israel. Morsi proved that he could negotiate with Israel without ‘selling out the resistance’, in Meshaal’s words. Internationally, it was his finest hour, though Egyptians may remember it as the prelude to his move a day after the ceasefire to award himself far-reaching executive powers that place him above any law.
|religious messianism – israeli soldiers pray to a god of destruction|
That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position. Its relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region and the pillar of its ‘doctrine of the periphery’ (a strategy based on alliances with non-Arab states) have deteriorated with the rise of Erdogan and the AKP. The Jordanian monarchy, the second Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is facing increasingly radical protests. And though Israel may welcome the fall of Assad, an ally of Hizbullah and Iran, it is worried that a post-Assad government, dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brothers, may be no less hostile to the occupying power in the Golan: the occasional rocket fire from inside Syria in recent days has been a reminder for Israel of how quiet that border was under the Assad family. Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.
Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been ‘normalised’ by the Arab uprisings. Since the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey, which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha, while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo. Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising, distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia. It has circumvented the difficulties of the blockade by turning the tunnels into a lucrative source of revenue and worked, with erratic success, to impose discipline on Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in the Strip. The result has been growing regional prestige, and a procession of high-profile visitors, including the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to Gaza three weeks before the war and promised $400 million dollars to build housing and repair roads. The emir did not make a similar trip to Ramallah.
Hamas’s growing clout has not gone unnoticed in Tel Aviv: cutting Hamas down to size was surely one of its war aims. If Israel were truly interested in achieving a peaceful settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders – parameters which Hamas has accepted – it might have tried to strengthen Abbas by ending settlement activity, and by supporting, or at least not opposing, his bid for non-member observer status for Palestine at the UN. Instead it has done its utmost to sabotage his UN initiative (with the robust collaboration of the Obama administration), threatening to build more settlements if he persists: such, Hamas has been only too happy to point out, are the rewards for non-violent Palestinian resistance. Operation Pillar of Defence will further undermine Abbas’s already fragile standing in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has never been higher.
Hardly had the ceasefire come into effect than Israel raided the West Bank to round up more than fifty Hamas supporters, while Netanyahu warned that Israel ‘might be compelled to embark’ on ‘a much harsher military operation’. (Avigdor Lieberman, his foreign minister, is said to have pushed for a ground war.) After all, Israel has a right to defend itself. This is what the Israelis say and what the Israel lobby says, along with much of the Western press, including the New York Times. In an editorial headed ‘Hamas’s Illegitimacy’ – a curious phrase, since Hamas only seized power in Gaza after winning a majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections – the Times accused Hamas of attacking Israel because it is ‘consumed with hatred for Israel’. The Times didn’t mention that Hamas’s hatred might have been stoked by a punishing economic blockade. It didn’t mention that between the start of the year and the outbreak of this war, 78 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by Israeli fire, as against a single Israeli in all of Hamas’s notorious rocket fire. Or – until the war started – that this had been a relatively peaceful year for the miserable Strip, where nearly three thousand Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2006, as against 47 Israelis by Palestinian fire.
Those who invoke Israel’s right to defend itself are not troubled by this disparity in casualties, because the unspoken corollary is that Palestinians do not have the same right. If they dare to exercise this non-right, they must be taught a lesson. ‘We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza,’ Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post. ‘Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki too.’ Israel shouldn’t worry about innocent civilians in Gaza, he said, because there are no innocent civilians in Gaza: ‘They elected Hamas … they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.’ Such language would be shocking were it not so familiar: in Israel the rhetoric of righteous victimhood has merged with the belligerent rhetoric – and the racism – of the conqueror. Sharon’s Tarzan allusion is merely a variation on Barak’s description of Israel as a villa in the jungle; his invocation of nuclear war reminds us that in 2008, the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai proposed ‘a bigger holocaust’ if Gaza continued to resist.
But the price of war is higher for Israel than it was during Cast Lead, and its room for manoeuvre more limited, because the Jewish state’s only real ally, the American government, has to maintain good relations with Egypt and other democratically elected Islamist governments. During the eight days of Pillar of Defence, Israel put on an impressive and deadly fireworks show, as it always does, lighting up the skies of Gaza and putting out menacing tweets straight from The Sopranos. But the killing of entire families and the destruction of government buildings and police stations, far from encouraging Palestinians to submit, will only fortify their resistance, something Israel might have learned by consulting the pages of recent Jewish history. The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.
The official storyline is that Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence on 14 November, 2012 because, in President Barack Obama’s words, it had “every right to defend itself.”
In this instance, Israel was allegedly defending itself against the 800 projectile attacks emanating from Gaza since January of this past year.
The facts, however, suggest otherwise.
From the start of the new year, one Israeli had been killed as a result of the Gazan attacks, while 78 Gazans had been killed by Israeli strikes. The ruling power in Gaza, Hamas, was mostly committed to preventing attacks. Indeed, Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas leader whose assassination by Israel triggered the current round of fighting, was regarded by Israel as the chief enforcer of the periodic ceasefires, and was in the process of enforcing another such ceasefire just as he was liquidated.
Hamas occasionally turned a blind eye, or joined in to prevent an escalation, when Israeli provocations resulted in retaliatory strikes by Hamas’s more militant Islamist rivals. It recoiled at being cast as Israel’s collaborator in the image of the Palestinian Authority.
It has been speculated that Hamas was itching for a confrontation with Israel.
But this past year Hamas has been on a roll. Its ideological soulmate, the Muslim Brotherhood, ascended to power in Egypt. The emir of Qatar journeyed to Gaza carrying the promise of $400 million in aid, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to visit Gaza soon thereafter. In the West Bank many Palestinians envied (rightly or wrongly) that Gazans fared better economically. Meanwhile, Gaza’s Islamic University even managed to pull off an academic conference attended by renowned linguist Noam Chomsky.
Hamas’s star was slowly but surely rising, at the expense of the hapless Palestinian Authority. The very last thing it needed at that moment was an inevitably destructive confrontation with Israel that could jeopardise these hard-won, steadily accreting gains.
On the other side, many cynical Israelis speculated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the operation in order to boost his election prospects in January 2013.
As a general rule, however, Israeli leaders do not unleash major military operations for electoral gain where significant State interests are at stake. The fact that Defence Minister Ehud Barak dropped out of politics soon after the latest operation ended and his popular standing improved suggests that the forthcoming election was not a prime consideration for him. Why, then, did Israel attack?
In one sense, Israel was straightforward about its motive. It kept saying, credibly, that it wanted to restore its “deterrence capacity”—i.e., the Arab/Muslim world’s fear of it.
The real question, however, is the nature of the threat it wanted to deter.
The latest assault on Gaza unfolded in the broader context of successive Israeli foreign policy failures.
Netanyahu sought to rally the international community for an attack on Iran, but ended up looking the fool as he held up an Iranian nuclear device “smuggled” into the United Nations. Hezbollah boasted that a drone launched by it had penetrated Israeli airspace, and then reserved the right to enter Israeli air space at its whim. Now, its “terrorist” twin upstart in Gaza was gaining respectability as the Arab/Muslim world thumbed its collective nose at Israel on its doorstep.
The natives were getting restless. It was time to take out the big club again and remind the locals who was in charge.
“At the heart of Operation Pillar of Defence,” the respected Crisis Group observed, “lay an effort to demonstrate that Hamas’s newfound confidence was altogether premature and that, the Islamist awakening notwithstanding, changes in the Middle East would not change much at all.”
Still, Israel needed a suitable pretext. So, just as it knew that breaking the ceasefire in November 2008 by killing six Hamas militants would evoke a massive response, so it must have known that killing Jaabari would evoke a comparable response.
The actual Israeli assault, however, differed significantly from Operation Cast Lead (OCL) in 2008-9: it was qualitatively less murderous and destructive. Many commentators have therefrom inferred that Israel used more precise weapons this time and, concomitantly, that Israel had “learnt the lessons” from OCL on how to avoid civilian casualties.
In fact, 99 percent of Israeli Air Force attacks during OCL hit targets accurately, while the goal of OCL was—in the words of the Goldstone Report, which was supported by scores of other human rights reports—to “punish, humiliate and terrorise” the Gazan civilian population.
If Israel’s latest rampage proved less lethal by comparison, it was because of unprecedented political constraints imposed on it:
• Turkey and Egypt made abundantly clear that they would not sit idly by if Israel launched a repeat performance of OCL. From early on, both drew a red line at an Israeli ground assault. Although now officially denied, it was reliably reported at the time that Obama, no doubt prodded by these key regional actors, counselled Israel not to invade.
• Israel had hanging over its head the Goldstone Report. It managed to elude, the first time around, prosecution at the International Criminal Court and the exercise by several countries of universal jurisdiction for its war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the second time it might not be so fortunate.
• Gaza was swarming with foreign reporters. Before OCL, Israel had sealed Gaza shut from the outside world with the cooperation of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. In the initial phase of the onslaught, Israel enjoyed a near-total monopoly on media coverage. But now, journalists could freely enter Gaza and credibly report Israeli atrocities in real-time.
On account of this trio of factors, Israel mostly targeted sites that could be deemed “legitimate.” True, some 70 Palestinian civilians were killed, but that could be chalked up to “collateral damage.”
The deaths and injuries of civilians during the Israeli assault, although far fewer than in previous rounds of the conflict, received in-depth and graphic news coverage. When Israel tested the limits of military legitimacy, trouble loomed. After it flattened civilian governmental structures in Gaza, the headline on the New York Times web site read, “Israel targets civilian buildings.” A few hours later it metamorphosed into “government buildings” (no doubt after a call from the Israeli consulate). Still, the writing was on the wall: Israeli conduct was being closely scrutinised by outsiders, so it had better tread carefully.
The salient exceptions came during the final ceasefire negotiations when Israel resorted to its standard terrorist tactics in order to extract the best possible terms, and also targeted journalists in the event that the negotiations collapsed and it would have to, after all, launch the murderous ground invasion.
The armed resistance Hamas put up during the eight-day Israeli assault was largely symbolic. Although Israel acclaimed the success of Iron Dome, it almost certainly did not save many and perhaps not any lives. During OCL some 800 projectiles and mortar shells landing in Israel killed three Israeli civilians, while during the recent Israeli assault some 1,400 projectiles and mortar shells landing in Israel killed four Israeli civilians.
It is unlikely that, in the main and allowing for the occasional exception, Hamas used much more technically advanced weapons in the latest round. Through its army of informers and hi-tech aerial surveillance Israel would have been privy to large quantities of sophisticated Hamas weapons and would have destroyed these stashes before or during the first day of the attack. It is also improbable that Netanyahu would have risked an attack just on the eve of an election if Hamas possessed weapons capable of inflicting significant civilian casualties. A handful of Hamas projectiles reached deeper inside Israel than before but these lacked explosives; an Israeli official derisively described them as “pipes, basically.”
If Israel ballyhooed Iron Dome, it was because its purported effectiveness was the only achievement to which Israel could point in the final reckoning.
The climax of Israel’s assault came when it was unable to break the spirit of the people of Gaza. On the one hand, it had exhausted all preplanned military targets and, on the other, it couldn’t target the civilian population. Hamas had successfully adapted Hezbollah’s strategy of continually firing its projectiles, the psychological upshot of which was that Israel couldn’t declare its deterrence capacity had been restored, and thereby forcing on it a ground invasion.
Israel could not launch such an invasion, however, without suffering significant combatant losses unless the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blasted everyone and everything in and out of sight as it cleared a path into Gaza. But, because of the novel circumstances—the regional realignment after the Arab Spring, and Turkey under Erdogan; the threat of a “mega-Goldstone,” as a veteran Israeli commentator put it; the presence of a foreign press corps embedded not in the IDF but among the people of Gaza—Israel couldn’t launch an OCL-style ground invasion.
Israel was thus caught between a rock and a hard place. It couldn’t subdue Hamas without a ground invasion, but it couldn’t launch a ground invasion without incurring a politically unacceptable price in IDF casualties and global opprobrium.
It is possible to pinpoint the precise moment when the Israeli assault was over: Hamas leader Khalid Mishal’s taunt to Israel at a 19 November press conference, Go ahead, invade!
Netanyahu panicked. His bluff was called, and Israel stood exposed, naked, before the whole world. What happened next was a repeat of the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Unable to stop the Hezbollah rocket attacks but dreading the prospect of a ground invasion that meant tangling with the Party of God, Israel called in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to negotiate a ceasefire. This time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was summoned to bail Israel out. Not even the 21 November bus bombing in Tel Aviv—which, ceasefire or no ceasefire, would normally have elicited massive Israeli retaliation—shook Netanyahu from his determination to end the operation immediately, before Hamas resumed its taunting.
The terms of the final agreement marked a stunning defeat for Israel. It called for a mutualceasefire, not one, as Israel demanded, unilaterally imposed on Hamas. It also included language that implied the siege of Gaza would be lifted. Notably, it did not include the condition that Hamas must cease its importation or production of weapons. The reason why is not hard to find. Under international law, peoples resisting foreign occupation have the right (or, as some international lawyers more cautiously phrase it, license) to use armed force. Egypt, which brokered the ceasefire, was not about to accept a stipulation that conceded Hamas’s legal right. 
Israel no doubt hoped that the U.S. would use its political leverage to extract better ceasefire terms from Egypt. But the Obama administration, placing American interests first and consequently wanting to bring the new Egypt under its wing, was not willing (assuming it could) to lord it over Egypt on Israel’s behalf.
If any doubt remained about who won and who lost in the latest round, it was quickly dispelled. Israel launched the attack to restore Gaza’s fear of it. But after the ceasefire and its terms were announced, Palestinians flooded the streets of Gaza in a celebratory mood as if at a wedding party. In a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, Hamas’s Mishal cut the figure and exuded the confidence of a world leader. Meanwhile, at the Israeli press conference announcing the ceasefire, the ruling triumvirate—Netanyahu, Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—resembled grade-schoolers called down to the Principal’s Office, counting the seconds until the humiliation was over.
The ceasefire is likely to hold until and unless Israel can figure out how to militarily prevail given the new political environment. The days of Cast Lead are over, while a Pillar of Defence-type operation will not bear the fruits of victory.
It is unlikely, however, that Israel will fulfil the terms of the final agreement to lift the siege of Gaza. During deliberations on whether to accept the ceasefire, Barak had already cynically dismissed the fine print, saying “A day after the ceasefire, no one will remember what is written in that draft.”
It is equally improbable that Egypt will pressure the U.S. to enforce the ceasefire terms on Israel. The respective interests of the new Egypt and Hamas mostly diverge, not converge. Egypt desperately needs American subventions, and is currently negotiating a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, where Washington’s vote is decisive. The popularity of President Mohammed Morsi’s government will ultimately hinge on what it delivers to Egyptians, not Gazans.
In the meantime, U.S. political elites are lauding Morsi to high heaven, stroking his ego, and speculating on the “special relationship” he has cultivated with Obama. Those familiar with the psychological manipulations of the U.S. when it comes to Arab leaders—in particular, contemptibly mediocre ones such as Anwar Sadat—will not be surprised by the current U.S. romancing of Morsi.
It is also unlikely that Turkey will exert itself on Hamas’s behalf. Right now it is smarting from Obama’s rebuff of designating Egypt as prime interlocutor in brokering the ceasefire. Turkey was reportedly disqualified because it labelled Israel a “terrorist state” during the assault, whereas Egypt “only” accused Israel of “acts of aggression, murder and bloodletting.”
Still, aspiring to be the U.S.’s chief regional partner, and calculating that the road to Washington passes through Tel Aviv, Turkey has resumed negotiations with Israel to end the diplomatic impasse after Israel killed eight Turks aboard a humanitarian vessel headed for Gaza in 2010. On the other hand, its recent operation has brought home to Israel that alienating both its historic allies in the region, Egypt and Turkey, is not prudent policy, so a face-saving reconciliation between Ankara and Tel Aviv (the Turkish government is formally demanding an apology, monetary compensation, and an end to the Gaza siege) is probably in the offing.
The long and the short of it is that, even in the new era that has opened up, definite limits exist on how much regional support the Palestinians can realistically hope to garner.
It appears that many Palestinians have concluded from the resounding defeat inflicted on Israel that only armed resistance can and will end the Israeli occupation. In fact, however, Hamas’s armed resistance operated for the most part only at the level of perceptions—the projectiles heading towards Tel Aviv did unsettle the city’s residents—and it is unlikely that Palestinians can ever muster sufficient military might to compel an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
But Gaza’s steadfastness until the final hour of the Israeli assault did demonstrate the indomitablewill of the people of Palestine. If this potential force can be harnessed in a campaign of mass civil resistance, and if the supporters of Palestinian rights worldwide do their job of mobilizing public opinion and changing government policy, then Israel can be forced to withdraw, and with fewer Palestinian lives lost than in an armed resistance.
This article benefited from many conversations with Palestinian political analyst Mouin Rabbani and from Jamie Stern-Weiner playing the devil’s advocate.
Norman Finkelstein is the author of many books on the Israel-Palestine conflict, most recently,Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End, and is currently working on a book with Mouin Rabbani on how to resolve the conflict.
 It has also been speculated that the governing coalition had to do something to placate popular indignation at the Hamas attacks. But in fact, these attacks have barely registered on Israel’s political radar the past year, the focus being mostly on Iran and domestic issues.
 In a diplomatic side note to Netanyahu, Obama vaguely promised to “help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.”