In the previous post, I looked at who Hamas are, and why they might not be honest brokers in the war. We did this by looking at their own words, from the Hamas Charter.
In this post, I want to examine the arguments of the people who believe that the war in unjustified. I very much admire Johann Hari, and his article The true story behind this war is not the one Israel is telling gives perhaps the best argument against the war that I’ve read. I will briefly summarise Hari’s argument:
- "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde.” That is, it was a cynical ruse to stop the establishment of a Palestinian State.
- Most Palestinians want a two-state solution and they were horrified by the Israeli deception. Hari quotes 72% in favour of a two state solution based on the 1967 borders.
- So the Gazans voted for Hamas in free and fair elections and also because they were disgusted by Fatah’s corruption.
- So Hamas offered Israel a long ceasefire, and a de-facto recognition of the two states, on the condition that Israel returns to its 1967 borders.
- Israel did not play ball with Hamas, and imposed an almost total blockade on Gaza.
- But, Hamas continued to press for peace, and on 23 December 2008, the Israeli Cabinet rejected “a ceasefire in return for basic and achievable compromises”.
- This led to Hamas firing rockets into Israel (which Hari acknowledges is immoral).
- So Israel attacks Gaza.
I think there are several weaknesses in Hari’s argument.
First, I think he mischaracterises the Israeli position about the disengagement. Hari claims that it was a deception to stop the peace process in its tracks, but I have found (via shlemazl) the original Haaretz article where the quote was found. In this article, Dov Weisglass says that the purpose of the “formaldehyde” is to force the Palestinian side to prove their credentials and commitment to peace (and it’s worth quoting in full):
"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the [US] president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
[Haaretz:] Is what you are saying, then, is that you exchanged the strategy of a long-term interim agreement for a strategy of long-term interim situation?
"The American term is to park conveniently. The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians. There is a decision here to do the minimum possible in order to maintain our political situation. The decision is proving itself. It is making it possible for the Americans to go to the seething and simmering international community and say to them, `What do you want.' It also transfers the initiative to our hands. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote. It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner that they hate to be in. It thrusts them into a situation in which they have to prove their seriousness. There are no more excuses. There are no more Israeli soldiers spoiling their day. And for the first time they have a slice of land with total continuity on which they can race from one end to the other in their Ferrari. And the whole world is watching them - them, not us. The whole world is asking what they intend to do with this slice of land."
So this is the exact opposite of what Hari is claiming. The withdrawal from Gaza was an effort to make the Palestinians prove themselves.
The rest flows from that. Although Hamas did make some peace overtures (in Egypt and in Moscow), they did not renounce their desire to destroy Israel. Indeed, throughout this whole period, Hamas TV had a children’s character called “Assud”, and prior to him, “Nahoul the Bee” who preached hatred of Jews and destruction of Israel (eg among many others, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP184108).
Also, during the time of this so-called peace, Hamas built an infrastructure of tunnels, and imported munitions. It captured Gilad Shalit and launched a massive barrage of thousands of rockets at Israel.
It’s of course tragic that civilians are hurt or killed. Israel goes to lengths beyond that of any belligerent nation in history to avoid civilian casualties, The IDF makes phone calls to the residents of buildings that they’re targeting.
I think that the conclusion is that Israel is justified to perform its military operations. What it would do to make them stop is for Hamas to renounce violence. That’s the issue at the centre of the conflict.