The Syrian Civil War is now grinding on into its fourth year. Over 150,000 people have died, and tens more are being killed every day in the ongoing fighting. Millions have lost their homes. Many will almost certainly never return to them. This is by far the greatest disaster to have hit the Levant in…
Seeing Syria, and increasingly Iraq, as wars between central governments taking on insurgencies challenging the nature of their rule, is increasingly a redundant way to see this conflict. I would suggest that a better frame for seeing both conflicts is as a single sectarian war taking place across borders in Iraq, Syria, and increasingly Lebanon. One can see alliances (coherent or less coherent) stretching across these borders, constituting a single war on various fronts.
As the fall semester begins, we are sure to see a renewal of anti-Israel activism on many college campuses, especially behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The collapse of the Kerry peace initiative and the summer war in Gaza have raised the temperature in an already fiery debate. The group leading these efforts, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) this summer issued updated guidelines. The new guidelines are alarming. The old rules were already the source of the most far reaching, comprehensive, and invasive academic boycott recommendations; the new ones extend themselves into virtually every element of higher education worldwide.
We relate to demilitarisation as a process, not as an item in the agreement with Hamas that can be achieved during negotiations for a long-term ceasefire. It was clear to us that it is not realistic to expect that Hamas will agree to disarm – we actually say this in the paper. What we meant is that we have to start a process that increases the long-term probability that the Gaza Strip will be demilitarised and the first stage is the prevention of rearmament.
What will be needed for Gaza to achieve the goal of demilitarisation will have to be something new. It will have to take into account the fact that Hamas has absolutely no interest in demilitarisation – their total rejection of this notion – therefore pressure will be a crucial element in any kind of plan or model for demilitarisation.
I would start by praising the approach. The two analysts argue that what has been done so far has not worked. I would want to build on that: Israel’s approach with respect to Hamas has been focused solely on security and on trying to achieve deterrence; it hasn’t been seen as part of a larger political process, so it has not led to stability.
What the two authors are saying between the lines is that the post-2007 policy – focused on trying to isolate and squeeze Gaza as much as possible, to try and weaken Hamas – has not worked. That’s the part of the assessment I agree with.
It is good to put the idea of demilitarisation on the table. Whether we are talking about the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the conflict in Gaza, I think it’s very smart. And to put it in the context of reconstruction is also very smart, because it sends an important message: we are not at war with the people of Gaza, we are war with Hamas and its ideology.
I support the approach as a matter of principle. However, we have to distinguish between shorter and longer term goals. The shorter term goal is to reach some kind of ceasefire arrangement, where both sides commit to a cessation of hostilities, coupled with the opening of Gaza to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. The longer term goal is to secure regional and international backing for a more ambitious approach of demilitarisation for reconstruction, opening Gaza to a ‘mini Marshall Plan’.
The question is, how do you go about changing the situation on the ground in a positive way for all parties concerned? There is a real opportunity here; I’m glad that the authors grab onto it. For years now the Gaza Strip has been misgoverned – polls taken just before the conflict began indicate that as many as 80 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza wanted Hamas out. They see that their fellow Palestinians are living better lives in Israel and the West Bank and they feel left behind. That, plus the legitimate and obvious desire to demilitarise the Gaza Strip, leads to this type of a plan.
You cannot resolve the problem by just throwing money at it. The reconstruction of Gaza is essential, but when we began the official negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, one of the messages I was asked to send to Hamas by the Israeli government was that when Gilad was free, Israel would allow a large amount of development to take place. I discovered Hamas wasn’t the least bit interested in this. This was not what motivated them. It is very much an Israeli/Jewish mindset which says ‘let’s throw money at the problem and resolve it.
The principle is very much on the mark. I think demilitarisation is a long term objective, although the reconstruction of Gaza should certainly be accompanied by the non-remilitarisation of Hamas. I doubt we will get very far with the reconstruction of Gaza unless there are two things in place. First, the relaxation of border controls; this is a Hamas demand that Israel should acquiesce in. Second, very tight supervision of what goes into Gaza during reconstruction. Remilitarisation would send us back to square one, with rockets and tunnels and everything that goes with those threats.
Framing the whole idea of moving forward in terms of demilitarisation for reconstruction shows nicely that Israel’s war is against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people, and that if Hamas was to give up terrorism – even without changing its ideology – reconstruction could take place. This puts the onus on Hamas to explain why they are unprepared to give up their rockets in exchange for reconstruction.
The paper accepts that the implementation of demilitarisation will be limited. But it also proposes a list of immediate steps that Israel should take in order to help get the process started. These include the opening of crossings into Gaza, allowing steps for economic recovery, payment of salaries, and so on. Unless I have misunderstood something, this sounds to me like a plan for reconstructing Gaza with Israeli assistance, under continued Hamas rule, in return for nothing, in the hope that it will create an environment in which Hamas will agree to demilitarisation. If that is the idea then I think it’s a very bad idea.
‘Reset,’ ‘Pivot,’ ‘Leading from Behind,’ ‘Red Lines,’ – the catchphrases of President Obama’s foreign policy are now often read as markers of failure, though non-intervention has been popular at home. What are the consequences of US retrenchment for the Middle East, and where will US policy go next? Fathom advisory editor Ben Cohen talked to Michael Doran about America’s global dilemma.