Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Israel's war queers the pitch for peace
This article of mine appears in The Australian.
FOR Imperial Japan it was Pearl Harbor. For the Soviet Union it was the invasion of Afghanistan. For the "1000-Year Reich" it was Operation Barbarossa.
History is littered with examples of countries and regimes that have destroyed themselves by launching ill-thought-out and over-ambitious attacks on others.
Could Israel, by its invasion of Gaza, have joined their number?
Let me declare my position from the start: I oppose the Israeli military invasion of Gaza because I believe it to be illegal and immoral. But I also believe that from Israel's point of view, Operation Cast Lead is a colossal strategic error.
There's no doubt that Israel's bombardment has inflicted damage on Hamas's military capability. But liquidating Hamas as a political and military force, as Israel's leaders hoped the operation would achieve, is another thing altogether.
Hamas now has the legitimacy of a resistance movement fighting against a foreign occupier and its popularity among Palestinians - and Muslims - across the world is likely to rise accordingly.
That's bad news for Fatah, Israel's preferred Palestinian faction, whose leaders have been denounced by Hamas and its supporters as cowards and Western collaborators.
It's not only the knock-on effects on internal Palestinian politics that should concern Israel. In the past couple of weeks there has been a significant shift in global public opinion towards the Jewish state. Despite the best efforts of its well-oiled public relations campaign and its supporters in the media, Israel's international image has taken a battering.
For many, the abiding image of the past fortnight will be the picture of a Palestinian mother weeping over the death of her five daughters, graphically displayed on the cover of The Washington Post. Israel has bombed UN schools and killed paramedics, and it stands accused of shelling a house full of refugees. We are used to Israel being condemned by radical Islamic clerics: now the condemnation comes from the UN, the Red Cross and the Vatican.
The shift in my views on Israel is, I believe, typical of many. In 1998, I attended Israel's official 50th birthday celebrations.
Last Saturday, along with at least 100,000 others, I took part in a huge anti-Israel demonstration in London. The London march was only one of many similar demonstrations across the world.
In Germany, where for obvious and understandable historical reasons criticism of Israel has been inhibited, protesters have marched with banners comparing Israel's actions with those of the Nazis in World War II. The point here is not whether such an analogy is accurate but that the comparison is now being made.
The global outrage that Israel's actions in Gaza have provoked has also given a powerful boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign aimed at subjecting Israel to an international boycott similar to the one that ended apartheid in South Africa.
The European Union, the world's biggest importer of Israeli goods, is under increasing pressure to suspend its recently upgraded trade agreement with Israel, while calls for a ban on arms sales to Israel have also intensified.
This wave of anti-Israel feeling is a far cry from the situation 40 years ago. In the 1960s and '70s, Israel basked in the warm glow of global public approval. Moshe Dayan, the hero of the Six-Day War, enjoyed a level of popularity that rivalled that of the day's biggest film stars, while prime minister Golda Meir was among the most respected political figures in the world.
When Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympic village in Munich in 1972, there was widespread grief and anger.
This goodwill towards Israel, though tarnished by Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, endured until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, an event that ushered in a more aggressive era in Israeli foreign policy. In the space of 40 years, Israel has gone from hero to villain: in 1967, 73 per cent of Europeans said they supported Israel; by 2007, 67 per cent were siding with the Palestinians.
And perhaps most worrying of all for Zionists is the fall in support for Israel in the US, where only 31 per cent of Democrats say they support the invasion of Gaza.
Zionists claim that growing public opposition to Israel signals a revival of anti-Semitism. But in fact the reason is simple.
In the wars of 1967 and 1973, Israel was seen as a country defending itself against hostile neighbours. In recent years it has been seen not as the victim but as the aggressor: both in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza now.
Some of the more intelligent Zionists realise that the Gaza invasion is a huge own goal.
British writer and commentator Peter Hitchens, a self-described consistent hardline supporter of the Jewish state, argues the invasion of Gaza will make it much harder to persuade Arab states and their people that Israel has a right to exist.
There can be little doubt that Gaza has given the anti-Zionist movement greater momentum.
It wasn't a Hamas spokesman but a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, who declared at Saturday's march in London: "Zionism is bullshit!" When Murray told the crowd he did not accept Israel's right to exist, he received one of the loudest cheers of the day.
Israel's operations in Gaza make a two-state solution to the Middle East problem less likely, as a growing number of people begin to question the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
Operation Cast Lead also undermines Arab regimes that have friendly relations with Tel Aviv. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak's 28-year hold on power is looking increasingly vulnerable, with anti-government demonstrations taking place almost every day.
Thirty years after the Islamic revolution in Iran, the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would be a disaster for Israel, but it is an outcome that becomes more likely each day the Gaza offensive continues.
Israel's leaders say that they had no alternative but to launch the attack on Gaza in the light of Hamas rocket attacks.
But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the decision to invade owed less to concerns over Israel's long-term security than to an attempt to secure the ruling Kadima-Labour Party coalition's return to power in the forthcoming general election.
"I have some good news," declared Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian academic and prominent Hamas supporter, at Saturday's London rally. "Israel has dug its grave."
Some will dismiss such talk as wishful thinking. But there are plenty of reasons for believing that he could be right.