Monica Toft on the Gaza Crisis, Future of Israel, Hamas

January 8, 2009 By Lindsay Hodges Anderson and Monica Toft Posted On: The two-week “Gaza Crisis” has so far claimed the lives of more than 700 people and wounded more than 3,000. Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza began in late December in response to increased rocket fire from the border region. International pressure is intensifying on both parties to reach a cease fire, but as of now the fighting continues. Monica Toft, Harvard Kennedy School – John F. Kennedy School of Government, associate professor of public policy and the director of the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, provides some perspective and predictions for the future of the situation in Gaza. Q. In layman's terms, what is happening in Gaza between Israel and Hamas? In early November, Israel broke an agreed ceasefire by engaging in raids in Gaza, killing six members of Hamas. Hamas authorized renewed rocket attacks in retaliation and refused to renew the ceasefire in December. Israel responded with a well-prepared air and ground assault on Gaza. Q. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon MPA 1984 called for the international community to come together to end the situation. How can the international community and the UN Security Council get involved in a safe way to help resolve the conflict? They can't. Israel is hoping that with the departure of the Bush administration, it has a chance to do in Gaza what it failed to do in Lebanon in 2006, which is to severely cripple the will and capacity of its enemies to harm it with rocket attacks. Israel will continue until it is satisfied, while playing for time with the UN and the "international community." It will continue to blame Hamas for civilian casualties in Gaza. Operations will conclude well before the Obama administration takes its seat. The Middle East community is divided on the situation. Hamas is supported by Iran, an ally to Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Although Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, and perhaps Saudi Arabia would like to see the reigning in of, if not the defeat of, Hamas (as a way to weaken political Islam, which threatens their own legitimacy, and to diminish Iranian and Shiite influence), they cannot make the case publicly for fear of upsetting their own domestic constituencies, which include supporters of Hamas and/or enemies of Israel. Q. Israeli sources claim the attack on Gaza was unavoidable. Were there many alternatives for defending Israel from Hamas aside from a physical attack? Israel has invested more than 50 years in a strategy of retaliation for injury to its people, so, for Israel the attack on Gaza was both legitimate and unavoidable. 1/3

Internationally, however, the consensus is that Israel must negotiate with its bitter enemies to establish a hostile state on its borders: a Palestinian Arab state that is contiguous and shares Jerusalem. Since Hamas cannot be coerced, and does not accept Israel's existence, Israel faces only a limited set of choices. One nonviolent solution is for Israel to reframe Hamas rocket attacks as a minor challenge which does not merit a large-scale military reaction, while at the same time working with moderate Palestinians in the broader Palestinian authority. Israel and its allies also need to recognize the democratic choice of a majority of Palestinian Arabs and treat Hamas as a legitimate but hostile negotiating partner. They must invest in making Gaza and the Palestinian Arabs in its occupied territories prosperous and thereby work to empower moderates. Together, these non-violent policy options hold out the best prospect of bringing peace to the region as a whole, but only over twenty or thirty years. Q. Should there have been more international involvement? International involvement has been the same for the past decade: Those states with the greatest capability to encourage Israel to change its policies have had the least interest in forcing it to shift its regional security strategy, or have been deflected in their aims by vocal and powerful domestic political lobbying. Israel cares most about the United States, and the United States has been supportive of Israel in its dealing with the Palestinian situation. On the other side, key Arab states in the region control the bulk of the world's access to petroleum resources, and along with their other investments in the EU and United States, this makes it difficult to either ignore the plight of Palestinian Arabs or destroy groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is therefore difficult to see how more "international involvement" could make much practical difference. Q. A senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan has been killed in the attacks. Does this leave a dangerous power vacuum in Hamas which could be filled by a more threatening person? Israel imagines that its strategy of "decapitating" the organizations that oppose it will discourage quality replacements. Typically, however, the opposite occurs. Israel assassinated Hamas leaders Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, after which Hamas managed to not only defeat Fatah, but launch more rockets. Israel's strategy in the West Bank and Gaza has been like the confrontation of a centrally planned economy (Israel) and an entrepreneurial free market economy (Palestinian Arab militants). Israel will find itself responding clumsily to fresh innovations from Hamas and Hezbollah, and ultimately facing a more serious threat further down the road. Q. Is it possible to predict how the Gaza crisis will end? What is the best case scenario? Hamas will be harmed in Gaza and rocket attacks will slacken for the next few months. But in the long run, Hamas is likely to come back stronger, as regional states and the international community combine to re-establish Gaza's economic and health infrastructure in the wake of Israel's attacks, which will appear, and be framed by Hamas, as increasingly brutal and


indiscriminate as time goes on. Rockets will fly again, and Israel will respond by taking actions which again harm not only Hamas, but Palestinian civilians, in a replay of recent events. The best-case scenario is a weakened Hamas that unites politically with Fatah. A key problem, however, is that Israel’s strategy of choosing to support Fatah in the Palestinian civil war is likely to backfire. Fatah, which went along in trying to out-govern its opponent (by setting up a more attractive political and economic situation in the West Bank), is now seen as a patsy of the Israeli government and a willing partner in an assault on the Palestinian people, whom it is supposed to represent. Q. On a global scale, what do you predict the repercussions of this crisis will be? They will be minor and familiar. Israel will come to be seen as a bully (it is used to this, however), but because it has more control of physical access to Gaza than it could have achieved in Lebanon, its military operations will prove more satisfying to Israel, at least in the short term. "Israel has invested more than 50 years in a strategy of retaliation for injury to its people, so, for Israel the attack on Gaza was both legitimate and unavoidable." - Monica Toft
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Map of the Gaza Strip.