News / Middle East

Column: A Summer of Innocent Deaths

A Palestinian man looks at a mosque in Gaza City which police said was hit in an Israeli air strike.A Palestinian man looks at a mosque in Gaza City which police said was hit in an Israeli air strike.
x
A Palestinian man looks at a mosque in Gaza City which police said was hit in an Israeli air strike.
A Palestinian man looks at a mosque in Gaza City which police said was hit in an Israeli air strike.

Based on past experience, here is the likely outcome of the current Israeli-Palestinian fighting:

A cease-fire will come in a few days – perhaps by Monday when the fasting month of Ramadan ends – and will last for a year or two. Another confrontation will follow, once Hamas has replenished its store of rockets and rebuilt tunnels to infiltrate Israeli land.

Israel eventually will trade hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the body of at least one Israeli soldier who has gone missing in the current conflict. Hamas will try to seize more Israelis – alive or dead – to bargain for more of its prisoners.

Organizations which are even more ideologically extreme than Hamas will benefit from the fighting. They include Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State, the group that now occupies a third of Syria and a major chunk of Iraq.

Hamas, however, will claim it is the “victor,” pointing to the disruption it has caused to ordinary Israelis and the relatively large number of Israeli military casualties.

Europe impact

Anti-Israel sentiment will rise in Europe as a result of the lopsided Palestinian-Israeli death toll. More European Jews may immigrate to Israel, but fewer American Jews will do so and more and more Israelis will seek to come to the United States, which is already home to half a million Israeli citizens.

Global and regional leader leaders will talk about the need to resolve the underlying issues – as Secretary of State John Kerry did today in Cairo – but will continue to try to manage the crisis, not resolve it.

Israeli officials refer to their periodic onslaughts on Gaza and in the past, on Lebanon, as “mowing the grass.” This metaphor dehumanizes the thousands of Arab civilians killed by Israel’s superior, U.S.-augmented firepower.

It does, however, reflect the chronic nature of the conflict and the likely reality that it will not end in the foreseeable future.

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Should Israel Become a Normal Nation?”

In the article, I defined a “normal” Israel as one that “would conclude a comprehensive peace agreement relinquishing most of the occupied territory, forswear massive military strikes on adversaries unless facing an equivalent threat, and acknowledge its nuclear status.”

Peace chances fading

The chances to achieve that sort of normality were never big and appear to be fading fast.

Born in warfare, Israel was able to achieve peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan by trading land for peace.

But Israel lost its best opportunity to end the conflict with Syria more than a decade ago when that country was still a coherent nation governed by a long-time strongman, Hafez al-Assad.

Now Israel looks across its northern border and sees a multi-dimensional sectarian civil war between the minority Alawite regime headed by Assad’s son and a fractured Sunni opposition. In such circumstances, it makes sense to hold on to the Golan Heights as a buffer against chaos.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, was never that strong and is now weaker than it was under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. Israel undermined the Authority during the second intifada by confining Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah, where he became fatally ill.

Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat after the latter died in 2004, does not have the same appeal to the Palestinian population, which remains hobbled by Israeli restrictions and increasingly penetrated by Israeli settlements.

Israel withdrew unilaterally in 2005 from Gaza, but Abbas’s Fatah faction lost parliamentary elections in 2006 to Hamas, which violently took over Gaza the following year.

With the collapse of U.S.-mediated peace talks this spring, Abbas forged a unity government with Hamas in the hope of restoring some coherence to the Palestinian polity, but Israel rejected the agreement as a compromise with what it views as a terrorist organization.

The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June by a Palestinian clan with tangential ties to Hamas touched off the current cycle of violence.

US role

The Barack Obama administration has defended Israel’s actions as legitimate defense of its own civilian population while growing increasingly concerned about the rising Palestinian death toll. Secretary of State Kerry, the administration’s all-purpose fireman, was sent to mediate a cease-fire with the help of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt.

While Kerry told reporters in Cairo that, “It is imperative that there be a serious engagement, discussion, negotiation regarding the underlying issues and addressing all of the concerns that have brought us to where we are today,” his immediate objectives are minimal.

Kerry wants the fighting to stop so that the adversaries can bury their dead and begin the process of reconstruction, especially in devastated Gaza, where the U.S. has promised an extra $47 million in humanitarian aid.

Kerry’s modest goals after nearly a year of non-stop shuttling for a comprehensive peace reflect the fact that fewer and fewer Israelis and Palestinians believe in a two-state solution.

Both sides see the future as an existential struggle to control the land they unhappily share.

With so many other crises erupting this summer, a kind of numbness is setting in in Washington at the mounting piles of innocent dead.

From farmers’ fields in eastern Ukraine to the killing fields of Syria and Iraq and the pulverized apartments of Gaza, ordinary people are being sacrificed in disputes that their leaders lack the political will to resolve.

There is much talk of “turning points” and “wakeup calls” but it’s hard to foresee more than temporary lulls in the carnage that is roiling so much of the Middle East and beyond.

The most the “international community” can accomplish, it seems, is to tend to the survivors until the next round of fighting and try to strengthen its own defenses against the terrorism that these conflicts inevitably spawn. 


Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: James
July 22, 2014 4:39 PM
You say that there will be a ceasefire and it will last for a year or two while they replenish their rockets and build more tunnels so they can start all over again...

Doesn't this mean we should just end it once and for all? Can you think of any other "normal" nation that would stand for this kind of recurring and continuous threat?


by: Dr. Mom from: USA
July 22, 2014 4:30 PM
Israel tried the "land-for'peace" approach a few years ago when all Jewish residents of Gaza were removed, and their land was given to Palestinians (who subsequently destroyed the respective properties and businesses). The land is now a vantage point for shooting rockets into Israel. Given this experience, why would any sane person suggest this mistake again?

The reasons for the rocket fire from Gaza are hatred and power/money. Textbook in Palestinian schools falsely teach the events of 1948 and hatred of Israelis (some texts fail to even mention Israel as a country). Hatred toward Israelis is institutionalized in Gaza and the West Bank (It's real hard to make peace with someone who wants you destroyed).

The power/money angle is more obvious. Has anyone really investigated just how Arafat became so wealthy? Or how the relatively new 1,200+ members of Hamas became millionaires? Who wants to give that up?

(On a separate note, I am disappointed to see bias in this article; The author omits to mention the tremendous property damage experienced by Israelis.)

What is needed for peace is recognition of Israel as a country. If land-for-peace was effective, there would be no conflict now.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid