Gaza escalation: There was another way

As if the heartache over the escalation and its appalling predictability isn’t enough, as if the pain of watching whole communities cower under rockets while planning the next decade of psychotherapy for children isn’t enough, as if fresh Israeli and Palestinian deaths isn’t enough, the IDF sent the following message on its Twitter feed:

Gaza escalation: There was another way

Here’s what this poster says: 1. The IDF promotes extra-judicial killing as punishment for crimes committed with no due process (past terror attacks and kidnapping) 2. The IDF thinks that portraying Israel as the Terminator is a GOOD thing, showing fundamental disconnect with the language of modern diplomacy and current political sensibilities about the conflict.  3. The killing is absurdly divorced from the larger picture: the conflict, the Gaza policy, the occupation, actually it landed on us ex nihilo, or from the moon. 4. The whole conflict can be reduced to a big joke: if we present a Hollywood poster, preferably bathed in scary blood red, we’ll win! But personal commentary aside, what the poster is really trying to say is: we had no choice. This was our only option.

I find this an insult to all victims of the conflict and the current escalation.

Soon, there will be the inevitable chorus of voices self-righteously proclaiming why there cannot be negotiations, concessions, end of the conflict or at least end of occupation. I’ve had enough of the smug pride in insisting there’s no other choice but military force. If the escalation is viewed as ex nihilo, big bad terrorists against righteous Rambo, well – they are right.

So, while I usually prefer to concentrate on the future, it’s impossible never to consider what would or could have been. This time I can’t help considering just for a moment an alternate scenario.

Just over one year ago, the Fatah leadership presented its statehood bid to the United Nations. Had Israel not blocked the effort hermetically – forcing America to kill the process by steadfastly viewing statehood as an anti-Israel notion, what might have happened?

We can’t know. But Israel could have realized that Palestinian statehood basically along 1967 parameters was in its national interest. (For the record, I still don’t understand why it didn’t.) While the government would still have rejected the unilateral process through political posturing, Israel could have quietly unblocked the route to diplomatic acceptance by others, and state-building, for Palestine.

Had Israel tacitly allowed the UN route to continue, the Palestinian national sense of victory would have been huge. The internal catharsis could have generated momentum to unite politically and militarily, in a meaningful way, for the sake of the newly energized state. Dissidents certainly would have remained, as in every post-conflict society.

The international community would have fought hard to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which would have a different tone than the stale crumbs left of the old Oslo-paradigm talks.

To entice Israel to enter negotiations with an entity it would continue to consider illegitimate, Israel could have wielded significant leverage. Surely the first major incentive would have been security-related and backed by the obvious major global powers. The Palestinians would have been given no quarter on this issue, held to the obligations of a sovereign state. Military escalation would have carried severe political repercussions, not just with Israel but with Palestine’s entire new family of states. Palestine would have had everything to lose.

Israel could have let itself be wooed back to talks, in which it would not be required to address the question of formal recognition. It’s not Serbia, and there isn’t much of consequence to symbolic Israeli non-recognition, were “technical” dialogues (to borrow again from Serbia and Kosovo) established to ease Palestinian livelihood and aid economic prospects. That would have helped stabilize Palestinian society internally, which would make it a better neighbor to Israel. Which is in Israel’s interest.

There would be little incentive for Palestinians to continue violent resistance. Surely Palestinian dissidents or extremists would try, but the logic would be hard to justify and incidents could have been contained. It would be easier for Palestinian leaders to throw spoilers out of the consensus, not by undemocratic means, but by making it clear to that the state of Palestine has won the battle but needs constructive commitment to give it substance. Provoking Israel’s wrath at such a time could have been considered an act against the Palestinian people, dividing and undermining them for cynical gain.

Israel could have shown grudging tolerance by ending further settlement growth, at the very least, as a start. That would have brought far more good will from major international actors than Israel can ever have now. The latter could have rewarded Israel with political support on key issues related to the country’s security. That should matter more to any state than the folly of messianic expansionism.

In this context, realistically, the escalation, rocket fire, targeted assassination, mass civilian trauma on both sides we see now, might still have happened. There is also a possibility it might not have happened. It took me 10 minutes to play the scenario out in my mind, but I guess the Israeli government didn’t have that kind of time to waste before September 2011. So excuse me if I am not impressed by the argument “ein brera” (there is no choice). There are choices, and if we do not take them, we’ll have to remember that the next time people die.

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