Gwynne Dyer: The latest "Gaza War"

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      Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said something cryptic last Friday (July 11), shortly after the Israelis began their latest round of attacks on the Gaza Strip.

      Condemning Hamas’s conditions for accepting a ceasefire as “exaggerated and unnecessary”, he offered his condolences “to the families of the martyrs in Gaza who are fuel to those who trade in war. I oppose these traders, on both sides.”

      What could he mean by that? Surely he was not suggesting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the leaders of Hamas, the Islamist organization that has effective control of the Gaza Strip, have a common interest in perpetuating the current bloodbath for at least a little while longer.

      Yes, he was suggesting exactly that, and he was quite right.

      This is the third “Gaza War” since late 2008—they come around more often than World Cups in football—and each one has followed the same pattern. Some Israelis are kidnapped and/or killed, Israel makes mass arrests of Hamas cadres in the West Bank and launches air and missile strikes on the Gaza Strip, Hamas lets the missiles fly, and away we go again.

      A few wrinkles are different this time. The kidnapping and murder of three young Israeli hitchhikers in the West Bank, probably by Palestinians who had links with Hamas (although it denies responsibility), was followed by the torture and murder of a young Palestinian, probably by Israeli vigilantes.

      The ceasefire signed after the last round in 2012 was already being violated by both sides for some months before the real shooting started a week ago.

      And, most importantly, Hamas had achieved a political reconciliation of sorts with Mahmoud Abbas’s rival organization that rules the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority. But although every turn of the wheel is a little bit different, the pattern remains the same.

      So why would Prime Minister Netanyahu be willing to launch Israel’s third war against the Gaza Strip in eight years? Because the nature of his political alliances with other parties on the Israeli right, and especially with the settler lobby, means that he could not make a peace deal that the Palestinians would accept even if he wanted to (which he probably doesn’t).

      That’s why he was instrumental in sabotaging the Oslo Accords, the theoretical basis for a peaceful “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during his first term as prime minister in 1996-99. Back in power in the past five years, his primary excuse for not moving on negotiations has been that Mahmoud Abbas could not deliver peace because he controlled only the West Bank, while the intransigent Hamas ruled the Gaza Strip.

      Then Abbas stitched together a compromise that brought Hamas back into a unity government three months ago, and Netanyahu claimed that he could not be expected to negotiate with a government that included the “terrorists” of Hamas. So is he now trying to destroy Hamas so that Abbas can rule unhindered over all the Palestinian territories and become a suitable partner for peace? Of course not.

      Netanyahu knows, on the evidence of the previous two wars, that Hamas can be battered into temporary quiescence but not destroyed. He also probably realizes that if he did manage to destroy Hamas, its place would be taken by a less corrupt and much more extreme Islamist outfit that might really hurt Israel. He is just doing this, with no expectation of victory, because Israeli public opinion demands it.

      Hamas’s motive for wanting a little war are more obvious and urgent: it has lost almost all its sources of funding. Iran stopped funding its budget to the tune of $20 million per month when Hamas sided with the Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war.

      Egypt stopped helping it after last year’s military coup against Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and closed the tunnels under the border through which the Gaza Strip received most of its imported goods. Those imports were Hamas’s main source of tax revenue. Hamas is broke, and if it stays broke its control over the Strip will weaken.

      Whereas a war with Israel will rally the local Palestinians to its support, and if enough of them are killed, Egypt and the Gulf states may feel compelled to give Hamas financial aid. So the only real question is how many dead Palestinians will satisfy both Netanyahu’s need to look tough and Hamas’s need to rebuild popular support at home and get financial help from abroad.

      On past performance, the magic number is between a hundred and a thousand dead: around 1,200 Palestinians were killed in the 2008-9 war and 174 in 2012. After that—assuming that only a handful of Israelis have been killed, which is guaranteed by the fact that Israeli air and missile strikes are a hundred times more efficient at killing than Hamas’s pathetic rockets—a ceasefire becomes possible.

      We have already crossed the lower threshold of that range of Palestinian deaths in the current mini war, so a ceasefire is theoretically possible now, but both sides will probably press on for at least another few days. Then the ceasefire will be agreed, and both sides will start thinking about the next round, only a few years from now.

      But the dead will stay dead.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.

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      A question...

      Jul 14, 2014 at 1:09pm

      I'm sure Mr. Dyer doesn't read these comments, but someone else who has this answer might: It's implied in this article that Israel doesn't actually want peace.

      We know Hamas certainly doesn't, and won't rest till Israel is destroyed... but why exactly would Israel not want peace? This isn't a rhetorical question. It seems to me that Israel has been trying for a peaceful solution for years, and it's the arabs who have scuttled it repeatedly. Arafat was a signature away but chose to attack instead of sign, lest his legacy be that of a coward who finally caved to sanity.

      So, if you're going to suggest Israel doesn't actually want peace... why? To what end?


      Jul 14, 2014 at 1:36pm

      Gwynne proposes a flippant and rather cynical analysis of the motivations behind the latest Gaza massacre. Perhaps he's right, it might be another case of " War is the continuation of Politics by other means", a notion famously attributed to Carl von Clausewitz.
      I don't want to quibble over Gwynne's assessment but I do take issue with the fact that our prime minister and his government openly endorse Israel and it's murderous response against the helpless,oppressed Palestinian population. It beggars the imagination to explain why Canada would support one of the most racist,unjust and violent nations on earth and condemn it's dispossessed Palestinian victims. Perhaps that too is just 'good' Canadian politics, never mind moral scruples. You be the judge!


      Jul 14, 2014 at 1:39pm

      Netanyahu doesn't want peace because it would make it less likely he would win the next election. It's as simple as that. He has been the largest impediment to peace by refusing to stop the expansion of the settlements.

      The likely result of his political expediency is the one state solution instead of the two state solution.

      More questions...

      Jul 14, 2014 at 2:09pm

      @P.Peto - Why is Israel considered racist? Arabs in Israel, especially women and gays, have far more rights than they do in the Arab neighbouring states. There are even Arabs in the Israeli government. Meanwhile, the few Jews left in Arab countries have zero rights and fear for their lives. Please explain.

      The helpless Arabs trapped in the conflict are more victims of their own oppressive governments, wouldn't you say? Israel in 2005 hands over Gaza and thousands of greenhouses, capable of oversupplying food to the population and Gaza and what do they do? Within 72 hours, loot and destroy all of them.

      @more questions

      Jul 14, 2014 at 4:08pm

      Sounds like someone is doing a good job at touching on all the talking point of the official script. Are you paid to do this?
      Why is Israel considered racist? Are you kidding? You mean the country that is proclaimed to be running an apartheid regime by many including such radicals as Jimmy Carter? The country that refuses the right of return of refugees because they are Arab and that would not be the right demographic to maintain a JEWISH state? The state that continues to supplant Palestinians from their land and replace them with Jewish settlers? Gee, it must be so confusing for you to sort this all out.
      For anyone else who is having trouble sorting out the issues here, a good dose of the writings and social media content of Norman Finkelstein can help many cut throught the B.S.

      A jewish intellectual who had many family members die during the holocaust, has a clarity like few others about why Israeli occupation is a great moral evil that must be ended. Look him up. He argues that for the sake of oppressed Palestinians, and also for the long term survival of Israel itself, it is necessary to make a lasting peace. A more important voice on this issue you cannot find.

      I Chandler

      Jul 14, 2014 at 4:45pm

      "That’s why Netanyahu was instrumental in sabotaging the Oslo Accords, the basis for a peaceful “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during his first term as pm in 1996.

      Netanyahu was not the only saboteur:
      On Nov4th1995, prime minister Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jew who opposed the Oslo Accords.After the assassination, it was revealed that a well known right-wing extremist, was in fact a Shin Bet agent-informer code-named Champagne. Raviv was acquitted of charges that he failed to prevent the assassination.


      Jul 14, 2014 at 4:55pm

      @More questions... May I refer you to a very excellent discussion of institutionalized racism as practised by Zionists in present day Israel:

      "The helpless Arabs trapped in the conflict are more victims of their own oppressive governments, wouldn't you say?" While there may be some truth in this belief inasmuch most governments are predatory and corrupt, I don't believe the facts support the general notion that the Palestinians are primary the victims of their own incompetence. This is a standard argument used to justify a cycle of violence and abuse by persecutors against their victims: to blame the victim for their own misfortunes.


      Jul 14, 2014 at 5:14pm

      The Jew cries out in pain as he bombs you.

      Or, as Norman Finkelstein said:

      “Here is the suffering. Now, we blow-up your house.”
      “Here is the suffering. Now, we take your land.”
      “Here is the suffering. Now, we shoot artillery shells at your villages.”
      “It’s suffering which is then wrapped in a club; and the club is then used to break the skulls of the Palestinians.”

      Finkelstein clip: (6m06s)

      Documentary from which clip was taken: (1h31m)

      Josh Barnes

      Jul 14, 2014 at 5:32pm

      Mr. Netanyahu claims that Israel is only doing what anyone else would do under the circumstances. He makes it sound so reasonable as he casually dismisses the ongoing atrocities that he and his henchmen are once again inflicting on the Palestinians.

      Sorry Bibi, no sale. There are a lot of Americans murdered every year down in Mexico by brutal drug gangs and the United States isn’t dropping bombs all over Mexico City. Trying to drag the rest of the world into agreeing with your sick, twisted world view isn’t going to wash with everyone, no matter how reasonable and defensive you make it sound.