Gwynne Dyer: Israel must make peace with neighbours

“Israel is not going to show restraint,” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the Washington Post on Saturday, after the United States abstained on January 9’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. All last week the speculation grew that Washington was going to defy its Israeli ally for once and vote for the resolution, but literally as the delegates sat down in the Council chamber the phone call came from President Bush ordering Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain.

So nothing will stop Israel from hammering the Gaza Strip as hard as it likes—and the situation is unlikely to change with the inauguration of Barack Obama later this month, because he has no intention of squandering his abundant but finite political capital on a quixotic attempt to bring peace to the Middle East. He will spend it instead on goals that have some chance of being achieved, and he will be right to do so.

Yet the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip will almost certainly end within the next two weeks. International revulsion at the carnage among Palestinian civilians will play a certain role. Any big loss of life among Israeli soldiers, or the capture of even one or two soldiers, would turn Israeli public opinion against the war overnight. And the clincher is that the Israeli election is on February 10.

The war is being fought now largely to shift the opinion polls in favour of the ruling parties before the election. However, it must be over, and somehow look like a success, before Israelis actually vote. Good luck.

The war against Hamas in Gaza looks more and more like the three-week Israeli war against Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006, which could hardly be called a success. It will last about as long. It will kill about as many Arabs, probably a thousand or so. And it will end with Hamas, like Hizbollah, still able to fire rockets at Israel.

This means that Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader who was already leading in the opinion polls, is almost certain to form the next Israeli government. He is the ultimate rejectionist, the man who successfully sabotaged the Oslo Accords and effectively killed the “peace process” during his last term as prime minister in 1996-99. He rejects the very idea of a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu is a glib ideologue who does not understand strategy and sees no reason for Israel to seek peace with its neighbours if the price is giving the Palestinians back their pre-1967 borders. In the long run, therefore, the war is more of a disaster for the Israelis than it is for the Palestinians.

Israel currently enjoys three huge strategic advantages. It has the strongest army in the region by far, backed by the only modern economy and the only technologically competent population. It has an absolute monopoly on nuclear weapons within the region. And it has the unstinting, unquestioning support of the world’s only superpower. But none of these advantages is forever, and Israel needs to make peace with its neighbours while it still possesses them.

The existing Arab regimes are willing to make peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders, mainly because they fear the further radicalisation of their own populations, and perhaps even violent revolution, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fester. But the Arabs as a whole have all the time in the world: sooner or later the wheel will turn and Israel will become vulnerable. If it has not integrated into the region by then, it will be in mortal peril.

It is pointless to make moral judgments about this war, and foolish to use the body count as an indicator of virtue or blame. About seventy Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli who has died during the current Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, but that does not mean that Israelis are in the wrong.

“The only reason there are more victims in Gaza than in Sderot is because Hamas is not good at shooting rockets,” Zalli Jaffe, an Israeli civilian living in Jerusalem, told a BBC reporter last week. “To conclude that Israel is at fault would be like saying the U.S. was wrong in World War Two because many more Germans died than did Americans.”

That is quite true: Hamas would do exactly the same to Israelis if it could. The prospect of a seventy-to-one kill ratio makes Israel much readier to use military force than if it had to sacrifice one Israeli life for every Palestinian it killed, but the kill ratio tells us nothing about either the morality or the utility of the war.

It is the usefulness of this war, not its morality, that Israel should be questioning. Unless Israel re-occupies the Gaza Strip permanently—which nobody wants to do, because it would mean a constant stream of Israeli military casualties—then once the army pulls back Hamas will re-emerge, stronger than ever. The Arab regimes that might make peace with Israel will be further undermined, and Israel gets Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

As was said after the execution of the Duc d’Enghien on Napoleon's orders, the Gaza operation “is worse than a crime. It is a mistake.”

Gwynne Dyer’s new book, “Climate Wars”, was published recently in Canada by Random House.




Jan 13, 2009 at 10:04pm

For the first time I agree with Gwynne Dyer. Israel must make peace with neighbours! But which neighbours??? They already gave back all of the Sinai with oil included to make peace with Egypt and they signed a peace treaty with Jordan. Hamas believes that every Jew should die and so does Hezbolla in Lebanon. Maybe Syria? But those guys are backing Hezbolah and Hamas along with Iran! Cant Gwynne Dyer send this article to Syria, hezbollah and hamas? I am sure this nice people will listen to him!


Jan 15, 2009 at 4:01pm

"So nothing will stop Israel from hammering the Gaza Strip as hard as it likes - "

Duh! Why are otherwise intelligent people so block-headed when it comes to this conflict???

Yes there is something that would absolutely stop Israel from hammering the Gaza Strip! STOP SENDING ROCKETS INTO ISRAEL!

Has Israel EVER attacked a country that has not sent rockets at their children day after day? NO.

Why can't people seem to grasp this simple concept that Israel has the right to defend itself and that it is the Hamas who has instigated this war???

The fact is than Hamas believes every Jew should die. So who is a fault here?


Jan 15, 2009 at 9:31pm

Can you help me understand how Canada (Marius Grinius, our permanent rep at the UN) decides to vote against the Jan 9 UN resolution? Our government is prorogued which I gather means 'out to lunch', 'not taking calls' until Jan 26 (?) So, how are the citizens of Canada fairly and accurately represented at the UN at a time such as this? In fact, who ya gonna call, when you can't stand the fact that this madness is not being stopped by a world-wide united call for the cessation of civilian murders? By the way ... everyone must support the International Federation of Journalist. We rely on the journalists to reveal the facts and give us in depth analysis of complicated conflicts so that we may engage in our governments responses. It is unacceptable that journalists be muzzled and worse, 'missiled' as in Gaza City. -