President Obama’s First Foreign Policy Success – and It’s Only Day One

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GeorgeMitchell.jpg
This is a guest post by Amjad Attalah, Co-Director of the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force.
As Barack Obama was sworn in today as the 44th president of the United States, Israeli troops were rapidly withdrawing from the Gaza Strip after both Israel and Hamas announced “unilateral” cease-fires.
Simultaneously, Reuters was reporting that Senator George Mitchell was being strongly considered to become the next Middle East Envoy – a man of considerable gravitas who negotiated an end to the more intractable Irish-British dispute (a conflict with significant similarities with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).
I met Senator Mitchell when he led the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact Finding Committee appointed by former President Bill Clinton. He completed his work in the first five months of President Bush’s presidency – and it was the closest President Bush ever got to addressing the underlying fundamentals of the conflict.
There is no doubt in my mind that had anyone else been elected to become the President, the odds are that the war in Gaza would have remained on-going, and hundreds – if not thousands – more Palestinian civilians would have lost their lives.
There is no evidence that President Obama had his aides send any messages to Israel before his inauguration suggesting that it be best that Israel finished campaigning in Gaza by today.
He didn’t need to.
The concept that political disputes can be bombed into submission – that populations could be “taught a lesson” by starving, bombing, or rocketing them, left Washington, DC on Air Force One this afternoon.
Israel could have ended the bombing of Gaza at any time once it started and claimed the same “victory.” We can only wish that the inauguration came sooner.
This doesn’t mean that all is well, or even that the latest cease-fire will hold. But it does mean that today the world is holding its breath, waiting to find out if the United States is about to re-assume the mantle of world leader, not in bomb-dropping shock and awe excitement, but in hard headed political realism that recognizes that our physical strength is a reflection of our moral strength.
And before Obama even walks into the White House, he will already have his first foreign policy success.
– Amjad Atallah
Update: Steve Clemons weighing in here. I just want to give public credit to Ben Smith at Politico for being the first person to whisper in my ear that this George Mitchell appointment was coming down the pike.
I talked to some senior Israeli diplomats today and yesterday — and they say that that they greatly welcome Mitchell’s appointment. And many Arab leaders I have spoken to in the last couple of days have said exactly the same. Good choice by Obama and moves beyond the polarization that has been occuring over some others who might have been named.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

29 comments on “President Obama’s First Foreign Policy Success – and It’s Only Day One

  1. WigWag says:

    The Verdict as Announced By the Egyptians:
    Last update – 16:34 24/01/2009
    Egyptian official: Israel achieved all of its military goals in Gaza
    By Haaretz Service
    An Egyptian official has said that Israel achieved all of its military objectives during “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip, having exacted serious blows to Hamas and it’s infrastructure, according to an article published in the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat on Saturday.
    The official is quoted in the article as saying that senior Hamas leaders are still in hiding out of fear of Israel Defense Forces strikes, and that Israel is not interested in pursuing a new calm or Tahadiyeh with the militant group.

    Reply

  2. bert swanson says:

    The key the I-P dispute requires an “honest broker,” few leaders are “objective.” Or better yet, how can find the more honest broker. Michell has demonstrated this characteristic in the Ireland dispute. I’m not sure would be better than Mitchell on the I-P dispute. Clearly he would be better than Ross!

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  3. WigWag says:

    The Hamas verdict on Obama is in::
    Last update – 00:11 23/01/2009
    Hamas: Obama does not represent change
    By The Associated Press
    Hamas says President Barack Obama’s position toward the Palestinians does not represent change and will lead to the same mistakes as his predecessor.
    Thursday’s comments by Beirut-based Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan follow Obama’s first public comments on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis since his inauguration.
    Hamdan tells Al-Jazeera television he expects Obama to experience failure in the region over the next four years if he sticks with his current plans…
    Earlier on Thursday, senior Hamas officials dismissed any reconciliation talks with rival Fatah group.

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  4. ... says:

    sweetness, i would agree with you on the ‘all’ part….

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  5. Sweetness says:

    I would say…that my comment that saying that Israel is “the source
    of all of America’s ills and hate around the world” is utter swill and
    it’s drunk without comment or complaint by many in the TWN
    community. Nor does it comport with history: For example,
    America’s troubles with Iran date back to 1952 and include the
    reign of St Jimmy the C who was pleased as punch to rub elbows
    with the Shah. Historically, they have almost nothing to do with
    Israel, though Israel has entered the mix (in part through her own
    doing, to be sure).
    But the real point is that this formulation–”all of America’s ills”–
    is the same garbage that has been leveled against Jews for
    millennia.

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  6. ... says:

    sweetness your comment assumes israel, or zionism has no responsibility in any of this… i think you are wrong on that account…

    Reply

  7. Sweetness says:

    “Someday America will wake up and discover perhaps a little late
    that Israel is a clear and present danger to America and Americans
    and the source of all of America’s ills and hate around the world.”
    Once upon a time Europe “discovered” that Sa-Ja, and we are still
    living with the results.

    Reply

  8. sami jamil jadallah says:

    Candidate Barack Obama visited the southern Israeli city of Sderot to express his support to the town’s people. Sderot has been marketed by the powerful Jewish media machine in the US as suffering a great deal from Hamas’ ballistic and nuclear missiles. I wonder if President Obama will make a similar visit and see for himself what America’s real missiles, real jets and real bombs and rockets did to Gaza and the people of Gaza. Candidate Obama on his visit to Sderot was reaching low to win A few more Jewish votes. Would President Obama reach as high and reach the hundreds of millions around the world who condemned the war crimes committed in Gaza?
    Candidate Obama expressed great support for the residents of Sderot and appreciated that the people could not have peaceful nights and could not enjoy quiet dinners with wine and music. Now that Israel has leveled Gaza, destroying its entire infrastructure, killed more than a thousand and injured several thousands and made homeless hundreds of thousands, using the latest weapons American could muster. Would President Obama visit Gaza to express his support for the hundreds of thousands of the people and visit the graves of all of the children and women deliberately killed by Israel? Witness devastation and total destruction, victims of a criminal partnership between Israel and the US. During his visit to Sderot, candidate Obama was accompanied by Israel’s Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Avi Dichter. Perhaps President Obama will be accompanied during his tour of Gaza by the parents of all those who lost their loved ones, by the doctors who treated the tens of thousands, by the UN relief workers who witnessed the cold blooded murder of women and children as they sought shelter.
    Candidate Barack Obama went further by recording a special YouTube message to the people and residents of Sderot. Candidate Obama declared during his visit, “I think no country would accept missiles landing on their citizens”. Barack continued to say,” I came to Sderot with commitments to Israeli security. Israel has the right to defend itself. Peace should not undermine security.” I wonder what would President Obama says to the people of Gaza as he surveys the total destruction of Gaza and witnesses the destruction of hospitals, schools, mosques, stadiums, food supplies centers, UN relief depots, the deliberate targeting of children and parents as they sough shelter from one place to another? Would President Obama express the same rights for the people of Gaza, that they too have every right to be free, every right to be safe, every right to be secure and every right to have enough food to have 3 meals a day, to have cooking oil, to have gas and heat, to have water, to have access to their sea and to connect to the outside world. The people of Gaza may not need wine for their dinners; they only need to be alive to have dinner.
    I wonder what kind of YouTube message President Barack Obama would send to the people of Gaza as they see the “only democracy” in the Middle East commit one war crime after another, using with generosity the free weapons supplied by the “greatest democracy in the world” such as; F-15s, F-16s, Apache and Cobra helicopters and phosphorous bombs destroying and killing everything in Gaza. I am sure he will see and appreciate the difference between the ballistic missiles of Hamas and the paper missiles of Israel.
    Israel, for many years since its creation, is a terrorist state that has been committing war crimes and terrorism, and has used death and destruction as a way of life, part of the cultural and religious value system that does not respect the human life of others. It has a value system and culture that has nothing but contempt for the lives of others, especially the Palestinians who simply refuse to go down and let go of their rights in Palestine. Israel’s history of war crimes and terrorism is long and well documented; Deir Yassin, Qibya, Souk Albaqar school, Sabra and Shatilla, Qana 1 and Qana II, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and the list goes on and on. If war crimes qualify for Nobel Prizes, Israelis will win 9 out of 10 such prizes.
    Israel is unlike any other country in the world, it has no respect and no value for human lives, especially the lives of others. It has no respect for international organizations; in fact it has nothing but contempt for the UN. Bombing and destroying a UN compound at the very moment Pank Ki Moon arrived in Israel. Israel is the only country that never respected any UN resolutions and has no respect for anyone in the world. It is a country and people unlike any thing we have seen in the last few centuries.
    Someday America will wake up and discover perhaps a little late that Israel is a clear and present danger to America and Americans and the source of all of America’s ills and hate around the world. America and President Obama may discover and hopefully sooner rather than later that America’s total and unconditional support for Israel is wrong politics and that the views and the joy, dancing in the streets of New York City by American Jews and unconditional support by our Congress does not express the anger felt across America against Israel and its war crimes in Gaza. Perhaps President Obama and American should redefine its definition of terrorism making sure that Israel’s state terrorism is terrorism even if its instruments are not explosive belts but jets, tanks, helicopters, and cluster bombs. That terrorism includes not only Palestinians attacks against restaurants and buses but Jewish terrorism directed against schools, hospitals and UN compounds.
    http://www.palestinethinktank.com
    http://www.jeffersoncorner.com

    Reply

  9. Sweetness says:

    Kervick writes: “We should not be looking to reactionary,
    decrepit Arab powers. The future of that region is not with the
    monarchies and dictatorships whose days are numbered, but
    with a new Arab-Persian bloc in Iran and Iraq. Iran has an
    evolving, partially democratic system, with a constitution and
    multiple centers of power that produce checks and balances. It
    has history and broad-based education. It has more equality,
    social and industrial dynamism and economic potential. It’s not
    Saudi Arabia, with its anachronistic, medieval desert monarchy;
    it’s not Gulf states with their ephemeral riches that won’t last
    beyond the next technological revolution. It is not an Egyptian-
    style pharaonic autocracy, which is ever just an assassination
    away from revolution.”
    I have many Iranian friends, and I would agree with Dan about
    Iranian society. But the government, which still exerts a
    stranglehold on the country? They pour acid in peoples’ faces as
    a LEGAL punishment. They stone adulterers, again as part of
    their judicial system. It’s economy is in the crapper. But hey, at
    least she ain’t Israel.

    Reply

  10. kotzabasis says:

    Paul Norheim,
    What a week reed intellectually you must be in the torrential currents of the river of politics when intentionally and malevolently distort and take out of context the statements of your opponent to make your NON-CASE.
    Whatever you might think about Cheney, the gross errors, and indeed, criminal ones, according to you, he was a strong vice-president fully conscious of his responsibilities in the affairs of statecraft in the aftermath of 9/11. I contrasted him with Captain Ahab, as you well know, precisely because of the latter’s strength of character, which you lack, who would “strike the sun if it insulted him”, to quote a great literary critic.
    As for Sarah, isn’t a fact that she rejuvenated the base of the Republican Party and impacted initially a large part of the electorate and it was only after the dirty campaign of calumny against her by the liberal media that she was besmirched in the eyes of many Americans? McCain lost as a result of the HATE many Americans had for Bush-Cheney and by association for the Republican Party which by trumping even the emotion RACISM brought Obama to the White House. And as we know from Shakespeare, and indeed, Ibsen, hate is the ultimate wicked human emotion that trumps all others.
    And on the contrary, I do believe in the use of “political means” and in diplomacy and cease only to believe in these when they are proven to be completely ineffective.
    Your errors of judgment have nothing to do with “Errare humanum est”, they rise from your weak character and shallow political nous.

    Reply

  11. lm says:

    Amjad,
    Thanks for the news on GM . I like him a whole lot and hope he
    gets the big and the full support of 44 for as long as he needs to
    secure a peace agreement

    Reply

  12. ... says:

    ”war on terror” is a very useful catchphrase to justify war and murder.. the next best – ”suspected terrorists”… anyone who believes anything about these phrases only need reflect on the bush admin and the lies they perpetuated to put usa’s image in the world in the gutter… keep on using these phrases at your peril…of course these are the favourite phrases of the neo cons too, which ought to be a very clear indication of the mindset they are coming out of..

    Reply

  13. Stanley says:

    This is a good article. I was just on another blog where the
    commenters were expressing consternation about some of
    Obama’s rhetoric yesterday pertaining to the War on Terror -
    whatever that phrase constitutes nowadays. But I agree that the
    ceasefire being coordinated with Obama’s Inauguration is a positive
    sign – it shows that foreign nations view Obama as being
    adversarial to excessive violence. For more on the ceasefire being
    timed to coincide with the Inauguration, check out this clip:
    http://www.newsy.com/videos/israel_gaza_and_the_obama_impact
    /

    Reply

  14. Mr.Murder says:

    The other day I told friends that if MLK Jr. was alive in the 80′s he would have marched in Dublin, if he were alive today he’d march in Palestine….

    Reply

  15. ... says:

    paul norheim – great comments 12:16 and 8:10 am) and thanks for making them…

    Reply

  16. bert swanson says:

    The Mitchell is far superior to Ross, the one Steve proposed about a month ago. Mitchell is objective unlike Ross or the former Brit Prime Minister.

    Reply

  17. rich says:

    Shorter wigwag: Pol Pot and England did it, so it must be ok. Israel can do it too.
    But Israel is really generous in spirit: The RAF never placed cell phone calls to homeowners (which came only seconds before IDF bombs fell). In wigwag’s view, the bombing was a kindness. Of course, the RAF didn’t have cell phones in 1944–though leaflets were in use in WWII.
    Shorter wigwag on the Arab Street: democracy doesn’t matter. Of course, if popular opinion and repression didn’t matter, Mubarak wouldn’t be worrying about the Muslim Brotherhood and its close ties to Hamas, or their spiking support in light of Egypt’s inaction has got Mubarak’s attention.
    Let’s remember that Israel broke the cease-fire in November by crossing the border and killing 6 Palestinians–thus provoking a resumption of rocket fire. Israel herself viewed the capture of IDF soldiers by Hezbollah in 2006 as precisely that same provocation.
    Note the language of wigwag and IDF spokesmen: it’s quantified, technical, bloodless. Fewer were killed; it must be ok. We were “very accurate,” “efficient” — qualities that enabled German engineers and technicrats and were condemned at Nuremberg and by scholars of the holocaust around the world. Efficiency does not justify an essential wrong. The technology and skill level doesn’t matter: http://tinyurl.com/842bbk
    Further, the IDF spokesman stated that “we were very violent” and ‘shattered everything in their path’–clearly contradicting the notion that ‘efficiency’ or ‘precision’ was used to prevent civilian deaths. ‘Elaborate care’ is a fiction–but then, that’s been obvious.
    Meanwhile:
    Israeli rabbis to Olmert:It doesn’t matter even if you kill million Palestinians
    http://tinyurl.com/8sgctr

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  18. Curious observer says:

    Could Steve please explain how this appointment moves us anywhere closer to his goal of putting the “Middle East Peace Business” out of business? Count me unimpressed.

    Reply

  19. bob h says:

    We were informed ad nauseum yesterday by TV pundits that Bush’s legacy depends on “what happens in Iraq”. However, since secular Iraq was never connected to the fundamentalist Islamist threat, it is hard to see how a happy outcome will have much of an effect, one way or another.
    Bush is condemned to be remembered as a President who failed to deliver on his pledge to protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    Reply

  20. Paul Norheim says:

    “It is apparent the TWN is becoming a stage for vaudevillian
    plays.” (kotzabasis)
    Amusing, coming from someone who once praised Dick Cheney
    as the Captain Ahab of the global war on terror, and who
    certainly was not joking when he, some months ago, had this to
    say about Sarah Palin:
    “Palin’s selection is a political master stroke on the part of
    McCain. Moreover this astute move is not merely a brilliant
    manoeuvre on the field of American electoral politics, but also
    adumbrates what a great president McCain will make.”
    HAHAHA, as varanasi would have said if he wasn`t using his
    passport right now.
    To his credit, kotzabasis`opinions, in contrast to TahoeEditor`s,
    are based on his own bad instincts, and not merely copied from
    the PR office of the GOP. Errare humanum est. But how can you
    expect sound political judgement from someone who doesn`t
    believe in political means, but only in their continuation, i.e.
    bombs and rockets against evil?

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  21. kotzabasis says:

    Amjad Attalah must be in a cavorting jocular mood. He ludicrously, for him maybe seriously, claims that the “cease-fire” in Gaza is Obama’s “first foreign policy success.” And the latter was achieved, as Attalah himself states, not by any specific written communication or request by Obama to the Israelis but merely by the fact that Obama was the president-elect and not anybody else.
    For the religious votaries of Obama, like Attalah, this will not be an ordinary presidency but an extraordinarily miraculous one. Just the HEALING presence of Obama, “He didn’t need to” do any action, the long irreconcilable and implacable conflicts of the world will be resolved beyond “bombing or rocketing.”
    It is apparent the TWN is becoming a stage for vaudevillian plays. With titles such as: “A demoralized and frantic Israeli state”, “a historic shift in our Middle East posture”, “to seek an opening and grand bargain with Iran,” all of them a box office success since they will attract all those who have an inveterate craving to laugh at serious matters.

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  22. Dan Kervick says:

    Abbas is toast. There is no way he can credibly assert leadership over the Palestinian community after this debacle.

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  23. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag, I`m sure you remember our recent discussion, where I
    suggested, and you agreed, that Ehud Barak probably dreamt of
    a new peace agreement at Camp David (by weakening Hamas
    during the Gaza invasion, and thus the link to Iran via Syria and
    Hezbollah); by talking with Hillary instead of Bill Clinton, and
    with Abbas instead of Arafat.
    The appointment of George Mitchell and the popularity of
    Ehud Barak after the war, but ahead of the Israeli elections, do
    not make this scenario less likely. Barak just ended a successfull
    PR campaign by slaughtering more than 1000 Palestinians. But
    it will be harder for a political leader, Abbas, who among many
    Palestinians now is regarded as a quisling, to represent his
    people – thus nearly impossible to create sustainable
    agreements through serious and committed peace talks.
    I notice that to support your optimism regarding the
    development before the Gaza offensive, during the war, and the
    outcome, you have to diminish the significance of the “Arab
    street”, and the big segments of the populations in Europe and
    elsewhere who are abhorred by the Israeli actions. While
    politically true at the moment, I think this is a miscalculation in
    a longer perspective.
    I also notice that you compare the Israeli actions on the Gaza
    strip with the genocide in Darfur, as well as the bombing of
    Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki etc. I agree that
    Israel compares favorably with those events, as it compares
    favorably with certain events (that you didn`t mention) in China
    under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and the recent genocide in
    Rwanda.
    But I have to say that you are in bad company, when you feel an
    urge to compare the latest Israeli massacres with some of the
    worst crimes committed in modern history, to put the acts of
    your friends “in perspective”.

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  24. Don Bacon says:

    Any I/P settlement will be extremely difficult. There is the weakness of Palestinian leadership, with Abbas faulted for not being able to stop Israeli settelments or obtain any concessions from Israel. Settlement in Gaza would of necessity include recognition of Hamas, which would be unacceptable to the major regional powers and the US. It appears that any Fateh/Hamas confederation would be dominated by Hamas due to the unpopularity of Fateh and the now-increased popularity of Hamas.
    Hamas, a Sunni Islamic organization, was formed in 1987 as an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. Because it advocates the replacement of a secular state with an Islamic one it is seen as a threat to the Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi dictators (all US allies), as well as to Israel (and by extension the US). And what about Syria? That’s why Hamas and the people that voted for it were open targets.
    Obama is clearly on the side of Israel (as well as being an advocate of military use), and I doubt he is prepared for any Egypt/Saudi/Jordan disagreements. Disorder in the region suits the US security state just fine, as it has in other areas.

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  25. Dan Kervick says:

    While there are many places I could disagree with WigWag, one comment in particular strikes me as particularly wrong-headed: the one about the irrelevance of the Arab street.
    Yes the Arab street is in some sense irrelevant once again, at least to its autocratic leaders and to the government polices of the states those leaders run, just as the voices of ordinary Arabs have frequently been irrelevant to their leaders in the past. But the power of those leaders is transitory.
    For a generation, we were told to ignore the supposedly sheep-like Arab public, and pay attention only to their leaders: to the “moderate” Arab leaders; to the “modernizing” Arab leaders, to the “pragmatic” Arab leaders; to the “Western-leaning” Arab leaders; to the “liberalizing” Arab leaders. There are always new favorites. These shifting favorites are experts in playing the United States, in telling us what we want to hear, in playing opportunistic cooperative roles in our power games, and in taking our money, military support, political support and intelligence support. But it would be foolish of us to place our full reliance in those leaders. What most of them have had in common is that they are deeply unpopular. We have ignored the broader Arab public and its more popular, deeply-rooted, and uncomfortably non-Western movements several time before, to our peril. The United States has been burned many times by aligning itself with established power int eh Middle East instead of people.
    In any case, we should not be looking to reactionary, decrepit Arab powers. The future of that region is not with the monarchies and dictatorships whose days are numbered, but with a new Arab-Persian bloc in Iran and Iraq. Iran has an evolving, partially democratic system, with a constitution and multiple centers of power that produce checks and balances. It has history and broad-based education. It has more equality, social and industrial dynamism and economic potential. It’s not Saudi Arabia, with its anachronistic, medieval desert monarchy; it’s not Gulf states with their ephemeral riches that won’t last beyond the next technological revolution. It is not an Egyptian-style pharaonic autocracy, which is ever just an assassination away from revolution.
    Israel is clutching at straws to preserve some strategic basis for its special relationship with the United States. Now the latest scam is a misbegotten and doomed Arab-Israeli regional cold war alliance against Iranian hegemony, hatched by Bush’s Washington and elites in Cairo and Riyadh. They are all spitting into the wind.
    It would be utterly stupid for the US to bet on these artifacts of the past, on declining Arab autocracies and a demoralized and frantic Israeli state that has lost both its revolutionary fervor and strategic value. The US has a historic opportunity here to effect a historic shift in our Middle East posture, to seek an opening and grand bargain with Iran, and to seek a regional balance of power, rather than let ourselves be gulled into joining the endless, and endlessly desperate and brutal, divide and conquer games of Israel, and the desperate rearguard struggles of crumbling Arab political orders.

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  26. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The nomination(under consideration) of Senator George Mitchell as the Middle East envoy seems a pragmatic move/deliberation by the new US President Barack Husein Obama since Senator Mitchell’s profile by all means suits to the stature and diplomatic semblance that is required for the said post.

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  27. WigWag says:

    The Mitchell choice is terrific. Mitchell is smart, tough, fair, objective and has a keen understanding of how to navigate all of the political landmines. But Amjad Atallah is wrong when he says Israel could have ended the bombing of Gaza at any time once it started and claimed the same “victory.” Actually, the Israeli attack on Hamas will make Mitchell’s job far easier.
    In fact, Israel’s attack on Gaza demolished more than the Hamas terror infrastructure, it demolished a lot of myths as well.
    A reasonable guess for the number of civilian casualties is around 600 which represents approximately 50 percent of the total number of Gazans killed during the three week war. By way of comparison, the Israeli campaign killed about as many civilians as die in Darfur in two days. While the invasion was unfortunately very bloody and many innocent people died, that’s unavoidable when one of the combatants uses children as human shields and hides ordinance and weapons in the basements of ordinary families. Unfortunately the number of casualties amongst Fatah members killed in revenge by Hamas after the Israeli invasion ended looks like it will approximate the total number of civilians who died as a direct result of the Israeli attack.
    The Israeli record of protecting civilians compares favorably with the record of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, the American-European effort in Afghanistan, the behavior of either the Iranians or Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq War, the American record in Viet Nam or the French record in Algeria. The Israelis did everything they could to diminish the prospect of civilian causalities up to and including placing warning telephone calls advising people to leave their buildings before they were bombed. I don’t recall the European Allies and the RAF doing this before they bombed Dresden or Hamburg or the Americans placing similar calls to residents of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. If there is an example of an army conducting urban warfare that was more attentive to protecting civilians than the Israeli army was, I’d like to know what it is.
    President Abbas said it best when early on in the conflict he bemoaned that “every drop of blood spilt in Gaza was because of Hamas.” But we’ve learned far more than the fact that President Abbas can be honest when it’s in his interest to be; several other lessons also emerged:
    1)Some thoughtful experts (Daniel Levy comes to mind) who want to hold any future peace process hostage to a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement are doing the Palestinians no favor. The Hamas-Fatah Civil War is bitterer and more intractable than most people imagined. During the war, senior Hamas official Fatah Hamid specifically threatened that “Hamas would go after senior Palestinian officials in the West Bank as well as those in the Arab world who conspired against us.” In Gaza, according to Al Jeezera, Hamas executed hundreds of “collaborators” (read Fatah members) during the Israeli campaign and just after it concluded. Al Jeezera and the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israelis may have targeted specific Hamas leaders at the behest of Fatah officials, including President Abbas, who blamed those Hamas leaders for Fatah’s expulsion from Gaza. Now that the fighting has ended, the recriminations between Fatah and Hamas will be worse than ever. They each hate each other at least as much as they hate the Israelis. Anyone who has studied the nature of civil wars won’t find this particularly surprising.
    2)Fatah may have been politically weakened by Israel’s action but so was Hamas. Hamas has been militarily degraded and their ability to mount political resistance is at least somewhat dependant on their ability to resist Israel by military means. So yes, President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have lost tremendous credibility in the Palestinian community but so have Mashaal and Haniyah. About the only major Palestinian figure to emerge from the whole episode with his credibility intact is Marwan Barghouti and he’s languishing in an Israeli jail outside of Ber-Sheva serving a life sentence for terrorism and murder. (My prediction is that even though he’s not Hamas, Barghouti will eventually be packaged up with a rag tag group of Hamas politicians/functionaries and traded for Gilad Shalit.)
    3)Militarily, the war was a more devastating defeat for Hamas than most people realize. Their weaponry has been damaged and in many cases destroyed and their ability to rearm has been degraded by the new security measures to be taken on the Philadelphia corridor, at the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the naval blockade to be implemented on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. The United States has signed an agreement to redouble its efforts to interdict weapons from Iran headed to Gaza. The fact that European and Palestinian Authority monitors will man the Egyptian crossing point is a humiliating defeat for Hamas that restores the status quo to where it was before Hamas ejected the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. Most importantly it will be a long time before Gazans will tolerate Hamas rocket fire into Israel. The Israeli response has been so severe that if Hamas launches substantial numbers of rockets, the fed-up Gazans will kill them before the Israelis do.
    4)The best word to describe the Arab “street” is irrelevant. The Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority all knew the Israeli action in Gaza would “enrage” their populations; they simply didn’t care or to put it more accurately; they realized it didn’t matter. They actively encouraged, surreptitiously supported or simply acquiesced to the Israeli invasion with little to no regard for their “streets.” The reality is that these Sunni Arab States are far more worried about the ascendance of Iran and the strength of Iranian proxies like Hamas then they are about the opinions of their own citizens. Everyone in the Arab World knows that the Egyptians “green-lighted” the bombing campaign before it began. The Saudis actively worked to prevent the Arab League from developing a coherent or unified response. King Abdullah of Jordan took the opportunity while everyone was distracted by the Gaza Campaign to fire his intelligence chief, Mohammad Dahabi who had reached out to Hamas and replaced him with Mohammad Rakkad, a man with impeccable terrorist fighting credentials who has good relations with the Israelis. And it is widely believed (and Hamas has asserted) that Fatah strong man Mohammed Dahlan, actively helped Israel select targets in Gaza and told them where to find arms caches. Hamas called for a third intafada; it never happened. Khaled Mashaal and Hasan Nasrallah called for an uprising in Egypt to “punish Cairo” for its anti-Hamas stance; it never occurred. Iran called for Gazans to smash through the fence with Egypt and encouraged a major uprising by Israeli Arabs; all to no avail. While the Western Press obsessed about the reaction of the “Arab Street”; the reality about the “Arab Street” was on display for all who cared to see including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian. The “Arab Street” to the extent it exists at all, is simply inconsequential.
    5)Even more impotent than the Arab Street are European leftists. While most of the anti-Israel demonstrations in Europe were organized by Europe’s Arab and other Muslim immigrants; there is no question that the left enthusiastically participated. European governments barely noticed. The French were the most even-handed; they constantly criticized Israel and Hamas, but the Israelis had to be thrilled with the role played by President Sarkozy. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel uttered hardly any words of sympathy for the Palestinians; her sympathetic comments were reserved for the Israelis. She also announced that Germany would not delay giving (not selling, but giving as a gift) two Dolphin Class Submarines that Israel will undoubtedly try to outfit with nuclear tipped cruise missiles (if the Dolphins torpedo tubes area large enough) to enhance their second strike capabilities against Iran. In Italy, President Berlusconi openly ridiculed the Palestinians (again) and the Czech’s (who hold the rotating European Union Presidency) repeatedly called Israel’s invasion “self defense.” The Czech Foreign Minister has been called by some the most ardent Zionist to be found anywhere outside of Israel or the United States. Within twenty four hours after the Israelis halted their invasion, leaders of the major Western European powers were having dinner with Olmert, Barak and Netanyahu and pledging to prevent Hamas from rearming. In Eastern Europe, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Baltic countries had governments that openly but quietly sided with Israel. And Russia was remarkably restrained in its criticism. The countries in Europe most hostile to the Israeli position were Spain, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus and Norway; hardly bastions of great influence. By the way, did anyone even hear a peep out of Gordon Brown? I didn’t, other than his promise to have the Royal Navy patrol off the coast of Egypt to prevent arms smuggling. Why are the Europeans (and the Chinese and Indians) so much less reflexively anti-Israel than they were 20 years ago? Perhaps it is the fact that they each face threats from Islamic extremism in the same way that the Israelis do.
    6)The conventional wisdom about Israel’s War with Hezbollah in 2006 is wrong; the minority view expressed by New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman is right; Israel’s war with Hezbollah was very effective. While ridiculing the Sunni Arab states for not supporting Hamas, what did Nasrallah and his Shiite Muslim, Hezbollah colleagues do? The answer is virtually nothing. Despite the vast arsenal at their disposal, less than ten missiles were fired in Israel’s direction from South Lebanon and they were all fired by Palestinian groups, not Hezbollah (several of the missiles never even reached Israel but accidentally made land fall in Lebanon itself). Considering the strong rhetorical and logistical support that Hezbollah provides to Hamas, their lack of military support might seem surprising. The reality is that Nasrallah was afraid to attack Israel. To do so, he would have had to defy the international peace-keepers standing between him and the Israelis, and he was deterred by the tremendous destruction that South Lebanon would have experienced had he ordered a missile launch. Had Nasrallah authorized an armed response in support of Hamas he wouldn’t have had to worry about Israel toppling him; his own people would have toppled him for inviting another massively destructive Israeli military response. It was politically and militarily inexpedient for Hezbollah to help Hamas so it didn’t. Hezbollah was deterred. Israel’s war in 2006, so widely criticized as a military failure, was in fact a military success.
    7)The greatest diplomatic set back to the Israelis from the War in Gaza was in Israel’s relationship with Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was harshly critical of the Israelis and it will be interesting to see if Turkey’s role as an interlocutor between the Israelis and Syrians suffers as a result. Of course the Israeli relationship with the Turks extends beyond its relationship with the civilian government; the IDF and the Turkish military have close relations and the Turkish military is not under the control of Turkey’s civilian government (in fact the fiercely secular Turkish military despises the moderately Islamic civil government). My guess is that any cooling of relations between Turkey and Israel will inspire Israel to develop an even closer relationship with the Kurds in the oil-rich North of Iraq, especially as the Americans slowly withdraw from Iraq. The Israelis and the Kurds have already forged a close alliance but Israel has been circumspect about pursuing the alliance too assertively in deference to the Turks who fear Kurdish nationalism. If Israel’s relationship with the Turks deteriorates, watch for its growing relationship with the Kurds to become even more enriched and well publicized. Anyone remember their high school geography class? If you do; here’s a question for you. What country does Iraqi Kurdistan border? Answer: Iran.
    Over the years there have been scores of suggested solutions to the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There’s been the Saudi Plan, the Geneva Plan, the three state plan (where Gaza becomes part of Egypt and the West Bank is controlled by Jordan) that has recently been resurrected in a Washington Post op ed by John Bolton. And of course there’s the one state plan where the Israelis and Palestinians are supposedly going to live together in harmony like the Belgians (oh yeah, Belgium is about to come apart at the seams) or the Swiss. Of course if Fatah and Hamas can’t live together under a single government, it’s hard to figure how the Israelis could be added harmoniously to the mix.
    The only plan that has any real chance of working; the one Mitcherll will pursue, is the one Bill Clinton presented to Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in 2000. Some say that the Palestinians rejected the Clinton Plan; some say it was the Israelis and some say it was both.
    It doesn’t matter. The Clinton Plan provides the only frame-work that will work. The two sides have little choice but to take it or leave it. If Hamas is sufficiently damaged and if President Abbas survives (politically and physically) and if Barak or Livni (instead of Netanyahu) is the next Israeli Prime Minister there is a small chance that these leaders will pursue a time warp back to 2000 and start negotiating where Clinton left off. If this happens, there could be peace. Mitchell could succeed.
    If either party finds the Clinton Plan unacceptable, at least as a starting point; the conflict will continue and after a brief interlude of quiet in Gaza, we will be right back where we started.
    What was it that Yogi Berra said about déjà vu, all over again?

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  28. clio says:

    The speed and timing of the Israeli withdrawal and the bilateral “unilateral” ceasefire make it clear that both combatants realize that the the Obama administration will not wink at irresponsible adventurism. Grown-ups are back in US foreign policy.
    Let us hope that Obama can build a peace on this momentum.

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  29. Chris says:

    Great piece of reporting. Keep them coming. I have a feeling the foreign policy news out of this new administration over the next few weeks is going to be coming fast and furious. I’d love to continue reading insightful follow-ups on Mid East peace in this blog. Blogs like this can be an important source of comment on the Middle East, particularly when the trad. media is so often so strongly biased in favor of Israel.

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