Sunday, June 15, 2003

Oxblog's David Adesnik disagrees with my claim that Israel's attacks on Hamas leaders are no worse for peace prospects than was Israel's isolation of Arafat. "[D]estroying credibility is far more difficult [sic] than reinforcing it," he writes. (I think he means, "easier".) "A combination of American and Israeli intransigence forced Arafat to back down. But that same combination cannot persuade Palestinians to embrace Abu Mazen."

Certainly, it's true that Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. "Abu Mazen") has yet to be embraced by the Palestinian public. But I don't see how easing the pressure on Hamas could improve his stature any more than easing the pressure on Arafat would. In either case, a long-term competitor to Abbas would win enhanced prestige, having being shown greater "respect" by Israel. By the same token, terrorism as a tactic would also win increased credibility, thereby undercutting Abbas' tentative attempts to persuade Palestinians to abandon it.

Now, some argue that Abbas' status among Palestinians is doomed unless he forcefully defends terrorists like Hamas and Arafat. That may (or may not) be the case; but if so, then lending him more credibility is synonymous with promoting terrorism, and there's thus no good reason for even attempting to prop him up. On the other hand, if Abbas is able to establish himself as a credible non-terrorist leader, it will only be because the Palestinian people perceive the terrorist alternatives as demonstrably worse. And--let's face it--a few helicopter-borne missiles slamming into the cars of terrorist leaders drives home the message that terrorism doesn't work, far better than implicitly giving "do not touch" VIP status to the top eschelon of Hamas.

Meanwhile, Gregory of "Belgravia dispatch" also objects to my defense of the attack on Rantisi, arguing that its timing interferes with the "road map" initiative, and that the resulting incidental Palestinian civilian casualties hurt long-term prospects for peaceful coexistence. Funny--it used to be that ultra-doves like Amram Mitzna would declare that Israel should "fight terror as if there were no negotiations and negotiate as if there were no terror attacks." Gregory is apparently to the left of Mitzna, arguing that attacks on Hamas should be put on hold for the sake of the "road map". Again, this seems completely backwards to me; if one goal of the "road map" is to isolate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations from terrorism, then the attacks on Rantisi and his partners in terror couldn't be better timed to assist in that decoupling. And if the Palestinian response is to rise to the defense of Hamas--immediately after the latter has explicitly refused to halt its terrorist attacks--then the "road map" itself is a sham, doomed to collapse in another heap of unfulfilled Palestinian commitments to suppress its own side's terrorists.

The issue of the attack's civilian casualties is, I'll concede, a serious one, and Israel should certainly not be cavalier about it. The concern, pace the ever-clueless Thomas Friedman, is not the effects of such operations on long-term hopes for peaceful coexistence. If Israelis can somehow manage to live peacefully with a population that spent over half a century dedicating itself to their brutal liquidation, then a few accidental deaths in Gaza shouldn't be a formidable obstacle to ultimate reconciliation. Rather, Israelis themselves quite rightly oppose the erosion of their moral standards, which include placing a high value on protecting innocent life. Waging a morally unimpeachable war against a terrorist organization hiding within a civilian population is no easy matter, to be sure, and reasonable individuals can differ on the appropriate boundaries. I don't believe the attack on Rantisi was excessive, but I can understand that others might make a different judgment call

The best solution, of course, would be for the local Palestinian authorities to break up the terrorist organizations themselves, jailing their leaders. (Note, though, that the danger of incidental civilian casualties in such operations is also far from negligible.) However, given that the Palestinian authorities have not yet so acted, or even made a commitment to act, it is therefore up to Israel to fight Hamas as carefully and effectively as it can.

My own strong suspicion, in fact, is that for the moment Abbas et al. actually prefer Israel to take the initiative (and the subsequent blame), feeling their own current political status a bit too precarious for such boldness. If I'm right, then it's hard to make the case that Israel's actions were unwarranted, given that the local authorities had the opportunity to accomplish the same task with less danger to civilians, and nevertheless chose the riskier option.

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