Thursday, January 01, 2009

salvaging something out of the gaza war

The Gaza War drones on into its next phase, with Israel rejecting a 48-hour cease-fire and apparently preparing a ground offensive. The decision is understandable: the proposal sounded more like a time-out, designed to get Hamas back on its feet, than a serious truce agreement. Nevertheless, the violence has an increasingly ritualized character, and it is hard to see the issue being satisfactorily resolved by it.

One sign of hope, if a faint one, is the reaction of observers on both sides to the ongoing violence. I have previously discussed the range of opinion on the Israeli side, from enthusiastic supporters to liberal doubters to some (like Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz) who have all but labeled their own group the aggressors. But the Arab side too has seen a surprising range of opinion. While there has been a predictable surge in sympathy for the Palestinians--and criticism of Egypt and other Arab states for not helping them--that sympathy has not always been extended to Hamas, who many see as having created and exploited the crisis for its own purposes. Indeed, as Ari Shavit wrote today, many Israeli authors have actually shown more sympathy for the Gaza leadership than have their Arab counterparts.

Given these overlapping opinions, and the unlikelihood of any clear-cut military verdict, one would think the Gaza War might be susceptible to a negotiated settlement--or, more hopefully, that it might prove the basis for a more general Mideast agreement. Progress in the Mideast, when it has come at all, has usually done so on the heels of military conflict. But it has required some kind of outside involvement, typically American, to force the parties together and apply pressure as needed. The Obama Administration had planned to deal with other priorities first. It may not have that luxury.


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