Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Disengagement from Gaza

Fifteen years after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip, and evicted the Jews who lived there, many of the former officers and other self-described security experts who supported the move at the time continue to argue that it was the correct decision, pointing to the decrease in the number of Israelis killed and wounded since then. But, argues Gershon Hacohen, this is the wrong yardstick:

[B]y making the number of casualties the main criterion by which to assess the security situation, as U.S. generals did in Vietnam to cover up their abysmal failures, the “experts” ignore the fact that a national-security equation does not by any means depend primarily on the number of wounded and killed. If that were indeed the key criterion, most struggles for national liberation would not have happened.

To begin with, Israel’s withdrawal reinforced Hamas’s belief that Palestinian victory will be won through “resistance” and not by political means, à la the approach of Mahmoud Abbas. . . . According to Hamas, it was not the yearning for peace that impelled the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza but operative and mental distress in the face of relentless “resistance,” similar to the panicky flight from Lebanon in May 2000. Hence the two-state solution has succumbed to a radical logic that paints it, according to Hamas’s former leader Khaled Mashal, in the colors of an ongoing phased strategy in the ceaseless struggle for Israel’s destruction.

For rockets, missiles, and mortars, as well as explosive and incendiary balloons, the fence [separating Israel from Gaza] is not an obstacle. Nor does it inhibit the tunnel threat. The fence does contribute to the regular security routine, but in symmetrical fashion it helps the enemy build up its power undisturbed. Under the protection of the fence, . . . Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been able to form an organized military force, comprising battalions and brigades, replete with a concealed and protected arsenal of rocket fire and supported by an effective command-and-control system.

Yet, writes Hacohen, these same experts wish to apply the same logic to the West Bank, risking far more disastrous consequences.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza withdrawal, Hamas, Israeli Security, Vietnam War, West Bank

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood