Ceasefire by Casualties

If the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants holds, then it will be due to the success of Israeli Foreign Policy in the last few months.

The fervent attacks by Israeli Defense Forces on militant bases in Gaza and the civilian casualties that they caused have proven an effective incentive for the establishment of a truce. After Palestinian women were shot at, after 13 members of the same family were killed in the notorious Beit Hanoun incident, and after Israel failed to respond to international criticism, a truce was announced Saturday night by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

With the US, its closest ally, yielding veto power in the United Nations Security Council, the Israeli government is capable of questionable actions. In fact, the Beit Hanoun shelling drew criticism from the UN Security Council which considered a resolution against Israel. Without surprise, the US vetoed that resolution. The fact that the incident left 19 civilian casualties dead (as well as numbers of wounded), was not enough to merit criticism from the US. Instead, Ambassador John Bolton spoke of an inherent anti-Israeli bias in the United Nations.

The announcement Saturday, and the enforcement of the ceasefire on Sunday, is the result of relentless Israeli efforts to force Palestinian militants to give up their fight. They haven’t. But they have obviously felt it was in the best interest of fellow Gaza citizens that they stop their ineffectual campaign of bombing Israel with Qassam rockets. After all, the Qassam rockets lack precision and rarely hit their targets. They also leave few civilian casualties, because they usually hit non-populated areas. It simply became an unsustainable policy, with countless civilian casualties in the Palestinian Areas and the continuing occupation by Israeli Forces.

While the civilian casualties were never intended by Israel — Beit Hanoun was caused by a “technical failure,” and Israel regularly phones ten minutes before a bombing to wan civilians — they have been in Israel’s favor. The shooting at civilian women who were shielding militants at a mosque, played into the hands of Israel; it made clear that Israel would not be deterred from targeting militants, even if it meant civilian casualties. That incident occurred a few days before Beit Hanoun, which confirmed the reality of Israel’s policy, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret over the incident stopping short of apologizing.

Israeli Restraint

Whenever he faced criticism over Israel’s policy this fall, Olmert has responded with the argument that Israel cannot stand silent while Palestinian militants are bombing Israel. On Sunday, however, Israel did not respond to the several rockets which were launched into Israel upon the commencement of the truce. Olmert invoked Israel’s ability to show restraint, because Israel’s mission was already accomplished. There had been enough civilian casualties to convince Fatah and Hamas to work together in reigning in militant groups.

In fact, Fatah and Hamas began talks immediately after Beit Hanoun to try and come to a unitary government.

This success of Israeli foreign policy comes at a needed time. After the failure of the Lebanon campaign this summer — Hezbollah was armed too well and actually fought back — Israel needed something to reaffirm its influence.

It got that with the Palestinian Occupied territories, by successfully forcing a ceasefire. But it couldn’t do it without unquestionable US support. And innocent Palestinian deaths.

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UN Probes Beit Hanoun

November 18, 2006

While it is far from criticizing Israel, the UN has expressed regret over the Beit Hanoun bombing from a week and a half ago. The resolution also included a condemnation of the Qassam rockets being fired into Israel by Palestinian militants.

The UN voted with an overwhelming majority (156 to 7, with 6 abstainers) in favor of the motion which will now lead to a probe of the incidents. The US will have a veto. Notable is US ambassador Bolton’s vote against the motion, who accused the UN of being anti-Israeli.

The resolution will not change anything: there will be no sanctions imposed on Israel and the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will not be sped up. However, the resolution goes to show world political tendencies and the increasing isolationism of US foreign policy.

The resolution put forth today did not criticize Israel, nor was it lenient to the Palestinian side. In fact, the Qassam rocket strategy was condemned while “regret” was offered for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli mistakes in Gaza. One such mistake killed 19 people in one shot, 13 from the same family.

Not expressing regret over these civilian deaths is proof of a very well defined bias.

Cf: Montreal Protests Beit Hanoun.

Making Democracy Work

November 14, 2006

In a bid to reclaim Western aid, authorities in the Palestine have made steps forward toward a unitary government.

Aid to Israel was cut off when Hamas was elected to the Palestinian government; Israel, Western Countries and the Arab League, all stopped funds transfers to the Palestinian Authority, leaving civil servants without pay and leaving the area economically devastated. The new unitary government is likely to be headed by a scholar, Mohammed Shabir, who is not politically affiliated but is close to Hamas.

Work on establishing a unitary government quickly went ahead after last week’s fatal week which peaked with the bombing at Beit Hanoun in the Gaza strip. The Hamas leadership made it clear that it would give place to a unitary government if that meant getting aid back to Palestine: Israel owes Palestine about $60 million a month, which is collected as a tax.

Over the weekend, the Arab League decided it would recommence fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Beit Hanoun killings of 19 innocent civilians. The real test for the Palestinians, though, is getting Western aid back.

The sad part in all this is that aid was blocked because of a democratically elected faction. Instead of having civil servants working to make the democracy work, the West is only promoting radicalism by leaving those servants without pay. And unwilling or not, the civilian casualties don’t help either, especially with an Israeli Prime Minister who expresses regret only to add that similar incidents “may happen” yet again.

And then, none other than the US vetoes a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel’s conduct in Beit Hanoun.

US Confused About Iran

November 14, 2006

President Bush has affirmed his tough position on Iran. Despite talks of seeking out Iran and Syria, Iraq’s neighbor’s, to help with the Iraqi crisis, the US continues to maintain that the Iranian nuclear program is illegitimate; Syria is accused of incursions into Lebanon.

It is important to note that Bush’s comments came as the US president was meeting Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, and Iran is Israel’s constant critic in the face of President Ahmadinejad. Also, Israel is in need of a diplomatic boost after its mishap in Beit Hanoun: it was the US that saved Israel from having a UN Security Council resolution passed against it this weekend. Thus it is only natural that President Bush will stand by Israel; the US is the country’s closest ally, receiving the biggest amount of US aid (Egypt is second).

The problem with this approach to foreign policy, however, is that it unnecessarily targets Iran, a potential partner in resolving America’s troubles in Iraq. There has been no evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and Iran has repeatedly affirmed its desire to follow the norms established in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

What Bush might be doing is looking tough publicly, while understanding that the US will potentially have to work with Iran. After several years of calling it a state that supports terrorism and a state that wants to target the US with nuclear weapons, the President has to justify going to Iran for help. And he has to look tough doing it, otherwise it would seem that Americans were simply lied to by their leadership for the past few years.

Montreal Protests Beit Hanoun

November 13, 2006

As reported on this blog, there was a protest held on Saturday in Montreal in response to the Beit Hanoun bombing last Wednesday.

The following is a report I prepared for CKUT Radio about the event. It also features parts of a telephone interview by Shiraz Janjua with Amjat Shawa who is in Gaza working with the Palestinian NGO Network. To listen, press the play button below:
[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/2629163/view]