Jun 30 2006

The problem with arrogance

Published by at 1:18 pm under Articles

By Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict presents a unique case study in asymmetry and arrogance of power.

The status of this conflict today positions one country, Israel, with overwhelming military, political and financial power, as well as backing from the world’s most powerful country (the US) and community (EU), against a people without an army, living under siege, with employees not paid for months and economy in shatters. With such overwhelming power Israel has no incentive to negotiate. It is very happy to dictate and the world community, by and large, goes along with that.

The Israelis (people, government and army) can do what they want and extract whatever they want from the people under their occupation. Well, not everything. One tiny issue they cannot get the Palestinians to do is offer them peace without obtaining their land back.

Even this apparently insignificant issue — from the Israeli point of view — has been resolved. The newly elected Israeli government has basically decided that it doesn’t need the Palestinians to make peace with it. The historic compromise (two states along the 67 border) Palestinians are willing to accept seems way too steep for Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert and the majority of Israelis who voted for him. So instead, the Israelis have decided to live with a low-intensity conflict, give up some insignificant land (Gaza and parts of the West Bank, minus Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley) and believe that everyone can live happily thereafter.

Well, again there is a little tiny problem with this seemingly open and shut case. The other side, the Palestinians, are refusing to roll over and call it quits. And in the middle of this internal debate (Israelis only negotiate among themselves) a little glitch appears. Some renegade group actually dares challenge the Israeli mighty machine, carry out a military operation and capture an Israeli soldier. And although two other soldiers were killed along with two Palestinians, the fact that Palestinians have captured a live soldier has left Israel sleepless.

All of a sudden, this mighty country with its powerful army, penetrating intelligence apparatus and a long list of friends actually wants something from the Palestinians. Not that they are willing to negotiate for what they want. The idea of a prisoner exchange (according to Israel he is a kidnapped Israeli and not a prisoner of war, just like the 10,000 Palestinians are not prisoners of war) does not have place here.

In response, the powerful Israeli army machine is put to work with little direction and focus, and the only goal is wreak havoc and destruction. This is the Israeli thinking. Mass tanks on the borders of Gaza. Destroy a few bridges, take out the electric plant (we have plenty of international friends so no need to worry about the fact that this is a collective punishment and therefore a war crime). Use political muscle to get the Americans and the Egyptians to press the Palestinians; threaten the lives of the Palestinian government and the Palestinian president; even kidnap a Palestinian minister (just like the Hizbollah sheikhs still held illegally for over 20 years) and hope that the sum of all this pressure will yield the result — freeing the Israeli corporal.

If ever there was an opportunity for Israel to hold substantive talks with Palestinians over something as simple as a ceasefire this would be it. The arrogance of power and the notion that any such talks will weaken the Israeli deterrence is simply a formula for more bloodshed and an unending cycle of violence.

In the past Israel has always refused to talk to what it calls terrorists, so as not to reward them. Presently, the Israelis have no right to use the term “terror” to describe a purely military operation that targeted a military location.

For years, the Israelis have been consistently rejecting all Palestinian offers of a ceasefire. The arrogance of power often blinds the military and even the politicians, not allowing them to understand that on the other side of the border also exists a nation with its desire of a normal life, with its hope that its prisoners are released, that the unjust siege is lifted and its land is liberated.

Today we see that even the powerful have to come down to the level of the weak if they are able to think any further than the immediate present. This is why politicians elected by the people and not appointed army generals are entrusted with making important life and death decisions.

While the asymmetry between Israel and Palestinians will continue to frustrate any possible negotiated agreement, sometimes single acts like the Karm Abu Salam military operation can drive home the basic notion that a powerful nation not willing to understand the limits of its own power is also fallible. Countries that are drunk with power are liable to trip on a small stone.

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