Pro-Israel And Pro-Lebanon
July 31, 2006
As Israel loses more soldiers in actions that increasingly resemble the catastrophic 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the question for Jews in Israel, America and the rest of the world becomes not just whether Israeli actions are morally justified, but whether or not they are strategically sound. The answer to both is no.
Sadly, the actions of the U.S. government have contributed to a destabilization of the region that can only harm Israel. It has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a cease-fire and immediate negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying she did not see what purpose a cease-fire would serve. Such comments leave the impression that halting the deaths of innocents doesn't even factor into Rice's thinking.
This diplomatic failure by the U.S. has defined the Bush administration’s “strategy” in the region. The U.S. completely supported Israel’s actions in closing off the Gaza Strip’s land, sea and air access shortly after a democratically elected Hamas government took power at the beginning of 2006. This devastated an already crippled economy in Gaza and weakened a Hamas government that had held a shaky truce with Israel for more than a year and was moving toward negotiations on implicitly recognizing Israel along its 1967 borders.
Meanwhile, ongoing skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel over Israel’s continuing presence in the Sheba’a Farms region—which Israel claims is Syrian territory, while Lebanon claims it as its own—were simply ignored by the rest of the world. Instead of pushing for a solution to these problems, the Bush administration preferred to let them simmer. It boiled over when Palestinian groups and Hezbollah attacked Israeli army posts inside Israel, taking Israeli soldiers hostage.
All sides rightly condemned Hezbollah for those attacks and for the deadly rocket attacks on Israeli towns. But those rocket attacks only started after Israel started bombing Lebanese civilians. The Israeli government is responsible for escalating the conflict, and it showed total disregard for its own citizens, let alone the Lebanese, by doing so. That doesn’t excuse Hezbollah’s actions, but Israel knew very well that it was opening the door to civilian casualties of its own when it hit Lebanon.
Now, more than two weeks after Israel invaded Lebanon and almost a month since Israel began its assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders have admitted that these operations have little to do with freeing their captive soldiers. Instead, we hear daily of the “new Middle East” which this war will create. This was attempted before, when in 1982 Israel attempted to install by force a government favorable to it in South Lebanon. The results then, as now, were only an intensification of the “old” Middle East violence.
The course the Israelis are pursuing is not only immoral, it is self-defeating. It makes perfect sense that Israel would want to see the Lebanese army replace Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. But the way to do that was to help strengthen the Lebanese government. It is obvious that Israel has every right and responsibility, even as an occupying power, to stop rockets, however ineffective, from being launched from Gaza at their towns. But to accomplish this goal, Israel should allow Gaza the freedom to build up its economy, and Israel should work with the legitimately elected Palestinian government, through diplomacy and economic incentives, to act to prevent such rocket attacks.
The present situation marks a complete failure of diplomacy only because diplomacy was never attempted. Hamas, after it won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was unable to find a way to reconcile its charter with the need to negotiate with Israel. Despite the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the Lebanese government had not yet been able to find a way to integrate Hezbollah’s armed wing under one command of the Lebanese military. But both Hamas and Lebanon faced very difficult obstacles. Instead of recognizing those obstacles and trying to work with democratically elected governments, Israel and the United States shut down all negotiations—moves which played right into militant hands by demonstrating the futility of trying to negotiate with Israel.
This was most acute with regard to the Palestinians. Despite the well-publicized Israeli withdrawal of settlements and soldiers from inside Gaza last year, Israel has maintained total control of the Strip. Palestinians routinely fired mostly ineffectual rockets at Israeli towns, while Israel routinely shelled and caused sonic booms over Gaza, causing many deaths and far more damage to people and property.
The U.S. has resolutely refused to consider the real “root cause” of the current violence and the regional instability—the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. However the current crisis plays out, there will only be more if the occupation does not end. If America is really concerned with Israeli interests, it will work to end that occupation. That will restore morality to Israel and the global Jewish community and is the only way to security and hope for all the people of the region.