Gaza: A pawn in the new ‘great game’
By Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, January 14, 2009
As Europeans watch the humanitarian disaster in Gaza unfold on nightly news bulletins, many may wonder why this crisis seems to have left their governments groping in such apparent fumbling disarray. The answer is that it is the result of policies pulling in opposite directions – of an acute irreconcilability at the heart of their policy-making.
What has happened in Gaza was all too foreseeable. A few Israelis forewarned about this coming crisis, but the appeal of the “grand narrative” – of a global struggle between “moderates” and “extremists” – overrode their warnings to the Israeli electorate.
The thesis that literally “everything” must be done either to lever “moderates” into power, or prevent them from losing power – euphemistically called “supporting moderation” – lies at the heart of the Gaza crisis.
It is a narrative that has served Israel’s wider interests in garnering legitimacy for the Israeli campaign against Iran, and in dichotomizing the region into Westernized “moderates” and Islamist “extremists”.
Former British prime minister, and current Middle East envoy for the Quartet group of the United Nations, Tony Blair’s proselytizing around the world on this theme has been a huge asset for an Israel which aspires to become the leading member of a “moderate” bloc, rather than an isolated island in an increasingly Islamist Middle East. Yet Blair’s and other Quartet members’ attempts to fit this simplistic mechanical template over a complex Middle East, facing multiple struggles, has reduced the Palestinian crisis to being no more than a pawn in a bigger “game” of the existential global struggle against “extremism”.
But such models, once generally accepted, force a deterministic interpretation that can blind its advocates to the real results of such narrow and rigid conceptualizing: a humbled Hamas was seen to be a blow to Hezbollah, which in turn represented a blow to Syria, which weakened Iran – all of which strengthens the “moderates” and makes Israel safer.
Whether this thinking will achieve anything approaching this result remains highly improbable; but its price – Hamas clearly branded and now attacked as a part of these global forces of “extremism” – has been the foreclosure on the possibility of any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.European acquiescence to this Blairite vision of squeezing and humbling Hamas has directly contributed to the bloodshed seen in the streets of Gaza today. European leaders are complicit in creating the circumstances that led to today’s disaster.
At one level, Europeans may say they have been working diligently to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian solution, but their actions suggest the opposite – that they have been more concerned to deliver a knock-out blow to the camp of global “extremism”. Pursuing such irreconcilable ends has only succeeded both in stripping their protege Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of any popular legitimacy and in closing the path of political participation to Hamas.They have destroyed any hope to achieve a truly national Palestinian mandate for any political solution for the foreseeable future. European “social engineering” in Gaza has created only deep division among Palestinians, and possibly pushed a Palestinian state beyond reach.
European leaders bought into this strategy, hoping to pull-off a quickie under-the-table “peace” deal with Abbas that could then be “enforced” on the Palestinians through a multi-national “peacekeeping” force.This was to be achieved with the collaboration of Egypt and Saudi Arabia who were becoming increasingly fearful of the challenge from within their own domestic electorate and who were not adverse to seeing Hamas cornered in Gaza and “punished” by the Israelis. Stage one was to weaken Hamas; stage two to insert an armed international force into Gaza; and stage three was for Abbas’ British and United States-trained special forces to return to Gaza and resume control of the Gaza Strip. It is standard colonial technique.
Any psychologist, however, might have advised the European and US policymakers that putting one-and-a-half million Palestinians “on a diet”, as an earlier Israeli chief-of-staff to the Israeli prime minister described it, and shredding any plans or hopes that they may have had for their futures, does not make humans more docile or more moderate. After a while in the Gaza pressure-cooker, anger and despair boil up: Gaza ultimately was set to explode – one way or another.
As Gaza was squeezed to the point of desperation in the hope that its inhabitants would turn on Hamas, Britain and the US busied themselves in training a Palestinian “special forces” militia around Abbas. The force was used to suppress political activity by Hamas in the West Bank and to close down welfare and social organizations that are not aligned directly with Abbas. A policy of political “cleansing” of the West Bank, cloaked under the rhetoric of “building security institutions”, predictably has been met with an equivalent counter-reaction by Hamas in Gaza – exacerbating Palestinian divisions.
This, then, is the backdrop against which Hamas elected to decline a renewed ceasefire. To stand passive and cornered while Palestinians in Gaza were made destitute and hopeless in an extended ceasefire, and to watch as the Anglo-American political cleansing in the West Bank proceeded, simply was not feasible. European policy was not leading to a political solution, it was set on a course of self-destruction in Gaza and West Bank.
Even in the wake of this humanitarian disaster, European mediators seem more concerned to fight the global war of “moderates” versus “extremists” than to achieve a solution. Blair on Israeli television argued that the priority must be to ensure that weapons cannot continue to reach Hamas via the smuggling tunnels – or else the killing continues.This is being said, however, at exactly the same time that Israeli officials were briefing journalists that the army began planning, training and acquiring the new weapons from the US for this assault – even as the terms of the past ceasefire were still to be agreed with Hamas.
The hold of this moderate/extremist mindset over Europeans and Americans suggests that Europeans again will acquiesce to ceasefire aims intended to hollow out any political future for Hamas. The conflict seems set to continue, but the outlines of a new ceasefire are available today if anyone chooses to pursue them.The border crossings must be fully opened and life for Gazans must be returned to normality. On this basis, a stable ceasefire could be agreed on. Palestinian unity will be achieved only by opening Palestinian leadership institutions, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to radical reforms that will make them genuinely representative of the Palestinian people – and not through the political cleansing of Hamas from the political arena.Repeated Western attempts to lay a template that has persistently misconceived where the real risk of extremism lies in Islamism, and miscast immoderates as the moderates, has so far only served to light the fires of extremism, rather than extinguish them.
Alastair Crooke is co-director of Conflicts Forum.
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