This post will be long and confused. It is on a topic on which I am unusually especially ignorant as I decided that the case was hopeless 20 years ago and stopped following it. The current war makes me think that, at least things could be less horrible than they are, and I can’t help trying to think of how the horror could be reduced.
First, I think that the current Israeli military action is a strategic mistake. I also think that the civilian casualties are morally unacceptable – but I will just discuss whether the strategy is effective. For decades The Israeli approach has been if they hit us then we hit them back 10 times as hard. 10 times the appalling costs of recent Hamas terrorism is huge. I think the key point is that the strategy has not worked as demonstrated by the recent Hamas terrorism. I see no reason to think it will work this time and have detected no one who claims it will.
There are at least 3 ways in which Israeli reprisals could possibly work. The first (and current stated aim) is by actually destroying Hamas’ capacity to attack Israel. This will not be possible, because Hamas did not use large expensive military systems. The terrorism was committed with drones and men armed with assault rifles. It will not be possible to block the flow of drones and assault rifles. So long as Hamas can find men willing to die in order to kill, it will be able to attack as it did. Importantly, I think the key issue is the supply of Hamas foot soldiers and if the current leaders are killed they will be replaced. I think the key issue is that large numbers of young men in the Gaza strip support terror and are willing to die for it (I hope and trust that they are a minority but certainly enough to be deadly) . The critical issue is one of hearts and minds not rockets and drones.
By the way, I do think that the Israeli defense against the attacks could have been better — it would help if soldiers were near the border with the Gaza strip and not on the West Bank and it would help if communications (and command) systems were redundant and dispersed. But I am not going to pretend to have thoughts on military tactics today.
The other possible rationales for retaliation are based on punishment and deterrence. I think of two distinct ways this could work in theory. The first is that those currently in power in the Gaza strip decided that the costs of the retaliation are unbearable and cease to order attacks. Just writing this it is obvious that this won’t happen. In fact, I think provoking retaliation is more nearly useful to Hamas’ aims than killing Israelis — the killing won’t intimidate Israel or cause Israeli’s to support concessions in an effort to appease Hamas. In no way did it bring Hamas closer to its aim of destroying Israel. Instead it causes a wave of sympathy for Israel and loathing of Hamas. In contrast, the retaliation makes it difficult for Arab countries to officially make peace with Israel. To be frank, I don’t think that serves Hamas’ goals much either — I think Saudi Arabia and Israel are de facto allies against Iran even if, on paper, they are at war (this also means that I think the Biden administration’s huge efforts to negotiate an accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia are pointless — I don’t think much of substance would change and any gains (which won’t be achieved now due to Israeli retaliation in Gaza) do not justify flattering the enemy of Israeli judicial independence let alone Muhammad Bone Saw). In any case, it is clear that Hamas can not be deterred by retaliation.
The final way in which retaliation could, in theory, work is to turn the people of the Gaza strip against Hamas which has brought them only suffering. This makes sense to me but it clearly does not make sense to them. If it could work, they would have overthrown the Hamas regime years ago. It can’t be made more clear that Hamas rule means death and suffering for Gazans. If an effective opposition movement can develop it has to be based on hope and not just fear of which there has long been plenty.
I think that sticks don’t work and carrots might (“might” makes right). I think that the only possible way out (which provides the thinnest sliver of hope) is to try to encourage support for an alternative to Hamas. I think this is vitally important for the people of the Gaza strip exactly because Hamas keeps providing so much suffering and death.
Unfortunately, the only feasible alternative to Hamas is the unpopular, out of touch, discredited, unsuccessful corrupt Al Fattah – I do not think a new Palestinian movement will grow from nothing. I think that the only way out is to help the Palestinian National Authority (effectively Al Fattah) regain control of Gaza.
In fact (news to me obtained yesterday) public opinion is already in favor of this.
“Gazan frustration with Hamas governance is clear; most Gazans expressed a preference for PA administration and security officials over Hamas—the majority of Gazans (70%) supported a proposal of the PA sending “officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there, with Hamas giving up separate armed units,” including 47% who strongly agreed. Nor is this a new view—this proposal has had majority support in Gaza since first polled by The Washington Institute in 2014.”
Similarly majorities support the now long broken cease fire and a two state solution (with the unobtainable condition of 1967 boundaries). I quoted just one paragraph but the link is well worth clicking.
OK so how can one build support for a notoriously unsuccessful (and allegedly corrupt) organization lead by an 87 year old who set the all time record for low approval ratings (long ago when he was prime minister Abbas had a 1% approval record) ? In keeping with this post’s focus on what works and not on what is right or wrong, I appeal to Senator Mitch McConnel who once listed the 3 keys to building a political movement
The man is not a statesman but he is a very successful politician.
I propose combining anti-Hamas politics with poverty relief policy by giving the PNA money directing it to aid the Gaza strip. The idea is PNA personnel bringing money to Gaza. This would, in practice involve more competing with the UN than with Hamas which doesn’t (as far as I know) provide all that much to anyone.
Hamas will not be able to say no (or they would become really unpopular).
The problem, of course, is that the PNA is not known for competence or honesty and the money might end up in places which anger people (say Swiss bank accounts). Assuming they don’t discredit themselves, I would try to encourage an anti-Hamas political movement. One advantage is that activists could then ask for asylum (I am always of the view that people in Gaza who want to go to some place which is less horribly poor should be allowed to do so). I don’t think finding the money will be a problem. For one thing, Arafat rose to prominence largely with Saudi money (later he was genuinely extremely popular). For another, European countries are willing to aid Palestinians. I am pretty sure that the USA will not get involved.
I am assuming that Israel’s plan to destroy Hamas militarily will not succeed. The reader may notice that I do not hope for anything useful to come from any Israeli government for the indefinite future and I have not even tried to think of useful things that Israel could do (but won’t do). I think my proposal has a tiny chance of relieving the people of the Gaza strip from Hamas rule (and the Israeli reprisals which will keep coming). I think that makes it the best option