A Pillar Built on Sand

Israel’s leaders have a two-prong strategy for dealing with their Palestinian problem. First, they rely on the United States to provide diplomatic cover, especially in the United Nations. The key to keeping Washington on board is the Israel lobby, which pressures American leaders to side with Israel against the Palestinians and do hardly anything to stop the colonisation of the Occupied Territories.

The second prong is Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s concept of the ‘Iron Wall’: an approach that in essence calls for beating the Palestinians into submission. Jabotinsky understood that the Palestinians would resist the Zionists’ efforts to colonise their land and subjugate them in the process. Nonetheless, he maintained that the Zionists, and eventually Israel, could punish the Palestinians so severely that they would recognise that further resistance was futile.

Israel has employed this strategy since its founding in 1948, and both Cast Lead and Pillar of Defence are examples of it at work. In other words, Israel’s aim in bombing Gaza is not to topple Hamas or eliminate its rockets, both of which are unrealisable goals. Instead, the ongoing attacks in Gaza are part of a long-term strategy to coerce the Palestinians into giving up their pursuit of self-determination and submitting to Israeli rule in an apartheid state.

Israel’s commitment to the Iron Wall is reflected in the fact that its leaders have said many times since Cast Lead ended in January 2009 that the IDF would eventually have to return to Gaza and inflict another beating on the Palestinians. The Israelis were under no illusion that the 2008–9 conflict had defanged Hamas. The only question for them was when the next punishment campaign would start.

The timing of the present operation is easy to explain. For starters, President Obama has just won a second term despite Netanyahu’s transparent attempt to help Mitt Romney win the election. The prime minister’s mistake is likely to have hurt his personal relations with the president and might even threaten America’s ‘special relationship’ with Israel. A war in Gaza, however, is a good antidote for that problem, because Obama, who faces daunting economic and political challenges in the months ahead, has little choice but to back Israel to the hilt and blame the Palestinians.

The Israeli prime minter faces an election of his own in January and as Mitchell Plitnick writes, ‘Netanyahu’s gambit of forming a joint ticket with the fascist Yisrael Beiteinu party has not yielded anything close to the polling results he had hoped for.’ A war over Gaza not only allows Netanyahu to show how tough he is when Israel’s security is at stake, but it is also likely to have a ‘rally round the flag’ effect, improving his chances of being re-elected.

Nevertheless, Pillar of Defence will not achieve its ultimate goal of getting the Palestinians to abandon their pursuit of self-determination and accept living under the heel of the Israelis. That is simply not achievable; the Palestinians are never going to accept being consigned to a handful of enclaves in an apartheid state. Regrettably, that means Pillar of Defence is unlikely to be the last time Israel bombards Gaza.

Over the long term, however, the bombing campaigns may come to an end, because it is not clear that Israel will be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state. As well as resistance from the Palestinians, Israel has to face the problem that world opinion is unlikely to back an apartheid state. Ehud Olmert said in November 2007, when he was prime minister, that if ‘the two-state solution collapses’ Israel will ‘face a South-African-style struggle’, and ‘as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.’ One would think Israel’s leaders would appreciate where they are headed and allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own. But there is no sign that is happening; instead, Israel foolishly continues to rely on military campaigns like Pillar of Defence to break the Palestinians.

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