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March 15, 2009


What Will The New “Queen of Foggy Bottom” Do?
By George Scoville

[Editor’s Note: This item first appeared on May 10, 2008 in George Scoville’s Camp David III blog. It has been reprinted here with permission and has been edited and updated to account for the recent ascension of the Obama administration.]

In an April 17, 2008 opinion editorial, Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl argued that former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed too late for peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would actually prefer to continue engaging Palestinian outposts in the Gaza Strip since they believe that full-blown war, while not preferable to peace, is inevitable.

By bombing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel believes she can interrupt Hamas in their “building [of] hardened bunker systems and stockpiling missiles in imitation of the infrastructure built in southern Lebanon by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.” In short, calling for a ceasefire would only give Hamas the opportunity to lick its proverbial wounds and prepare for the next volley of missile attacks on Israel.

Add to this the role of the United Nations Relief Works Administration (UNRWA), created off-the-cuff in 1948 to care for Palestinian refugees in bordering territories after Israel’s founding, which has assumed the social services role once played by Hamas, and we see a militant wing of Gazan society that can continue its clandestine military buildup without responsibility to the constituency it professes to defend and protect.

Despite relative success in dismantling military checkpoints in the West Bank, many Israeli officials have believed for some time that Israel has been headed for a major war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which began as a social services organization and political party, but which subsequently morphed into a terrorist organization (much like Sinn Fein in Ireland became the IRA), has been firing both Iranian-made Qassam rockets and homemade missiles into coastal Israeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot. The IDF has responded with periodic airstrikes, and US ambassadors have encouraged Egypt to work with Hamas and the Israelis in pursuit of a lasting peace settlement.

A ceasefire should provide a good opportunity for peace talks, right? No.

The Belmont College Republicans recently showed the HBO documentary "DEATH IN GAZA," followed by a discussion of the HAMAS Charter and Israeli deterrence policy, led by Dr. Susan Jellissen, PhD

The Belmont College Republicans recently showed the HBO documentary "DEATH IN GAZA," followed by a discussion of the HAMAS Charter and Israeli deterrence policy, led by Dr. Susan Jellissen, PhD

Diehl wrote, “…Israeli officials see the confrontation in Gaza with Hamas as more important in strategic terms than the talks with moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas…there is no alternative to a military collision with Hamas in Gaza, probably before the end of the Bush administration.” Allegedly, this strategic interest is based upon the assumption that Iran continues to aid Hamas with missiles and other conventional weapons. If Iran develops nuclear capabilities, the planet might see the birth of a third World War, and it is better to engage a weakened Hamas now than wait for an existential nuclear Iranian threat to become manifest.

Former President Bush and Former Secretary Rice urged Israel to stand down long enough for Olmert and Abbas to reach a tentative direct settlement. Despite this, Israeli officials have little faith that Abbas can carry out his portion of whatever kind of agreement the parties might make, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “hinted privately that he might favor an Israeli attack on Hamas, because it would allow Abbas’s Fatah movement to take control of Gaza.”

Thus, the Israelis have found themselves in a completely intractable situation; an all-out offensive, while preferred by senior Israeli administrative officials, would draw negative criticism from the UN (even if Hamas demonstrably provokes them), and the United States thus far is uncommitted and unprepared to come to Israel’s aid when peace talks fail. Couched in this manner, sustained direct military engagement with Hamas appears preferable to the Israeli people and the government, despite admissions that more casualties will inevitably ensue.

To the credit of the Obama administration, they have promoted and signed an agreement with states in the region and will provide direct assistance to stop the flow of Iranian weapons into Gaza. Most crucial to this agreement will be US ally, Egypt and her efforts to curtail weapons smuggling via underground tunnels at the Rafah Crossing, which bridges the northern portion of the Sinai Peninsula into southern Gaza. It will be interesting to see how this policy move plays out in real-time on the ground in the Mediterranean.

Al-Qaeda, though, has called for another intifada – a Palestinian uprising in Israel – as well as a jihad against the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, who have modernized relations with Israel and who have become major players in a lasting peace push. Egypt is the only Arab state in the world whose Camp David Peace Accords with Israel have not been interrupted by more violence.

But with the news in early February 2009 that Russia, who has already begun to posture herself against the West in the post-Cold War era, will assist Iran in building nuclear facilities, we all must wonder: what will new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do? Is it enough to send former Senator George Mitchell, the czar of steroid use in Major League Baseball, as the senior US envoy to the region? How long will it take to debrief him as a senior representative of the new Obama administration and bring him up to speed on the complex issues that pervade this terrible conflict?

How will mounting pressures in Israel’s upcoming elections, pressures which indicate that it is time to take an aggressive stance against Hamas in Gaza, affect the outcome? It is likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will become Israel’s new Prime Minister this spring, and it is clear that he and the Likud party favor direct engagement with Hamas all over the region, but particularly in Gaza. We must all wonder how the Obama administration will react.

George Scoville is a senior Philosophy and Political Science double major.

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