Thursday, June 24, 2010

White House Announcement on Gaza Shows the Missing Element: Strategic Rationality

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By Barry Rubin

"As a general rule, you should assume that the more unlikely the action I lay upon this stage for you, the more likely it is that I have evidence of its having happened." --Clive Barker, Galilee.

Everyone will probably view the just-released official document, "White House on Israel’s Announcement on Gaza," as purely routine government rhetoric that means nothing. But that just shows how much people have become used to taking for granted the lack of any strategic sense in this U.S. government.

The June 20 White House statement opens thusly:

"The President has described the situation in Gaza as unsustainable and has made clear that it demands fundamental change."

One would expect that a rational policy would use the words "unsustainable" and "demands fundamental change" to mean that the president demands the overthrow of Hamas. In fact, it signifies the exact opposite: he demands the stabilization of that regime.

The statement continues:

"On June 9, [Obama] announced that the United States was moving forward with $400 million in initiatives and commitments for the West Bank and Gaza. The President described these projects as a down payment on the U.S. commitment to the people of Gaza, who deserve a chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank."

Just think of the calm insanity of that paragraph. The United States is going to pump money into Gaza. That money is a "down payment on the U.S. commitment," that is, it is not an act of generosity for which the United States deserves to get something in return. No, the phrasing makes it seem that the United States owes them the money.

Moreover, giving this money does not really advance the cause of building a Palestinian state but retards it by shoring up a Hamas government which is against the Palestinian Authority, against peace with Israel, and against a two-state solution.

Note, too, that Hamas is put on an equal plane with the Palestinian Authority. The people of Gaza and the people of the West Bank will build a state, says the statement. Couldn't the administration even have said that the state would be built in the context of the Oslo accords or under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority?

This is truly amazing. There is no mention of even the Quartet conditions: nothing said about Hamas abandoning terrorism or accepting Israel's existence or returning to recognition of the Palestinian Authority's rule as the legitimate government. The statement is unconditional, absolutely unconditional. Only the "humanitarian" consideration counts, as if the U.S. government is a community organizer organizing a food stamp program.

In seeking an analogy to this abdication of strategy and politics, it would be like the United States making a commitment to help the people of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war or North Korea during the Korean war by pouring in money and goods unconditionally, saying this would help lead to a moderate unified state.

Doesn't who governs the Gaza Strip as a dictatorship (an antisemitic, anti-American, terrorist, revolutionary Islamist, would-be genocidal, Christian-expelling, women-repressing, terrorist, and allied to Iran dictatorship at that) matter a bit?

The announcement continued by welcoming Israel's new policy as something that "should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza, while preventing the entry of weapons."

In other words, the United States has no problem with Hamas ruling Gaza as long as weapons are kept out. There is absolutely no strategic concept in the U.S. approach.

Meanwhile, the White House makes clear that Israel's concessions aren't sufficient. "There is more to be done, and the President looks forward to discussing this new policy, and additional steps, with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to Washington on July 6."

So the U.S. government wants the Hamas-ruled statelet to get even more. Blandly but incredibly, the statement continues: "We will explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank."

Now while it is true that this could mean supporters of the Palestinian Authority will be able to go to Gaza and have more influence, what it will mean in practice is that Hamas militants (including bomb-makers and agitators) will be more able to get into the West Bank. Though Israel will no doubt closely vet those who pass between the two areas, will it then be accused of inhibiting Palestinian "freedom of movement"?

Of course, there is the requisite paragraph voicing support for Israel, but note that it gives nothing more to Israel whatsoever:

"We strongly re-affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, and our commitment to work with Israel and our international partners to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza. As we approach the fourth anniversary of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, we call again for his immediate release, and condemn the inhumane conditions of his detention."

Did anyone in the administration think of conditioning the easing of the embargo and the U.S. aid on Shalit's release? Of course not.

The statement adds: "We believe that the implementation of the policy announced by the Government of Israel today should improve life for the people of Gaza, and we will continue to support that effort going forward." But wait a minute. If this further entrenches a terrorist, repressive regime will that "improve life" for the people of Gaza?

And the statement ends:

"We urge all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. There is no need for unnecessary confrontations, and we call on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza."

Of course, all of this won't discourage the flotilla ships which will continue to sail and at times will seek confrontation. After all, if confrontation results in gaining such victories why should anyone dismiss them as "unnecessary?" And finally note the veiled hint about all parties acting responsibly. The administration won't even come out openly to demand that Hamas lets in goods and doesn't steal them!

So in this statement there is not one word--not one word--of direct criticism of Hamas. And there is no hint that any thought has been given about the strategic implications of accepting a Hamas regime and allowing it to normalize the economic situation even while it is creating a nightmare political and social situation for Gazans.

Let's assume the administration had the same goals but went about it with a different rhetoric. It would condemn Hamas extensively but then say that, of course, it should not be able to hold the people in Gaza as hostages and that they should not suffer just because they are ruled by a terrible dictatorship. The statement could look forward to the day when they are liberated from these extremist, repressive rulers. I'm not saying this is my preferred policy but it is a far better way the Obama Administration could implement its own wishes.

In other words, the administration could have played it this way: Hamas is our enemy; the people of Gaza are our friends. We don't want you to suffer. We want you to get rid of Hamas, join with the PA, and make a lasting peace with Israel. If you are moderate and abandon terrorism, you will be better off and get your own state through negotiations with Israel. But that is not the strategic line taken.

Yes, it is incredible. The Obama Administration refuses to criticize Hamas in its own statement. Why? Is it afraid that the need to send money and goods into the Gaza Strip is so great that no offense can be given to Hamas lest the regime would refuse these concessions?

In this bland little White House statement we see the policy insanity of the current U.S. government. Again, as problematic as the president's goal is--reducing the sanctions against the Gaza Strip--the real craziness is in the way it is being conceived, explained, and implemented.

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