Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

Domenic

Dr. Domenic Maffei

The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is one of the most heartbreaking and problematic tragedies currently unfolding. As a professor at a Dominican university, I am particularly troubled by this event. The Dominican tradition is dedicated to seeking the “Truth.”  But the “Truth” is not always easily discernible. In this case the “Truth” is clearly in the eyes of the beholder. As we watch the daily reports of human suffering, and the many failed attempts to alleviate the conflict, it is natural to ask why we can’t find a solution to this situation. As of this writing, the current phase of this conflict seems to be headed toward a conclusion as the Israelis clearly feel that their military objectives have been met.  To understand this conflict, in the short and long term, let’s look at it from both sides. A cost/benefit perspective would be particularly instructive.

What incentives do the Israelis have to end the conflict through a negotiated truce (the current truce, while negotiated by the Egyptians, is basically a result of internal Israeli decision-making)? Unfortunately, very little. Several factors stand in the way. Israel benefits from a preponderance of military might and technology. This is what is known in political science as an asymmetrical conflict: where one side dominates the physical and cyber battlefield disproportionately. This is manifested most cruelly and simply in the death toll: 1,800 Palestinians killed, as opposed to 67 Israelis as of this writing.  Clearly, Israel has a greater chance of achieving its military objectives.

Another factor preventing a negotiated peace is the lack of international pressure on Israel to come to the bargaining table. As much as the world may be outraged by the high civilian death toll, few tangible actions have been taken against the Israeli government. Ban Ki-Moon can complain until he is blue in the face, but unless the Israelis are hit with meaningful sanctions, they will continue their current policy. Sanctions are unlikely. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. will veto any such attempt.  This is doubly problematic, because at the same time that we support Israel, our influence has waned significantly.  Starting with the infamous Obama “I have to deal with him every day” off-mic comment in 2011, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S.-Israeli relations have deteriorated dramatically. The result is that the U.S. will not forge an international coalition against the Israelis (as we are trying to do against Russia), while at the same time, we cannot use our traditional influence bilaterally to sway them. In addition, Hamas has lost many crucial allies in the region, particularly Egypt.  Lastly, the Netanyahu regime has benefited from across-the- board domestic public support. Even opposition leaders like Labor leader Isaac Herzog have sided with the current policy.  Thus all of these factors preclude an Israeli compromise.

What incentives does Hamas have to end the conflict and negotiate a truce? Unfortunately, very few.  Even though it is losing the conflict from a military perspective (its rockets, tunnels and leadership are being decimated), it has little choice but to continue. It seems clear that at this point Hamas sees this conflict as a fight for its very survival. From its perspective, every negotiated truce in the past (including the 2009 Egyptian-brokered accord) has simply continued the status quo and has not resulted in any appreciable gains (e.g., lifting the economic and geographic embargo of Gaza).  Thus the abandonment of the political path in favor of a military solution.  That the number of rockets fired into Israel has declined is more a product of practicality (Israel has destroyed them) than choice.

It seems that what Hamas is hoping for is global sympathy. Its strategy appears to be that the constant scenes of civilian deaths, U.N. refugee compounds attacked and collapsed buildings on bloody children will strike such indignation that the international community will get involved on its behalf. (That may be part of the reason Hamas is placing arsenals in mosques and among civilians.)  Vying for international support is not an unsound strategy; much of the world rallied around Hamas’s attempt to become a de facto member of the U.N.  Unfortunately for Hamas leaders, and for the reasons stated above, the international stars are not aligning in their favor.  This is not to say that there is no international pressure being levied against Israel, but it is insufficient to deter Israel from its immediate objectives.

So what is the take-away?  Given that both sides have positioned themselves against negotiation and toward military conflict, we see the outcome that has transpired: the fighting has stopped (for now) because Israel has unilaterally pulled back, feeling that it has achieved most of its objectives.  The question remains: without a long-term solution to the underlying issues (namely, Israeli security and Palestinian independence), how many will have to die the next time the calculations do not favor peace?

Dr. Domenic Maffei is a professor of political science at Caldwell University.

The views and opinions expressed in these blog posts do not necessarily represent the views of Caldwell University.  


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