A degree of caution is necessary. Just because a ceasefire
is announced is no surety in this conflict that it will be adhered to. However, making the plausible assumption that this ceasefire marks the end of Operation Protective Edge, I want to make a few observations about what the outcome means for Israel.
1. Israel has achieved none of its stated objectives
. It has certainly not destroyed Hamas militarily, and nor has it weakened Hamas politically. Israel still demands the demilitarisation of Gaza in negotiations, but that isn't going to happen. Insofar as that is the case, this is first and foremost a political and diplomatic defeat for Israel, and secondarily a military defeat. That is not to downplay the ingenuity
displayed by Palestinian fighters, but if the military struggle was dominant then Israel would have won already.
2. Israel comes out of this war with its global supporters in Europe and North America sending relatively strong signals that it has over-stepped
. The qualms of Israel's allies and sponsors are articulated in a moral idiom, because that is how hegemonic languages work, but moral concern would not explain why these
massacres, and none before, have so seriously rattled Israel's allies. This is a real strategic fracture.
3. Public protest has palpably made a difference here. Sticking with the UK, I would surmise that without the tradition of pro-Palestine activism in this country, and the huge demonstrations in London, Labour would not have outright opposed
the Gaza invasion, and Syeeda Warsi would not have found herself resigning
from the British government this morning.
4. I think the strategic difference pivots on the auto-radicalisation of Zionism
. The point can be made by summarising the political economy of the Israeli occupation. Since 1967, Israel has been effectively transforming the occupied territories, previously overwhelmingly rural and precapitalist, into weak capitalist dependencies. Colonisation has been central to this process. The ground was laid for the colonisation policy right at the beginning of the war, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out of key, resource-rich areas in the West Bank. Subsequently, 'settlements' were built throughout these areas with the assistance of messianic religious groups like Gush Emunim.
With a network of cities and towns connected by 'Jewish Only' roads, the West Bank was divided into a series of bantustans under military law. The population could only travel between these areas with great difficulty and with Israeli authorisation. By 1988, travel between Gaza and the West Bank was banned under Israeli military law. Of course, these regions developed their own capitalist markets and bourgeoisies, but were utterly dependent upon the Israeli economy, which flooded their markets with Israeli-produced goods. Simultaneously, Israel sought to create a layer of Palestinian bureaucracy that could take responsibility for governing the areas under occupation. This began with the Civil Administration in 1981, and effectively continues with the Palestinian Authority (PA) created by Oslo on the ruins of the First Intifada. It gives the appearance of self-rule, even though the vast majority of the West Bank is exclusively governed by the Israeli military, and only 3% exclusively governed by the PA. And this enabled the Israeli government to embark on a huge settlement expansion project, which of course continues.
With the Israeli stranglehold on the Palestinian economy, and its declining use of Palestinian labour, the PA became the major employer. The capitalist class that did emerge in the occupied territories is dependent on a close (hugely corrupt) relationship with the PA, and thus on compliance with the Israeli occupiers. The result is today's Fatah, and the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, which have long since adopted a neoliberal growth programme under World Bank guidance as the basis for a Palestinian economy. In this context, the significance of Hamas winning the 2006 legislative elections is that a) it represented a repudiation of the politics of compliance, and b) it produced the one occasion on which Israel was happy to let large numbers of armed men from the West Bank travel to Gaza
, as Fatah basically overthrew the elected government
with Israeli support. The blockade of Gaza began, not when Hamas was elected, but when Fatah failed to throw Hamas out of power in the strip. What Israel wanted, by deliberately keeping the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse, was to confirm in power a compliant Palestinian leadership.
But Hamas, while it is not yet incorporated into that leadership, is basically pragmatic, and has demonstrated this by taking a subordinate position in a Palestinian unity government. That government was welcomed by the EU, the UN and the US. Israel rejected it, and has sought to dismantle it by contriving a new war with Hamas. I suspect, therefore, that the major strategic fissure between Israel and its global allies is whether Hamas, with some pressure and discipline, can be fully incorporated into a compliant leadership, and to what end and on what basis such incorporation would take place. Israel, refusing to contemplate Hamas in a Palestinian unity government, embarked on a war that has objectively left it weaker, incited a rebellion in the West Bank, strengthened Hamas politically, and created a turbulent situation that could have been avoided.
5. The most likely effect of this defeat is to intensify the siege mentality in Israel, and drive it further to the Right. Already, the right-wingers in the government have been complaining about Netanyahu's betrayals. The already very voluble calls to let the army off the leash, let it go in there and "exterminate", will become much hoarser. Intriguingly, in the course of the war, the IDF let it be known that it believed it could - if so instructed - reoccupy Gaza within a couple of weeks, and dismantle Hamas's political and military infrastructure within two years
. The IDF chief, Benny Gantz, has already stated before the war that he thinks Israel has to "retake Gaza"
. It would be surprising if the activist Right and the reactionaries in the Knesset did not mount tremendous pressure in the coming weeks and months to embark on such a war. This is not to say it will happen, or that it will happen any time soon anyway, but it is to say that the dynamics in Israeli society are such that it is being pushed in a direction that places it increasingly at a strategic tangent to what its sponsors and supporters want from it. And while Washington will continue to try to cultivate a 'moderate' Israeli leadership faction, they can only really work with the Israel they have got. The question is, at what point does Israel's behaviour become so counterproductive that it outweighs the strategic advantage it provides in terms of military control of the region? And is there a small chance that we will be approaching that point in this generation?