Ben Buchwalter


Moderation will Save Lives, Nation
January 9, 2009, 12:32 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: , , ,

As a Jew, I have been struggling with my feelings about Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza. While in Israel this summer, I felt a pretty strong connection to the sixty year old country that has come to symbolize the freedom and safety of the Jews for many, but also the subjugation of and violence against a minority population for so many others.

There is no denying how awful it is that more than 650 Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks. What’s even worse is how many of those killed are civilians, even children. But the fact is that Hamas asked to be attacked. They have consistently sent rockets into the Southern Israeli city of Sderot for the past seven years, and even though those rockets have killed relatively few people, they have terrorized the city. Hamas knew that Israel would respond but did nothing to protect Gaza’s civilians, who often live directly adjacent to Hamas military sites.

It is difficult to imagine that any country would not retaliate against such malicious and unfailing attacks. But as Nick Kristof wrote this week,  “Israel’s right to do something doesn’t mean it has the right to do anything.”

I was initially uncomfortable with this opinion. I agree that any threat to Israel is existential, designed to destroy the adolescent nation. In the past, Jews have gone far longer than sixty years without being oppressed or killed in masses. It would be a mistake to assume that because they are now accepted in Western nations, they are safe from future violence and oppression. But how do you support a military campaign that kills hundreds of innocent children?

This week has shown an outpouring of pro-Israel criticism of the Gaza invasion. A petition promoted by J Street, the self-proclaimed “political voice of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement” argues that the violence in Gaza will harm Israel in the long run, as Palestinian hatred will grow exponentially larger and Israel will not gain anything tangible. They’re right.

It’s become a cliché at this point that current anti-American sentiment in Iraq and Afghanistan dwarfs anti-Americanism from before the war. And Israel’s 2006 offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon only served to derail the peace process and embarrass Israelis.

So what should Israel have done instead? Well, I don’t know. But J Street has some ideas. One thing is certain. Israel will not benefit from a drawn out campaign that costs more civilian lives. The fighting needs to stop now. From there, the United States needs to help with a genuine peace process with the goal of acceptable compromises from both sides, not absolutely victory for either.

Barack Obama has smartly been quiet on the issue so far. He has, however, decried the loss of civilian life and vowed “to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.” I hope that he will preserve the American tradition of being staunchly pro-Israel. But he also needs to think outside the box and be tough on Israel and the Palestinians alike.

As for the interested parties, both need to exercise moderation. It is clear that decades of violence have accomplished nothing for either side. It’s time for a new approach. A lasting peace was most realistic under the leadership of Israel’s most liberal prime ministers, including Yitzhak Rabin. And the Palestinians should embrace the more moderate political party, Fatah, which is lead by Mahmood Abbas, a democratically elected leader who is generally trusted in the west.

The days of Israel’s goliath-ism and Hamas’ terrorism must end. That is the only way to preserve the Jewish state for decades and centuries to come.

NOTE: Jonathan Singer of MyDD has excellent commentary – from Israel – on the fight for a ceasefire and reports of the French/Egyptian proposal. But the Times reports today that the fighting continues despite international calls for a ceasefire.

UPDATE: Yglesias points out the new edition of Time Magazine, titled “Why Israel Can’t Win.” 

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