“Where there is no solution, there is no problem,” geostrategist James Burnham once wryly observed.
Ex-Sen. George Mitchell, the latest U.S. negotiator to take up the Palestine portfolio, may discover what it was that Burnham meant.
For Israel’s three-week war on Gaza, where Palestinians died at a rate of 100 to one to Israelis, appears to have been, like Israel’s wars in Lebanon, another Pyrrhic victory for the Jewish state.
In 1982, after an attempted assassination of their ambassador in London, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon drove through Lebanon to Beirut, shelling the city for weeks until Arafat agreed to pull out the PLO and depart for Tunisia.
The Israelis’ triumph quickly turned to ashes in their mouths.
Weeks of bombarding Beirut turned world opinion against Israel. Defense Minister Sharon was savaged for enabling a massacre in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps. Most critically, as future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ruefully observed, in invading a quiescent south Lebanon, Israel “let the Shia genie out of the bottle.”
South Lebanon became Indian country. Hezbollah, born of Israel’s invasion, would, 18 years later, force a bleeding Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and its Lebanese allies out of the country, turning Israel’s once-friendly northern border into a new battlefront in the Arab-Israeli war.
Moreover, the Americans, persuaded to send Marines to train the Lebanese Army, were punished with terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks at Beirut airport, with 241 U.S. dead.
President Reagan would withdraw, and the Americans never came back.
In 2006, Ehud Olmert used the border ambush of an Israel patrol and the kidnapping of two soldiers to launch a second Lebanon war.
Hezbollah lost hundreds of fighters, but its stature soared as it became the first Arab force to fight Israel and emerge unbroken and unbeaten. And the thousands of Hezbollah rockets that rained down on the Galilee destroyed forever the myth of Israeli invulnerability.
Now, in the aftermath of the war on Gaza, which almost all in Israel supported, come the second thoughts. Of 1,400 dead from air strikes and invasion, one-third were Palestinian children. Al Jazeera video of the dead and dying civilians, juxtaposed with video of Barack Obama enjoying a round of golf in scenic Hawaii, were devastating for the U.S. image, as U.S. weapons had been used by Israel to deliver the death and destruction.
Like Hezbollah, Hamas has emerged more entrenched, while the moderates like Mahmoud Abbas are portrayed as Quislings. Now, a rift has appeared between Obama, who has called for a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to allow aid and commerce to flow freely, and an Israel determined to maintain its chokehold on Hamas.
In none of these three wars was the Israel Air Force challenged or the IDF defeated. In casualties, Hezbollah and Hamas, Lebanese and Gazans, all suffered many times more dead and wounded.
Yet, looking back, were any of these wars necessary? Did any make Israel more secure than when the Lebanese border was quiet? Does the future look brighter today than in 1982, after the peace with Egypt and withdrawal from Sinai, before the war on Beirut?
Three months before launching the Gaza war, Olmert told two journalists that Israel, to achieve lasting peace, would have to return the Golan Heights to Syria and almost all of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and give East Jerusalem back to the Arabs who live there.
“In the end, we will have to withdraw from the lion’s share of the territories, and for the territories we leave in our hands, we will have to give compensation in the form of territories within the state of Israel at a ratio that is more or less 1:1.”
“Whoever wants to hold on to all of (Jerusalem) will have to bring 270,000 Arabs inside the fences of sovereign Israel. It won’t work.”
No, it won’t.
Like Rabin in 1994 and Ehud Barak in 2000, two of the most decorated soldiers in Israel’s history, Olmert had concluded, late in life, that it is either land for peace, with all its risks, or endless war for Israel.
Yet, after that interview, he launched the December blitz and invaded Gaza, killing and wounding 5,000 Palestinians, making of the Strip a zone of permanent hatred and making Hamas, whom he sought to dethrone and undeniably wounded, even stronger.
Enraged that Hamas was not destroyed or disarmed, Israelis are leaning toward the Likud Party of “Bibi” Netanyahu, who opposed the withdrawal from Gaza, opposes a withdrawal from the West Bank, will never share Jerusalem and calls Gaza “Hamastan.”
Should he win, a Bibi-Barack collision appears inevitable. Backing Bibi will be the Israeli lobby, the Evangelicals, the neocons and a Congress that could find only five members to oppose a resolution endorsing all the Israelis had done and were doing to the people of Gaza.
Where there is no solution there is no problem.