It’s palpable, the sense of dead-ends, blind tactics and an Israel pushing the same triggers, but expecting different outcomes. After the pointless, devastating loss of lives in the recent hostilities comes the clinical count of winners and losers. Palestinians in Gaza mourn their 160 dead, tend the thousand injured and deal with the rubble that so much of Gaza was reduced to in the eight days of constant bombardment. Israelis mourn their six dead, tend to the dozens injured and deal with the shock that rockets from Gaza can now reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
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Along with the pain and trauma, there’s the geopolitics that feeds down to the ground and shapes people’s lives. And from outside, it’s clear that what is going to shape Israeli lives now is an ever-increasing regional isolation. Across the Middle East, along with the rage at Israel’s latest deadly assault on Palestinians, there is something like ridicule for Israel’s repeatedly short-sighted and self-defeating military strategy. Well, to call it a “strategy”, is probably pushing it.
For who was shown friendship and solidarity in this latest round of pounding and terrorizing Gaza for entirely avoidable reasons? In diplomacy terms, what was the net result of exposing so many more Israelis to the misery of living within rocket range?
Israel’s old regional ally, Turkey – once its only Muslim ally – is now even more emphatically fed up with the Jewish state’s aggressive belligerence; the relationship between the states was already in tatters after Israel stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2011 and killed nine Turkish citizens. Turkey’s foreign minister was dispatched to meet the previously shut-off Hamas leadership in Gaza, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan curtly said of the Gaza crisis: “We don't have any relations with Israel left. The countries which have relations with Israel should talk to them.” The recent signs that Turkey may be trying to re-establish links with Israel are perhaps best viewed through the prism of the changed Middle East: Turkey wants relevance in it, much more than it wants relations with Israel and that’s likely to influence the terms of any new contact.
We can assume, meanwhile, that Egypt, under the new Muslim Brotherhood leadership, did not appreciate having its foreign policy tested and strained at a time when it has serious domestic issues – the economy, the constitution – to deal with. These internal issues compromise Egypt’s ability to act in the field of foreign policy – and it knows that Israel knows this. As it turned out, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi emerged from the past week as a successful mediator. But still, Egypt will be wary of Israel’s seeming drive to push Gaza – disconnected from the West Bank and from Palestinian national aspirations – into its field of responsibility.
As for the US, of course its commitment to Israel is “unshakeable”. So is that of the UK, whose leaders similarly trotted out the tired old lines about who started what and who is more worthy of the right to self-defence. But now, counter-intuitively, the Gaza crisis may have strengthened the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid – European countries that did not support it are now expressing their support (albeit with ludicrous, disempowering caveats, in the case of the UK). More significantly, the Hamas leadership has come out in support of West Bank President Abbas’s bid – an attempt to put reconciliation and unity back on the table. Again, Palestinians come out stronger, forward-looking and more resolute.
Look at the wider consequences: Notice how the U.S. liaised with Egypt to deal with the ceasefire negotiations – and how both the US and Israel dealt with Hamas, indirectly, another de-isolating steal for the Islamist movement. (And really, if Israel is going to talk to Hamas indirectly, via go-betweens and fax machines, why not just do it properly and drop all the outdated posturing?)
According to the International Crisis Group, Hamas treated this crisis – in strategic terms – as a chance to see if strengthened ties with Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Tunisia are a better bet than the now detaching ties with Syria and Iran. Other analysts have observed that the US is more hands-off in its approach to the Middle East these days, keen to disengage and focus on other parts of the world, such as Asia. Sure, in the short-term Clinton was forced to fly to Jerusalem and Cairo. But in the long term, this is exactly the problem with military solutions: Relying on a strong, US ally that is slowly weakening and shifting its focus; insisting on force and fences rather than bridges and justice-driven diplomacy with the region – this is the dead-end that outsiders now see with increasing clarity. Analysts writing in Middle East media have noted that Israel’s ‘Iron Wall’ approach is now visibly failing the nation, bringing reduced and shorter-term returns.
So where will this last round leave Israel? It now looks even more isolated in a region that it has antagonized and alienated with its relentless, grinding occupation of the Palestinian people. Certainly, we know the script: Of course, Israelis will say that they are not to blame; that there is nobody to talk to; that everybody is against us. Israelis will insist that there is, regrettably, no option but to fight, to keep fighting and that any country in the same situation would do the same.
But does it really help, to believe that you are right, when you are all on your own?
Rachel Shabi is an award-winning journalist and the author of Not the Enemy, Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands (2009). Follow her on Twitter@rachshabi.