One of the more disconcerting TV transmitted images that followed immediately upon the Gaza ceasefire was the sound and picture of some of Hamas’ political leadership, surrounded by vast destruction and aware of the totally disproportionate death toll, yet claiming victory.
But politically, Hamas had a point. Despite the hopelessness – obvious to anyone with even a detached sense for the facts, however pro-Palestinian – Israel has the capacity to level all of Gaza just using conventional artillery, tank and air power in 24 hours. Yet esteem for Hamas – which was doing poorly in public opinion polls in Gaza before the war – rose dramatically in the immediate aftermath of the ceasefire. (As hard facts press up against emotions, that esteem is now beginning to decline.)
The high esteem was not only an expression of steadfast defiance despite terrible losses, but because the popular Palestinian assumption is that Hamas had somehow forced Israel to accept a ceasefire even though Israel had not managed to knock out all or possibly not even most of Hamas’ very portable rocket launchers.
But if one grasped contemporary Israeli military strategy, known as the Dahiya Doctrine, one would realize that for all its wartime rhetoric about taking out all of Hamas’ military capacity, the tactical goal of Israeli air and artillery strikes was to do to parts of Gaza what Israel did to the Dahiya quarter, a Shiite neighborhood of large apartment buildings leveled by the IDF air force during the 2006 Lebanon War.
Despite the hopelessness – obvious to anyone with even a detached sense for the facts, however pro-Palestinian – Israel has the capacity to level all of Gaza just using conventional artillery, tank and air power in 24 hoursAbdallah Schleifer
The Dahiya Doctrine – reportedly according to General Gadi Eizenkot, then commander of the IDF’s northern front means to “wield disproportionate power and cause immense damage and destruction.” The context was Hezbollah but the doctrine was also applicable to Gaza as he would later reportedly remark. At the time however, General Eizenhot is believed to have went on to say: “Harming the population is the only means of restraining Nasrallah.”
Certainly Abbas had to be aware of this doctrine, since the 2009 U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict in the wake of the earlier 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza made several references to the Dahiya Doctrine, calling it a concept which requires the application of “widespread destruction as a means of deterrence” and which involves “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure and suffering to civilian populations.”
Alluding to conflict with Hamas, the Israeli Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) pre-war analysis of the Dahiya Doctrine, which is simply described by the IISS as Israel’s “updated security concept” as it applied to Gaza means: “There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by mean of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy,” reflected Col. (Ret.) Gabriel Sibon in 2006.
Sibon went on to conclude “…the IDF’s primary goal must be to attain a ceasefire under conditions that will increase Israel’s long term deterrence, prevent a war of attrition, and leave the enemy floundering in expensive, long term processes of reconstruction.”
But instead of talking at the U.N. about the Dahiya Doctrine and talking about specific neighborhoods that were leveled, specific infrastructure the damaged or destroyed, along with the number of Palestinian civilians dead and wounded – all of which he could constitute as war crimes Abbas – accused instead Israel of genocide and kept to generalities rather than documented specifics.
How much more effective Abbas would have been if instead of using the word genocide he had simply reminded those who already knew, and shocked those who did not know, what the Dahiya Doctrine was, where it could be sourced for those who could not believe his words and how it had been applied to the letter in Gaza this past summer. And how, as far as achieving its actual goals, Israel had done so at the calculated intentional high loss of Palestinian civilian lives, property and infrastructure.
Netanyahu then rushed to New York to rebut Abbas, but along with the usual rhetoric Netanyahu came up with a new twist curiously hailed by some as a more moderate stance than usual for the Prime Minister. All that Netanyahu actually did was to turn the Arab Peace Plan on its head, upside down, so –to-speak.
In summary Netanyahu said that instead of trying to achieve a settlement now with the Palestinians based on the assumption that this was a prerequisite to establishing durable peace with all the Arab states, Israel should reverse the order of diplomatic accomplishment and seek closer relations now with all the other Arab states – cooperation in any number of regional projects and issues, and that good relations and cooperation with the other Arab states would eventually propel an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
But of course formal recognition, full economic as well as diplomatic relations, and the acceptance of Israel as a legitimate part of the region is precisely the concession that the Arab states would make when and if Israel actually accepted the creation of a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state in what is now the occupied as well as semi-occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza. That concession, according to the Arab Peace Plan would also require a just solution for the Palestinian refugees (whatever that exactly means; what it does not mean is an absolute implementation of the Palestinian Right of Return).
During the fighting in Gaza, Netanyahu declared that the ability of Hamas to shower rockets upon Israel meant that in any final settlement with the Palestinians, Israel would continue to maintain a military presence in all of the West Bank, which effectively means no sovereign Palestinian state, without coming right out and saying so.
Netanyahu’s new position also means he no longer feels compelled to even nominally and evasively go along with U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s abstract expectation of an un-coerced Israel seriously negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.