Just listened in on a Council on Foreign Relations briefing-by-phone that addressed the situation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli air forces are bombing the region and systematically destroying symbols of Hamas’ power as a response to months of rocket launches into Israeli territory by Hamas and its allies. Hundreds of Palestinians are dead in what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is calling “all out war.”
On the conference call, one point was made repeatedly. The Israeli public broadly supports the air strikes and will continue to do so until Hamas’ ability or willingness to rain rockets into Israel is extinguished. If the Americans, specifically the Obama team, insists that the Israelis stop short, it has problematic consequences for the prospects of long-term peace. Here’s why. The Americans (and just about everybody else) say they want a two-state solution, which gives the Palestinians an independent state consisting of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But giving the Palestinians full control over the West Bank would mean that Hamas would have a more strategically located launching pad for rocket attacks. Major population centers (particularly Jerusalem) would be within reach. If the Americans stop the Israelis from achieving their objectives in Gaza, the Israelis will believe they will be stopped from protecting themselves from similar but more deadly attacks launched from the West Bank. As a result, the possibility of Israel allowing the Palestinians to make the West Bank part of an independent Palestinian state slims significantly.
The speakers on the call also suggested that the Israelis don’t want to make to make a mess that the new American president will have to deal with, but that because internal Israeli politics are at play here (Barak needs to appear tough because he is seeking the prime ministership), it isn’t clear how long the attacks will last or how far Israel will go in fulfilling its objectives.