Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: An unconvincing defense
via Stephen M. Walt by Stephen M. Walt on 1/14/09

In today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman offers a quasi-defense of
Israel's assault on Gaza, expressing that hope that Israel is trying
to "teach Hamas a lesson" similar to the lesson it supposedly taught
Hezbollah during its 2006 war in Lebanon. If Hamas learns not to use
violence and accepts Israel's existence, he writes, then maybe
diplomacy can produce the two-state solution that Israel badly needs
and supposedly wants.

A few comments: To begin with, Friedman's depiction of the Lebanon War
is at odds with the more sober conclusions reached by the Winograd
Commission, the official Israeli commission of inquiry convened to
examine its conduct of that war. And if it was such a resounding
victory, why do Israelis now claim that the war in Gaza is necessary to
re-establish their deterrent? Moreover, Friedman concedes that Israel
is likely to face a renewed challenge from Hezbollah in the future.
With meaningless "victories" like that, who needs setbacks?

Second, Friedman portrays Israeli society as divided between those who
believe that ending the occupation is essential for Israel's long-term
security and those who believe that continuing the occupation is the
key to Israel's long-term security. He omits the hard-core settlers who
believe that Israel has a god-given right to all of Mandate Palestine
(a group that comprises some 20 percent of Israeli society) and claims
-- incorrectly -- that it is the opponents of the occupation who have
been driving Israeli policy in recent years.

In fact, it is increasingly clear that it is the opponents of the
two-state solution that have been in charge. Friedman refers to
Israel's "withdrawals" from Lebanon and Gaza as evidence that Israelis
support a negotiated settlement. This is dubious at best. Israel
withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 because the cost had become too great
(i.e., they were in effect driven out by Hezbollah). Under Ariel
Sharon, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza as part of a larger plan
to consolidate Israeli control over most of the West Bank, and put off
the prospect of a Palestinian state indefinitely. As his chief advisor,
Dov Weisglas, admitted in an interview, the withdrawal from
Gaza "supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that
there will not be a political process with the Palestinians...when you
freeze the process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian
state...this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has
been removed from our agenda indefinitely."

With respect to the West Bank, the number of Israeli settlers more than
doubled during the Oslo period, and Israel consolidated its control via
an elaborate array of checkpoints, roads, and the meandering "security
fence." According to the Foundation for Middle East Peace, since 2001
the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has grown by roughly
70,000 people, some 18,000 of them outside Israel's "security fence."
The vast majority of the settlers aren't independent extremists
operating on their own: they are subsidized by the Israeli government,
rely on government utilities for water and electricity, and depend on
the IDF for protection.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has warned on several occasions that failure
to get a two-state solution places Israel's future at risk, but he has
done nothing to halt the settlement project or to empower those
Palestinian leaders (such as President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad) who genuinely seek a two-state solution.

It is often said that Israel lacks a "partner for peace," but so do the
Palestinians. So if the Obama administration is serious about settling
this conflict, it will have to exert real pressure on both sides.

MAHMUD HAMS/Getty Images

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