Alon Ben-Meir - February 18, 2008
Dr. ALON BEN-MEIR – His exceptional knowledge and insight gained by more than 25 years of direct involvement with foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, have allowed Dr. Alon Ben-Meir to offer a unique and invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international negotiations.
A noted journalist and author, Dr. Ben-Meir is the Middle East Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, and a professor of International Relations and Middle-Eastern studies at the Center for Global Studies at NYU and at the New School. Born in Baghdad and currently residing in New York City, he holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University.
In addition to his essays on contemporary global conflict oriented issues, Dr. Ben-Meir writes a weekly syndicated column about current international policies and events, which is published by United Press International.
Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Dr. Ben-Meir began his career as a journalist. His frequent travels to the Mid-East and conversations with highly placed sources in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness of and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news.
Dr. Ben-Meir is the author of numerous books, including: The Middle East: Imperative and Choices, Israel: The Challenge of the Fourth Decade, In Defiance of Time, Framework for Arab-Israeli Peace, The Last Option, and A War We Must Win. He expects to publish his latest book Defeating Terrorism in the summer of 2006.
Dr. Ben-Meir's views on contemporary international affairs are often sought out by major television and radio networks, and he is a frequent speaker before groups and organizations at venues as varied as world affairs councils and town hall meetings. He is a popular lecturer on international relations at a variety of universities besides the New York University and the New School.
The most acute problem facing Israeli officials today is how to end the daily
Kassam rocket attacks intended to demoralize Israelis and to undermine the peace
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel
insists--rightfully--that Hamas, as the self-proclaimed authority in Gaza, is to
blame and must suffer the consequences. The question is what to do so that Hamas
is weakened rather than strengthened by the Israeli punitive counter measures
while progress continues in the peace negotiations.
The current Israeli strategy of targeted killings--preemption to foil an
imminent attack, coupled with an economic squeeze--has produced limited if not
counterproductive results. Although Hamas' leaders and fighters are on the run
and the Palestinian people are in dire straits, Hamas and its surrogates still
manage to resist the Israelis and galvanize the masses against Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. The Israelis, meanwhile, are unhappy with their army's
inability to stop the rocket attacks, and those suffering the brunt of them in
Sderot are demanding an immediate solution that ends the constant threat and the
accompanying psychological anguish. Although Israel is working on an air defense
system to intercept short-range rockets, it is perhaps more than a year away
from deployment. The current situation remains untenable because it portrays
Israel as weak and indecisive before an inferior foe, which has led to the call
for invading Gaza.
Considering the despicable socio-economic conditions of hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians in Gaza, invading it, as many Israelis and some officials advocate,
will not provide a long-term solution. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza have
very little left to lose, and they blame Israel for their miserable existence.
Given such circumstances, other than causing heavy Israeli and Palestinian
casualties, an invasion will simply cause Palestinians and Arabs to rally round
an embattled Hamas, making the re-occupation of Gaza by Israel, however short it
is, a bloody and most costly venture for the Israelis. An invasion will play
directly into Hamas' hands in other ways, too. It will derail negotiations with
the PA, provoke international condemnation, create a humanitarian crisis, and
leave Israel with having to find a dignified exit without any assurances that
the rocket attacks will stop even before the last Israeli soldier leaves.
Moreover, Hamas' fighters--alive or dead--will be seen as heroes and martyrs for
having fought the mighty Israeli army. Thus the invasion, regardless of its
level of success, will attract new recruits for Hamas while deepening the
resolve of its followers, fueling their religious zeal to continue violent
resistance at whatever cost. To be sure, an invasion will weaken Hamas
militarily for a time, but it cannot eradicate it as a mass movement.
This leaves Israel with one valid option, which will take longer to implement
but lead to the diminution of Hamas in the eyes of its followers and change the
Palestinian political dynamic in favor of the PA in Gaza and the West Bank. The
basic premise is for Israel to increasingly alienate the Palestinians living
under Hamas' rule from the organization's leaders, whose policies of violent
resistance have already brought more suffering than relief. This will happen not
when Israel kills every Hamas member it finds but when Hamas' ideology is
discredited and its strategy of violent resistance has failed, and finally, when
its leadership realizes that only moderation will give the organization a
legitimate political role.
With the split between Hamas and Fatah, Israel is in a much better position to
alienate Hamas' followers by working closely with the PA and by making it clear
that any relief Palestinians in Gaza receive comes from, or is precipitated by,
the Abbas government. One of the most important steps that Israel should take is
to allow the PA, along with EU monitors on the Palestinian side, to control the
six crossings (one to Egypt and five to Israel). I was told by a top Palestinian
official that the PA has 600 men from the Palestinian Guard ready to assume
control. Opening the borders would give the population of Gaza a clear sign that
the PA, under the leadership of Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, cares about
their well-being, and so, for the consequent improvement in their daily lives,
the PA and not Hamas will be credited. If Hamas does not allow the PA to control
the crossings, the people will blame Hamas for the siege and their continued
Israel should further strengthen the PA by implementing the first steps of the
Road Map: 1) Freezing expansion of existing settlements, especially those not
slated to be incorporated to Israel proper by an agreement with the
Palestinians, 2) dismantling illegal outposts to demonstrate Israel is committed
to ending the occupation, 3) removing checkpoints not essential to Israel's
security to ease the life of many Palestinians, facilitate reconstruction, and
end unnecessary humiliation, 4) releasing more prisoners, an extremely sensitive
issue for all Palestinians and 5) reopening national institutions in Jerusalem.
These practical measures will strengthen the moderates under Mr. Abbas while
weakening Hamas for failing to deliver the same goods. Surely, some of the
measures will pose security risks for Israel, but then, these must be weighed
against the advantages they could generate over time. That said, the PA must
also demonstrate that it is leaving no stone unturned to end the violence
against Israel, especially from the Al-Aksa Brigade, which is affiliated with
the PA. In addition, to convince the Israeli public of its absolute commitment
to peaceful coexistence, the PA must also stop all public incitements by the
media, in schools, and the mosques.
Obviously no perfect recipe exists, not if we consider the nature of Hamas as a
grass-roots movement and the political and social environment in which it
exists. But Israel should not fall into Hamas' trap and allow the Israeli
public's inflamed emotions to overrun a well reasoned and carefully executed
course of action.