A good place to begin answering these questions would be the Syrian civil war, the greatest episode of violence in the Middle East in at least three decades.
Tzipi Livni, the MK for the Zionist Union camp, claims not only that there is a political solution to Gaza, but that it could have been pulled off as early as in 2009. She claims forcefully that there was widespread agreement then – between the Obama administration, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas and the Egyptians – to have the PA turn the financial screws on the fledgling Hamas government. That would have supposedly culminated in Hamas’s capitulation to disarm while Abbas’s security forces took over the Strip they lost two years earlier.
So great was the consensus between these actors, Livni claims, that this strategy would have resulted in a Security Council resolution. The only impediment to implementing this strategy, in her view, was and remains Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his (extreme) rightwing government.
The obvious questions that spring to mind in listening to Livni are: Since when does consensus between outside powers (not backed by military force) in the Middle East ever matter on the ground? And since when was any Security Council resolution worth more than the paper it was written on?
A good place to begin answering these questions would be the Syrian civil war, the greatest episode of violence in the Middle East in at least three decades. Countless Security Council resolutions were passed and at least five rounds of intensive negotiations between the opposition and outside forces took place. To what avail? None.
What decided the outcome? Military force: Russian air power; Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias for Syria; 2,000 to 3,000 United States Special Forces operating with the Kurds; and Turkish military intervention that allows the rebels to remain in the Idlib enclave. This is why Assad is winning but only partially victorious.
Let’s look at Lebanon. Countless Security Council resolutions called for the disarming of Hezbollah (well, not specifically, but in intent), and a democratically elected government led by Saad Hariri demanded the same. What determined the outcome? Hezbollah fighters in May 2008 fanned out all over Beirut and encircled the elected government in the Grand Serail government house. The government capitulated to Hezbollah demands, the most important of which was to refrain from moves that would circumscribe Hezbollah as the most powerful violent force in Lebanon.
Livni should have learned the same lesson from Egypt bordering on its south. How was a democratically elected government during the “Arab Spring” removed? Mostly by Egyptian Army tanks, personnel carriers and sharpshooters, and peripherally by the minority of citizens who backed the army. Obama criticized the counter coup, along with the European Community. Yet Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is still firmly in power and the deposed president is languishing and forgotten in jail.
Some would argue that former president Muhammad Morsi’s fate is far more benign than the brutal demise of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul.
RHETORICALLY AND on paper, there is international consensus against Saudi Arabia. But my bet is that all the words of condemnation will hardly matter and that Muhammad bin Salman, the real power behind the throne, will come out of the crisis stronger than before. Why? Because he learned the lessons from the Middle East that Tzipi Livni finds so difficult to accept. This is a region where the exercise of power, most of the times in very brutal form, prevails.
Perhaps Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are different from the Syrians, the Iranians, the Egyptians and the Saudis. The way Hamas fighters threw their Fatah protagonists from the rooftops of apartment buildings as a sign of victory after taking over Gaza from the PA, the brutal treatment both “governments” mete out against their Hamas/Fatah opposition, the psychological punishment Hamas metes out against the Israeli families of Israelis dead or alive in Gaza, hardly demonstrate that they will turn the other cheek toward each other.
Livni, of course, would retort that Hamas would be forced to disarm and allow the PA’s security forces to take over Gaza. The question is, who and what would force them? Financial want? Iran, Qatar and Turkey will clearly come up with the funds to maintain Hamas’s violent control of Gaza.
Perhaps the PA security forces (with Israeli permission to transit through its territory) will conquer Gaza. If 70,000 Israeli forces in 2014 penetrated a mere three kilometers into Gaza, how realistic is it to expect that a few thousand PA troopers could take over the whole of Gaza, and then maintain it? Rest assured that Hamas has already dug tunnels under potential PA military bases in Gaza, as they did against Israeli forces during the Second Intifada. Their sorry fate is assured.
What about outside powers? How likely is it that the United States would be willing to send forces into Gaza? How likely are the European states which have to deal with Putin, Erdogan and the fallout of the Libyan crisis, likely to do so? The answers to these questions are so obvious that they render the suggestion or expectation ridiculous.
Can Livni expect that the Israeli public would allow its troops to go into the fray on behalf of an octogenarian Abbas, whose actions and sentiments are divided between condemning Israel at every turn, financing the families of terrorists and denying the Holocaust, as he has done in the past? Israelis are hardly likely to countenance being again “the sacrifices of peace” they were asked to be during the failed Oslo project.
Livni and others who think like her are intelligent people. The essential problem is geographic. Her solutions worked questionably in the Balkans (though only barely, as the politics of Bosnia demonstrate), and hardly in the Middle East.
With Israeli elections looming, Livni should be urged to come up with more realistic strategic thinking that places military actions center stage. The Israeli public will not be fooled by wishful thinking.
The writer is senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.