New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – a fan of Western state violence – writes today that Israel should stretch out the hand of peace because otherwise it may simply kill many more Palestinian civilians:
Israel’s newfound sense of security, though, was bought at a very high price — and it is not a steady state.
Let me explain. The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarized in one sentence: “War, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout. …” What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel was fond of saying — before he himself was blown up — “This is not Denmark here. And it is not Norway.”
The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes.
Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel’s legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank — in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms — will be staggering.