Violence in Gaza Strip

Threat of Renewed War

Israel is continuing with its massive military operation in the Gaza Strip. The Olmert government is pursuing a misguided strategy, which will only succeed in driving more and more Palestinians towards radicalism, says Peter Philipp

Palestinian schoolgirls demonstrate against the Israeli attacks in Gaza Strip (photo: AP)
Attacks on civilians: Palestinian schoolgirls demonstrate against the Israeli attacks in Gaza Strip

​​Only a few days have passed since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued his gloomy prognosis; the prospects for peace with the Palestinians this year, he feared, were finally gone.

Events at the weekend would seem to bear this out. Armed exchanges between Israel and the Gaza Strip have quickly grown into something on a scale almost tantamount to a new war. With neither side willing to back down, the stage appears set for more revenge attacks and further escalation.

Memories of 2006

Particularly alarming was the recent remark made by Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai: if any more rockets should be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, he warned, then Gaza would find itself facing a "holocaust".

A highly unusual threat from the mouth of an Israeli politician, and one that goes far beyond the kind of threats that the Israeli military were issuing to Lebanon at the beginning of the 33-day war in the summer of 2006.

Memories of 2006 are not hard to find, however. Back then, it was attacks launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon that the Israeli government wanted to put a stop to as well as attempting to smash the Shiite organisation. This time they want to end attacks from the Gaza Strip and break the power of Hamas.

Rejection of peace talks no surprise

What failed in Lebanon will fail in Gaza also. In the case of Lebanon, Hezbollah emerged from the war strengthened. In Gaza, while Israel could probably succeed in breaking Hamas, there would certainly be a price to pay.

It cannot have come as any great surprise to Jerusalem, then, that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and those around him have reacted angrily and broken off all further peace talks: this although Abbas himself is at loggerheads with Hamas, and has condemned them as traitors and of attempting a coup.

Given the extremity of the violence and the dreadful casualties suffered by the civilian population, there is no way that he can afford to go on as if it were business as usual and return to negotiations with Olmert in a few days. Apart from that, there is also the fact that these meetings, arranged with so much fanfare in November in US Annapolis, have completely failed to deliver anything at all so far.

Violence no answer

While it is true that the Israeli government cannot simply allow its territory to come under fire from Hamas rockets, they should have learned by now that the use of violence only breeds more of the same.

And far from defeating Hamas, all that Jerusalem is succeeding in doing presently is driving the other Palestinians into radicalism – and the other Arabs with them. It may seem no more than a distant memory now, but only very recently it was they who were offering Israel peace and recognition in return for withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967.

Now they are comparing Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis. And it is no longer on to just indignantly dismiss such a comparison: Defence Minister Barak used it himself after all.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle/ 2008

Translated from the German by Ron Walker

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