Entering a war is always much easier than getting out of it. It reminds me of the cholent that so many pious Jewish housewives put in the oven on Friday afternoon, only to find so much of it spilled all over the place when opening it for the Sabbath lunch. This is so, because in a war, the one most expected thing is what is unexpected, or the unintended consequences. In a more Political Science-oriented language it is called “An Exit Strategy.” Put in sum, the question is does Prime Minister Netanyahu have a plan to deal with the day after, not just from a P.R., or hasbara, perspective, but, much more importantly, from a policy–oriented one?
To start with, this is the most justified of just wars. Regardless of what the Thomas Friedmans and Michael Walzers of the world can say about the ratio between provocation and response, proportionality and any other of those terms which are usually used to justify inaction in the face of naked, blatant aggression against civilians, the prime minister did the right thing in ordering the IDF to do what the IDF’s mission is: to defend Israel’s civilians.
It is also the case that world reaction so far is favorable and most welcome to Israeli ears, and here again, Prime Minister Netanyahu can pride himself in the existence of a diplomatic climate that enables the IDF to fulfill its mission in such an efficient, and, not less significantly, humane way, which is why the number of casualties in Gaza is much smaller than what it could be. In particular, the Israeli government can register a major diplomatic success with regard to the American and EU initial reactions to the operation.
The Israelis, however, cannot take credit for the very muted Arab reaction to the operation. This has much more to do, with three basic elements of the Middle East situation, than anything that the Israelis do or say. First, it has to do with the implications of the Arab Spring. The Arab world is simply much more engaged with itself than with Israel and/or the conflict. Second, there has been a growing sense of fatigue concerning the Palestinian problem for a long while. It showed itself already during the previous Gaza conflict. The fatigue is heightened now, as Hamas was late to dissociate itself from Syria’s Bashar Assad and is still seen as an ally of Iran, perhaps even a stooge of the Ayatollahs. And this is the third reason why many Arabs keep their distance this time. Iran for them, not Israel, is the most pressing, immediate problem.
That said, we have Egypt, under the Muslim Brotherhood, whose president makes all the to-be-expected noises , but save for the ritualistic recall of the ambassador from Tel-Aviv, has been careful not to cross the point of no return.
In the case of Egypt, the president and his political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, play a not so-subtle double game. The party inflames and incites feelings against Israel (yet no demonstration of a million indignant Egyptians), and the President continues trying to work out a cease fire, still maintaining his best card, i.e. complete rupture of relations with Israel, close to his chest, knowing that the Israelis, Americans and Europeans dread this scenario. The future framework of a very cold peace between Israel and Egypt is thus taking shape, and while worse than under Mubarak, it is still much better than what could be.
The key Arab player though is not Egypt. It is the much-maligned Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. The West Bank is quiet, almost peaceful, and Abbas should be credited with this most welcome state of affairs. This is not so different than what happened in 2009, but as it happens again, it indicates a pattern.
Abbas shows under stressful circumstances that he is interested, very much so, in a political solution, a resumption of the peace process. This has to be seen also against the context of his application to the UN General Assembly to get statehood status, and this is exactly where we turn back to where we are now in so far as the fighting is concerned.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is hereby advised to develop his musical awareness because the tone makes the music, and listening to so many world leaders, not least, Israel’s friend, Barack Obama, should lead him to the realization that defeating Hamas will inevitably lead to an expectation from Israel to pay dividends to Abbas.
Expectation is where it will start. It could quickly develop to pressure. Preempting this will turn out to be Netanyahu’s big challenge in the next few days. Doing this amid an election campaign may prove to be very taxing, but then this is the right time for leaders to show what they are elected for, leadership!