Opinion: Gaza and the future of Israel

Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!

Numbers 23: 23 (King James Version)

CHICAGO — The Moabite chief had tasked a diviner to curse the Israelites as they made their way up the West Bank of the Jordan after having defeated other local tribes. After a conversation with the Lord, the diviner blessed rather than cursed the Israelites. Peaceful relations followed, at least initially. The Israelites eventually took to the women of Moab and adopted their blasphemous practices, including sacred prostitution and the worship of their god, Baal.

After the Gaza onslaught, it is appropriate once again to ask, “What hath God wrought”? The answer seems to be the end of the two-state solution, an Israel, more or less in its pre-June 4, 1967 borders, living peacefully alongside a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. That has been the goal since of the United Nations since the 1967 war and then of President George W. Bush, and of an increasingly larger majority of the Israeli public.

But the devastation of Gaza helps focus the mind, a focus that leads to the inevitable conclusion that, like much else in the Middle East, the two-state solution has become a mirage.

The human toll in Gaza is stunning — more than 1,400 Gazans killed and more than 5,500 wounded. The physical toll is also shocking. According to Hamas, 5,000 homes, 16 government buildings and 20 mosques were destroyed while another 20,000 homes were damaged. (Thirteen Israelis were killed in ground fighting or by rockets fired from Gaza during the fighting).

In the midst of the carnage, Hamas has not merely survived but has gained the deeper support of the Gaza population. (Anyone who read the Strategic Bombing Survey conducted by the U.S. government after World War II would have anticipated precisely this outcome. The bombing of German and Japanese civilians, the report concluded, only strengthened their support for their own governments and increased their hatred towards the bombers — the U.S. and Great Britain).

Hamas – an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement – was weakened militarily by the Israelis. But it was strengthened politically by surviving. Its control of rebuilding supplies and money beginning to reach Gaza from the Gulf States and Europe will enhance its standing.

While Hamas is likely to adhere to its self-declared cease-fire, at least for the immediate future, its hatred for Israel has deepened as has the hatred of the Gazans and the Palestinians on the West Bank, and, unfortunately, for the 20 percent of the Israeli citizens who are themselves Palestinian. (The hatred of Israel, in turn, has fueled a deep hatred of Jews, a hatred that has reached new depths in the Arab world, more generally).


That hatred has further delegitimized Israel in the eyes of the Palestinians and deepened their resolve to reclaim all of Palestine. Israeli settlement building on the West Bank also seems to preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian homeland. According to a recent article by
Gershon Gorenberg in Foreign Policy, Israeli settlers living on the West Bank and Gaza numbered 116,000 in 1993 at the beginning of the Oslo process.

When that processed collapsed in 2000, there were 198,000 settlers. In 2003, when Ehud Olmert was Sharon’s Deputy Prime Minister and publicly advocated an Israeli withdrawal from the “territories,” 236,000 Israelis were there. After the Gaza withdrawal in 2006, 253,000 Israelis lived on the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria as some would prefer). When Olmert resigned the premiership in 2008, there were 290,000 settlers on the West Bank. (Another 187,000 Israelis were living in annexed East Jerusalem).

The thought of getting a substantial majority of those Israeli citizens off occupied Palestinian territory — even given land swaps — is likely to prove an overwhelming task to any Israeli government, based as it must be on a coalition of parties, some seeking to retain the territories.

So it is with West Bank land requisitioned by Israel for the network of roads connecting settlements to each other and to Israel proper. A settler need no longer travel on a road with local Palestinians. The “security fence” and wall, in turn, have taken more land from the West Bank than the settlements and roads combined.

What then for the future of Israel? Olmert once declared that his job was to keep the 400,000 Israelis crucial for the success of the country in Israel — to convince them not to emigrate. The 400,000 are the scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, business people, administrators, academicians, journalists who make the modern state of Israel successful. With greater Palestinian-Arab hatred and the two-state solution more distant, more of the 400,000 will now be leaving Israel for good. As a result, those who will be left in Israel will mean the country will be more religious, less Western, less like the image American Jews have of Israel. It will become more Orthodox, more fanatic, more militaristic.

Israelis may not adopt the customs of the Palestinians. But, remember, the Israelites of the Old Testament came to be more like the Moabites. So will the future Israel become more like the Palestinians, the people they have come to hate.

Marvin Zonis is a professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago, where he teaches courses on International Political Economy, Leadership, and Business Strategy. He also heads Marvin Zonis + Associates, Inc., a political risk consulting firm in Chicago.

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