We cannot afford more sweeping victories or more crushing defeats – John Strawson

jsJohn Strawson relies to Eric Lee, who replied to Jonathan Freedland.

For over six decades the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has intensified despite massive Israeli military victories and catastrophic Palestinian and Arab defeats.   It appears that no victory however sweeping or any defeat however drastic can resolve the bring a solution.   Eric Lee is too quick to use national essentialism to attack Freedland.   All Freedland is doing is pointing out the reality:  Israelis and Palestinians have to live with each other.

The politics of both societies, Hamas and the Israeli National bloc, cannot be crushed or wished away.  They are factors that have to be dealt with.   We will have to engage with each however distasteful this might be.

The issue in Gaza is not whether Israel has a “right” to defend itself.   We should not be diverted by the anti-Semitic imagery about Israel that the Gaza war has generated.   I agree it needs to be opposed but that does not mean supporting Israel’s war.   The issue is whether this action is wise. I question its wisdom.   I do not see how bringing trauma to the children of Gaza can aid Israel’s future security.   Nor do I see that the strategic objective of removing Hamas is achievable.   It has a military wing, it does carry out terrorist attacks on civilians, its does have an anti-Semitic charter, but it is not reducible only to those features.   It is also a mass nationalist political movement, a self-help group and an organization that has subscribed to democratic norms.   It is that more complex reality which has to be addressed.

You can kill its militants but you cannot kill its ideas.   It is also important to understand that Hamas was not always committed to violence.   When it was founded in the 1980’s it opposed the PLO for using provocative violence. That historical fact can be a useful resource.   The PLO had many similar political positions to Hamas when Israel opened informal and then formal negotiations.   The Oslo negations took place in 1992 and 1993 despite the PLO’s Covenant calling fo the destruction of Israel.   The Covenant of the PLO and the political discourse of much of the official literature of the PLO is in fact indistinguishable from today’s Hamas.   But Israel wisely found the way of negotiating.   Israel does need to find a way of talking to Hamas – and I am well aware that it has very good contacts already.

Pressing the peace agenda is all the more important in this war.   We must fight for a political agenda.   The Arab Peace Initiative must be at its center. It does not call for the Palestinian’s right to return to Israel but for “a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 194.”   Note the phrasing – to be agreed upon – and the reference is to a resolution which does not contain an unconditional right to return.

All friends of Palestine and Israel should support all proposals for an immediate ceasefire based on the two principles suggested by the International Crisis Group:

1. Hamas would halt all rocket launches, keep militants at 500 meters from Israel’s borders and make other armed organizations comply.

2. Israel would halt all military attacks on, and withdraw all troops from Gaza.

In my view to make such a ceasefire hold international forces will have to be deployed.   Under such a force new conditions could be created in Gaza and West Bank for new elections and step towards to the creating a Palestinian state.

We cannot afford more sweeping victories or more crushing defeats.

John Strawson

Reader in Law


17 Responses to “We cannot afford more sweeping victories or more crushing defeats – John Strawson”

  1. Gil Says:

    It would be a good idea to deploy international forces in Gaza. Indeed the infrastructure is already in place with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) safeguarding the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

    However, can the MFO deploy in an area that does not (yet)meet the requirements for statehood under International Law?

  2. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Why does such a solution not work in Sudan (Darfur)?
    Do you really believe Prof. S. that Hamas is ready to live in peace with Israel?
    After all a lot of people said similar things in 1939 in GB, they condemned the war as imperialist, they said that a war does not solve problems.
    Now Hamas are not Nazis, but they have a similar ideology.
    Do you really believe, that they would live together with Israel in peace?
    Would you also expect Iran to agree to your solutions?

  3. Ariel H Says:


    I’m sorry. I think you’re wrong. In a couple of weeks or so we may well be in a situation where Hamas will probably “halt all rocket launches, keep militants at 500 meters from Israel’s borders”, etc. Then they’ll do what Hizbullah have done – namely regroup, reorganize and rearm. They’ll attack again when they feel strong enough, and Israel will respond again when the politicians think they need to bolster their support among the public.

    I want peace as much as the next person, but I have no hope it will be achieved in this generation. It can only be achieved by tackling the root causes – both on the Israeli and Palestinian side (that includes both the occupation and the hateful ideology that Hamas is indoctrinating the next generation with). And sadly, in my opinion, we are still as far away as ever from that.

  4. Gil Says:

    Karl, at some stage there will be a cease fire. Although Prof. Strawson doesn’t mention this, the demands made of Hamas may actually hasten the end of its existence. At some point, therefore, an international force could be deployed to separate Israel from Gaza – a Gaza hopefully ruled by Fatah or a combination of Fatah and others.

  5. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    John Strawson: “We should not be diverted by the anti-semitic imagery about Israel that the Gaza war has generated.” If only that were true: how far back shall we go to discover “anti-semitic” imagery about Israel and the Yishuv before it became Israel? 60 years? 80 years (Hebron massacre)? or to the first influx of Zionist migrants to then-Turkish ruled Palestine (see the first paragraph of Benny Morris “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War”)?

    Not only is there nothing new under the sun about antisemitism, there is nothing _that_ recent about antisemitism directed specifically against Israel or the Yishuv before it.

    Much as I admire John Strawson’s stance on the Middle East and his work in Palestinian academic institutions, I cannot go along with him here as far as his comments on antisemitism are concerned.

    But could he then comment then on what Israel’s response was _should_ have been to the 300 rockets directed into Israel in the 10 days after the end of the cease fire and before Israel’s actual armed response? Especially given the various comments from certain outsiders arguing that _no_ sovreign state should expect to have its borders violated in this way and its citizens put at risk, and that Israel actually _warned_ Hamas that it would respond militarily if the rockets continued.

    And, yes, I agree that a settlement to the problem of the West Bank and Gaza should have been reached years ago…but you have to have a partner for that process, and how many realistic offers have been rejected now?

    We’re back to those wise words of Abba Eban yet again that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” If only that were really a joke that had long ago worn thin.

  6. Saul Says:

    “We should not be diverted by the anti-Semitic imagery about Israel that the Gaza war has generated. I agree it needs to be opposed but that does not mean supporting Israel’s war.”

    On one level I agree with you. Much is said to demonise an enemy in times of conflict (even though Hamas has been consistent in its anti-Jewish rhetoric).

    Howver, I am not sure that those of us concerned with Hamas’ constitutive antisemitism necessarily “support Israel’s war”. After all, Israel is not at war with Hamas over this issue.

    Unfortunately, and with the greatest respect, your view on this one matter echoes the current antisemitic idea that opposition to antisemitism and uncritical support of Israeli policies are two sides of the same coin. They are not.

  7. Gil Says:

    Brian Goldfarb: ‘We’re back to those wise words of Abba Eban yet again that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” If only that were really a joke that had long ago worn thin.’

    So where does this get us? Eban, Meir, Dayan etc. are no longer with us and the problems hae remained. In the meantime Israel negotiated with Arafat and is negotiating with Abu Mazen. John Strawson’s approach appears very reasonable.

    Israel, in conjunction with defeating the Hamas (and Iran) needs to refresh its narrative to regain those supporters who are wavering – to coalesce around. It must always think of how to fight the battles of the future and not the battles of the past.

  8. john strawson Says:

    Brian is quite right that anti-Semitism has a long history in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The question is how to combat it. Like him I wish we were not starting from where we are; but I am afraid that we do. Part of the Hamas ideology is deeply anti-Semitic and some its leaders extol Jew-hatred. However, Hamas’s support has not been built on anti-Semitism, but on (a) good medical services and nurseries (b fighting drugs (c) efficient local government 2004-6 and (d) resistance to the occupation. Sharon allowed Hamas to take the credit for the Gaza disengagement because he refused to negotiate the handover with Abbas, thus strengthening their resistance credentials which launched them on the road to electoral victory in 2006. s. This success was not enough for Hamas and in 2007 it exchanged office in the Palestinian Authority for do-it yourself rule in Gaza. You need to grasp that this anti-Semitic organization was able to win elections, the make coups and maintain a high degree of support not through popular anti-Semitism but through popular opposition to the Israeli occupation. Gaza’s misery turned into a kind of hell with the blockade – organized not just by Israel, but also by Egypt, and essentially backed by the international community. All those who supported isolating the Hamas government and then the Hamas regime in Gaza have contributed to strengthening it.

    The longer the current operation continues the deeper will be the roots of Hamas support. Each day offers their fighters the opportunity to demonstrate their heroism in the face of the Israelis. Each day brings more martyrs – each day brings more innocent victims dead and injured – Hamas, which may be the author, of this catastrophe – will benefit.

    What should Israel have done when the ceasefire ended? It should have sought US assistance for a United Nations Security Council resolution under Chapter VII to enforce a new one.

  9. Marc G Says:

    Dear John, would you care to specify your thoughts on which “democratic norms” Hamas has subscribed to?

  10. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “What should Israel have done when the ceasefire ended? It should have sought US assistance for a United Nations Security resolution under Chapter VII to enforce a new one”. Regrettably, fine words butter no parsnips. Hamas (and its allies in Gaza) never_stopped_ sending rockets into Israel, but, more importantly, as soon as the cease fire ended, the barrage resumed at the rate that pertained _before_ the cease fire ever started.

    Tell us, please, how many rockets should Israel take before asking the US to help? Why does the US need to wait to be asked? Israel’s opponents need no bidding to seek anti-Israel resolutions. And if Hamas _really_ does seek a solution other than the destruction of Israel and an Islamist nation “between the river and the sea”, why does it start to shell Israel the moment the cease fire ends? And why should a sovreign state need to beg others to help it protect its territorial integrity from antisemitic terrorists?

    And as for suggesting that “Hamas, which may be the author of this catastrophe…” _May_ be? Come on, John, _is_ the author – who really believes that this current war is caused by Israel? Unless, that is, one starts from the premise that Israel has no right to exist in the first place.

  11. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Gil, but Arafat negotiated in bad faith, as various participants at the crucial conference have noted, when Barak, as PM, essentially offered everything the Palestinians wanted and neede for a state alongside Israel, and Arafat rejected this for the Second Intifada he was already planning.

    While Abu Mazen may be negotiating in good faith (I hope he is), reference to Arafat leads us straight back to Eban’s somewhat cynical (but also wistful) comment.

    How do you negotiate with an enemy who refuses to see you as human? Arafat, for all his cynical manipulations, did see the Israeli as human – see his reactions after the assassination of Rabin.

  12. Observer Says:

    “However, Hamas’s support has not been built on anti-Semitism, but on (a) good medical services and nurseries (b fighting drugs (c) efficient local government 2004-6 and (d) resistance to the occupation.”

    Is it not the case that the success of many fascist and antisemitic parties is based on providing social welfare in the absence of a secure state. Like the Christian missions of the 19th century, people would sing a hymm solely to get a decent meal.

    The fact that Hamas’ election win was not reflective of a popular antisemitism makes their consistent stream of antisemitic rhetoric even more inexcusable. That their antisemitism is intrisic to their ideology is apparent in that they don’t even have the excuse that they were cynically manipulating a pre-existing popular sentiment.

    None of this comment should imply that I think that what Israel is doing at the moment is right. As Saul says, one can be opposed to Hamas at the same time as one opposes Israel’s military incursion into Gaza.

  13. Paul Frosh Says:

    John, I generally support most of what you say. My biggest problem is that Israeli public opinion in favour of any potential withdrawal from the West Bank – for which there is not much enthusiasm at the moment – hinges on the outcome of this war and the agreement which follows it. The current feeling is that whenever Israel withdraws from territory (Lebanon, Gaza) it invites rocket attacks on its citizens. Now I would certainly not want to claim that Lebanon and Gaza are similar scenarios, but a clear parallel is currently perceived by much of the public, leading to one conclusion: any future withdrawal from the West Bank, negotiated or otherwise, potentially puts Tel Aviv, Netanya, Raanana (where I live), Jerusalem and all of central Israel at risk of missile attack. Speaking personally, I want an end to the occupation, as soon as possible, but if removing the army from Kalkilya (or thereabouts) – several kilometers from my house and across the Green Line – means that I and my children are going to be dodging missiles for the foreseeable future, then to be honest I’d like the army to stay in Kalkilya. What this means is that for many Israelis the only solid footing for any international sponsorship of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is the deterrent threat of Israeli counter-attack. It is a tightrope walk I agree: Israeli counter-attacks intensify Palestinian animosity and the willingness to strike at Israelis, and ‘deterrence’ can quickly become technical jargon for an escalating blood feud. But it is in this instance also part of a test-case for many Israelis: if a cease-fire can be implemented in Gaza that stops the rocket fire, most Israelis will credit the war with its success (and would they be wrong?). And if deterrence can work in Gaza, it can be used to underpin an end to the occupation in the West Bank. Otherwise, as things stand, I can’t see how we are ever going to leave.

  14. Gaza « Greens Engage Says:

    […] makes mincemeat of anything this simplistic. Knowledgeable people with more informed ideas include John Strawson, who councils seeking UN Security Resolution supporting a new ceasefire resolution under Chapter […]

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Can I be so bold as to ask “Gaza << Greens Engage” what the hell their post _means_? As written, it suggests an extract from something is quoted, and then…Should there be a something following the second […]?

    I’m agog to know what comes next! Or not, as the case may be.

  16. Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] on sweeping victories and crushing defeats […]

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