By Roberto Savio*
Rome, 26 November 2012 ? In recent weeks, we have seen the media presenting a homogeneous reading of the last act of the Palestine drama. Hamas started launching rockets against Israel. The Israelis retaliated with punishing aerial raids and when the Palestinians did not stop, Israel decided to invade and eliminate the Hamas structure. At that point, US President Barack Obama got very worried and sent Hillary Clinton to the area. Clinton persuaded President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt to intervene, who was able to mediate successfully, and there is now a truce between Hamas and Israel. This, more or less, is what we have all read.
If there was ever the need to show the extent to which the media have become homogenised and no longer interested in analysis, this would be a very good example. The media are in a serious crisis of survival, with shrinking circulations and advertising revenue. So they must sell, and to do so, they must lower their level of sophistication in order to reach out as much as possible. They are more and more following events, and less and less processes ? and the decline of the level of political debate is evident to everybody. As Ronald Reagan (a great communicator) famously observed, the secret for reaching as many people as possible is to give simple explanations to very complex issues. Just think that in the international press, an acceptable length for a column article is just 850 words.
But let us return to the Palestine drama and give a more careful reading of this last episode, with the death of 100 Palestinians and 3 Israelis ? normally the ratio is 10 Palestinians for 1 Israeli so this time the ratio has gone up to 33 to one. And let us briefly go over the actors: Hamas, Israel, Obama and Egypt.
Hamas. It is a fact that for no dramatic reason, Hamas started sending a daily volley of rockets over Israel. Behind this lie two visible facts. First, within a few weeks there will be election in Israel, with a less than shining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a serious miscalculation by openly siding with Mitt Romney, and therefore making clear his distaste for Obama. Second, the head of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has asked the United Nations to recognise the Palestinian state as an observer, and therefore give clear legitimacy to Palestinian statehood. This met with strong resistance from Israel and therefore from Washington, and had put all the spotlights on Abbas, who appears as a very reasonable, moderate and credible interlocutor to the international community, unlike Hamas, which officially refuses to accept Israel as a legal entity. Well, with its rocket initiative, Hamas has become the new centre of the attention for the International community. It has reminded everybody that the PNA has no business in Gaza, and therefore that Abbas is not the real leader of the Palestinians, but only of half of them. And it has given Netanyahu a golden occasion for his re-election.
Israel. Here, let us not forget that Hamas is in good part a creation of Israel, which supported its growth as a way to divide the Palestinians and reduce Yasser Arafat?s omnipotence. And that the parties, while they hate each other passionately, need each other. For Netanyahu, the ideal enemy is Hamas which, unlike Abbas, is not interested in compromises. Hamas is the strong enemy which wants Israel to disappear. So, it is Hamas which is legitimising Israel?s policy of aggression, its belief that there is no possibility of dialogue for peace, and therefore its expansion of settlements, the lack of real negotiations and the claim that there is no one to negotiate with. It does not want to give any form of platform to Abbas and it has undercut him as often as possible. It was ideal for Netanyahu and his extremist Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman to have all Israelis rallying to the government in the face of the Hamas attack, and showing strength by massing troops at the border with Gaza, ready to intervene. The Iron Dome, Israel?s system for intercepting rockets has proved to be efficient and it can now be improved and put to good use in case Israel is attacked by Iran, which now knows that its rockets will not be as destructive as thought. Netanyahu was also able to eliminate the military chief of Abbas, who was a very good commander, and show his electors that he can protect them with swift efficiency.
Obama. The Middle East is not the priority for Obama. This is Asia, where he is going to move the bulk of US strength to counter China, and create trade and alliances with as many countries as possible. The United States will become self-sufficient in energy by 2020 thanks to the new techniques of extraction from bituminous sands and rock fracturing, and it will become a net exporter of energy by 2030. It is extricating itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Middle East is less of a priority. While the conflict with Gaza was happening, he decided to travel to Asia anyhow, and from there he sent Hillary Clinton to the region to find a way to negotiate some kind of truce. Obama knows that there is no way to bring Netanyahu into any real negotiations, that he has never accepted the notion of two states side by side. But Obama cannot afford the extremely dangerous risk of appearing to be out of line with Israel, because its defence is one of the most (if not the most) established stereotypes in the mind of the American people. So he is trying to intervene there as little as possible, and he does so only when a conflict becomes of such magnitude that he cannot ignore it. Therefore, after having made the usual sounds about the right of Israel to live in peace, he had to solve a major problem. Washington has never had any direct channel with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation (despite having been elected democratically), so he needed to find a mediator.
Egypt. President Morsi is from the Muslim Brotherhood, another organisation intensely disliked by Israel, and therefore by Washington. But Morsi has been democratically elected, the Muslim Brotherhood is also running Tunisia, and Egypt remains an unavoidable leader in the Arab world. So Clinton asked Morsi for his help. Israel is interested in establishing good relations with Morsi, as it had with former President Hosni Mubarak. Hamas only has the border with Egypt as a gateway to the world, and it must have the best possible relations with Egypt. Morsi, on the other hand, has witnessed with great weariness the visit of the Emir of Qatar to Gaza, and the fact that the Gulf countries have increasingly become the most active players in Palestine and now in Syria, where Qatar and Saudi Arabia are openly financing the most radical fighters. To play the role of mediator gave Morsi the chance to re-establish Egypt as the decisive country in the region. It was also an occasion to oblige the United States to offer the same recognition. Once that new legitimacy was achieved, Morsi used it to eliminate an independent judiciary (linked to the old regime), and issue a decree by which his actions can no longer be judged, thus taking Egypt back to the old autocracy of the Sadat and Mubarak times. This was something that the United States certainly saw as an embarrassing development.
Let us resume: Hamas comes out much strengthened in Gaza because it was able to look at Israel in the eyes, and Israel did not invade. Netanyahu goes to the election as the tough guy who can protect Israel, and used diplomacy and peace instead of invading Gaza, which would have further alienated the international community, which does not understand Israel?s difficult existence. Obama achieved peace and comes out looking like the one who was able to obtain mediation and a truce, so he can dedicate himself to playing politics where US foreign interests and priorities really are. In a situation where so many are winners, there is a loser ? Abbas. The President of the PNA, who was side-lined in all this affair, was clearly unable to do anything in Gaza, and therefore brought the Israelis to their known position: we would love to negotiate, but there is no representative of the Palestinian people and, of course, we cannot negotiate with Hamas. Therefore, a Palestinian state is not viable and we go round again in a circle, while the Israeli settlements continue to expand, with some protests from the international community.
What I have written runs to 1500 words, so it would never have made it into the international press. What I have described here is the background to the situation as I write, tomorrow who knows? But, if what I have written today can help the reader better interpret tomorrow through having furnished the elements of context missing in the mainstream media, it will have served its purpose ? and if it has raised new questions and triggered reflection, even better.
*Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.