LIEBERMAN CONTRADICTS HIMSELF
LIEBERMAN CONTRADICTS HIMSELF: "Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that the next war with Hamas will be the last because Israel cannot accept an ongoing war of attrition," notes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
However, he went on to contradict himself. He said that Israel does not want to reoccupy the Gaza Strip because toppling the Hamas authority without having a ready alternative would – as he said – drown Israel in the Gaza quagmire again.
Lieberman also said that Abu Mazin [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] represents the main source of threat to Israel because he represents a form of political terrorism and does not want to reach a peace agreement with it. This may mean that Lieberman wants to do away with both the Hamas and Abu Mazin [Ramallah PA] authorities, and replace them with some lackey authority. But this is not possible, at least for the moment. Or his statements may be intended to exert pressure on the two authorities under occupation that are also in conflict with each other, so as to force them to comply further with Israel’s diktats and preconditions.
No matter what the more likely reason may be, it is important to emphasize that Israeli policy is not determined by the defense minister, especially when that happens to be a deranged person such as Lieberman. Moreover, Lieberman does not represent a weighty political party with a clear program; his is a one-man party that is open to being bought and sold. And he has no military experience or any sense that enables him to command. Furthermore, it is difficult for him to recognize what the military in Israel have come to understand after one hundred years of the conflict and some seventy years after the establishment of Israel – namely, that there are limits to Israeli power, and that military strength is not a magical wand by means of which Israel can meet all its goals.
It is the PM who decides Israel's policies since he represents the largest party. Moreover, Binyamin Netanyahu is no ordinary PM; he is a strongman who has no competitors for the premiership so far. He has been PM for over eleven years, and if he continues to head his government till the end of its term, his period in power will surpass that in which Israel's founder, David Ben-Gurion remained in power.
No matter how strong he may be, Israel’s PM does not have a totally free hand to do whatever he alone or his party may desire. He must take the military establishment’s views into consideration, especially in light of the fact that Israel is a state that was founded by an army; moreover, the army has always played a decisive role in the country's survival.
Against this background, an open war is now ranging between Netanyahu and the army. Netanyahu is trying to impose his control on the army as evident from his dismissal of [former chief of staff and defense minister] Moshe Ya’alon who was forced to resign, and the appointment of Lieberman as a tool by means of which he hopes to tighten his control of the army.
If we were to try to understand Israeli policy towards the Palestinians in general and towards Abu Mazin and Hamas’s rule in particular, we would find that it is based on the view that the current Palestinian situation offers the appropriate moment for Israel to achieve its as yet incomplete goals.
We would be saying nothing new if we were to maintain that Israel has contributed to the inter-Palestinian split, and that it is working on prolonging it and transforming it into a permanent secession. It is seeking to cast the Gaza Strip into Egypt's lap at most, or at least, to keep it as a besieged prison on the verge of collapse, while making sure that it does not do so. In order to achieve this latter end, Israel adopts certain measures that ease the siege and it initiates indirect negotiations with the Hamas authority so as to consolidate the 'calm-for-calm' equation, preparing to develop it by lifting the siege and allowing a port to be built and perhaps even an airport at a later stage.
But all this is contingent on Hamas demonstrating its readiness to accept a long-term truce that includes abandoning its attempt to acquire and develop weapons and build tunnels – especially offensive tunnels –along Gaza's borders with Israel. Hamas must also recognize Israel and reach an agreement on security coordination similar to that that has been in place with the PA ever since the  signing of the Oslo Accords.
But if Hamas rejects such an agreement and continues its attempts to arm itself and develop its weapons, Israel will do what it has done in previous years: It will deliver a military strike that ensures that Hamas and the other factions that uphold the banner of [armed] resistance will retain their power, but only under the ceiling of their 'inability to threaten Israel.' This is especially likely in light of a sharp drop in Hamas's ability to develop its military strength in various fields after its relations with Egypt have deteriorated. Egypt has sealed the tunnels, flooding them with water; and it has prevented movement from and to the Strip.
Moreover, Hamas's relations with Iran, which used to supply the movement with money and weapons, have also deteriorated. And Hamas has no alternative to these relations since its allies in Turkey and Qatar have good relations with Israel, and their role, among other things, aims to exploit the Palestinian card so as to promote their interests while continuing to work on domesticating Hamas so to allow it to join the map that is being drawn for the region.
In light of the above, Israel does not seek to topple Hamas's rule – at least in the foreseeable future. Such a development could spell the end of the inter-Palestinian split. Moreover, Israel is not seriously considering the reoccupation of the Strip given the high price it would have to pay if it were to do so; it cannot believe that it has managed to withdraw from it. Hamas’s collapse without direct reoccupation or the presence of an alternative acceptable to Israel would produce anarchy, which would help enhance the influence of the jihadi salafi organizations, primarily ISIS which has an effective and organized presence in Israel and is interested in extending its influence to Gaza.
Moving on to Israel’s policy towards Abu Mazin's authority, we would find that Israel believes that this authority is broadly acceptable because it has honored its political, security, and economic obligations since the Oslo Accords, even though Israel has failed to do so. Moreover, Abu Mazin's various threats, sometimes, to disband the PA, and at others times to resign, and at yet other times to redefine the relationship with Israel, as well as his hints at ending security coordination and economic dependence on Israel going so far as to threaten to suspend Palestinian recognition of Israel, are all no more than verbal threats that do not reflect any practical readiness to implement them.
What irks Israel about Abu Mazin's authority is its refusal to accept Israel’s new terms including: Recognizing Israel as a state 'for the Jewish people'; accepting continued Israeli sovereignty over the territory of the Palestinian 'state' in isolated cantons during the interim and final phases; resuming bilateral negotiations with no preconditions; refraining from resorting to internationalization and joining international institutions; threatening to achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation; threatening to resort to peaceful resistance, albeit in a symbolic and tactical manner so as to pressure Israel into accepting the resumption of negotiations after releasing the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners detained before the Oslo Accords, and to freeze settlement activities or at least restrict the pace settlement expansion.
This irks Israel because it opens a window – if only a small one – to initiatives for managing the conflict that include an international role that Israel does not want because it is seeking to isolate the Palestinians and ensure that there can be no effective international role. It also wants to implement its own version of a solution without reaching a compromise that would meet the very basic minimum of Palestinian rights.
Israel wants to domesticate Hamas as we have noted, and to dismantle and reconstitute the PA in the West Bank so as to ensure that it is more amenable to the goals that the Netanyahu government is trying to achieve. These include: Reviving the project to establish 'Greater Israel'; erasing the [1967 borders] Green Line; turning the conflict into a religious one; paving the way for the annexation [West Bank] Area-C territories to Israel; and restricting the powers of the Palestinian self-rule authority to the heavily populated territories in Area-A and Area-B.
Israel is very interested in the PA’s survival because its existence absolves it of its responsibility for its occupation, and the paralyzed PLO officially represents the Palestinian people that are the Zionist project and Israel’s historic antagonists, and the tool for realizing that project. Moreover, Israel needs the PA to give Palestinian legitimacy to what now exists and to any future agreement. This legitimacy stems from being the victim, whose authority surpasses the legitimacy of any other party.
Consequently, Israel's aim behind any Jordanian role as is now being discussed is to help the PA remain in power and control the population, but without affecting Israeli sovereignty over all of 'Eretz Yisrael.' But Israel wants the PA to survive in a condition similar to that of the Gaza authority – that is, on the brink of collapse.
"In that manner, the two authorities would be at Israel's mercy, competing with each other to become the party that will be groomed and recognized as the Palestinians' representative that will play a role in the region's new map," concludes Masri.