Thursday, July 13, 2006

Punishing moderation, rewarding extremism

The recent trouble between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Hezbollah is fueled by the desire to release prisoners held by Israel. While Israel has hundreds if not thousands of prisoners held in its jails, it seems quite more indignant than would seem reasonable about less than a handful of its own solders being held by the other side. Asymmetry at its best.

Of course, what encourages both the Palestinians and Lebanese to try and capture Israeli soldiers is the fact that prisoner exchanges have been organized between the various parties in the past. In 2004, hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners were exchanged for one Israeli agent captured by Hezbollah and the remains of three Israeli soldiers.

While the violent reaction by Israel to the capture of its solders is predictable (with the logic that this is the only language Arabs understand), so is the gradual realization that eventually, negotiations will be made and deals with be struck (proving to Arabs that militarism is the only language that Israel understands). In reality, there is no other mechanism available for Palestinians and Lebanese to free their prisoners, who can be picked up at will by the Israeli army.

One must only look at the case of Jordanian prisoners in Israel to conclude that peaceful relationship with Israel is of little significance when trying to free these prisoners. About thirty Jordanian citizens are currently being held in Israeli jails (the supporters of the detainees have 36 photos on their web site), and Jordan is still seeking information about soldiers lost since the 1967 war. Relatives of the detainees have been pressuring the government to work to release them. The Jordanian government, in turn, has been pressuring Israeli to release these prisoners since the 2004 exchange with Hezbollah, in which many Jordanians feel that the government asked Israel not to release the prisoners, even after Hezbollah was negotiating to release them. The reasoning was that the Jordanian government didn’t want to give credit to Hezbollah for their release. Instead, Israel negotiated with Jordan for over a year and then released about nine of the prisoners. This was widely (and rightly) viewed as an insult by Israel to the Jordanian government, and many Jordanians reached the obvious conclusion that the militant approach of Hezbollah is more effective than the peaceful negotiation path advocated by the Jordanian government.

The behavior of successive Israeli governments on this issue seems to be specifically designed to encourage militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to humiliate moderate forces such as the Jordanian government. What would have happened if Israeli had released prisoners as a gesture of good will to Jordan, the Lebanese government and the previous Fateh government before Hamas won the election? It would have been magnanimous, and would have strengthened moderation. Israeli governments don’t respect moderation. For anybody looking to understand why people sympathize with extremism, this would be a good place to start.


At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

اذا ما زلت تتعشم بكرم اسرائيل فأنت تعطي وتتوقع مواقف ببلاش. هذة سياسة مش صلح عشائر

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

لذلك يجب ان لا يفاجاءوا بالنتيجة. سوف يبادلوا الاسرى وهم مبسوطين.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

great post.
I actually didn't know about the Jordanian prisoners before. I guess you make a point about the only way to get prisoners back is by exhange.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see the asymmetry at all. The Israelis are captured soldiers who should be treated as POWs. Of course, everyone knows that Hamas and Hezbollah might torture and kill them at any time. One of the Israelis captured a few weeks ago was executed in cold blood by the Palestinians who captured him.

I assume most of the prisoners held by the Israelis are terrorists or have some ties to terrorism, so they are in a different category. If any of them are soldiers, then I agree that they should be eligible for release in a prisoner swap. If they are terrorists, Israel should publicly hang them rather than release them.

For some reason, Arabs have a difficult time distinguishing between terrorists and soldiers.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Sloopy: Actually, I think I can understand the difference. However, Israelis intentionally try to confuse between the concept of terrorism and resistance. People under occupation do have a right to resist occupation. This includes the right to attack, kill or capture enemy soldiers.

I would prefer to bypass the argument about who is more righteous, because it is meaningless and nobody is going to convince the other. So, I would bypass the values-laden semantics and talk about practical issues.

Resistance/terrorism is the result of a lack of a peace settlement. There are no security issues between Israel and Egypt or Jordan because there is a mutually negotiated and agreed peace treaties. This is not the case between Israel, the Palestinians, the Lebanese or Syria. In the case of the Palestinians, the peace treaty was supposed to lead to Israeli withdrawal and the creation of a Palestinian state. The withdrawal from Gaza was one sided and Israel retains control over air, sea and land access to the territory. In short, the peace treaty has not been implemented and there is no serious indication that Israel wants to allow the creation of a real Palestinian state.

So, bypassing the issue of whose fault this is, the lack of peace is war, where people will continue to fight. You can call it what you want, but it really doesn't make a difference.

The idea that peace can be imposed by military might has been totally discredited over the last 40 years. You can continue to try, but history suggests that it won't work. The only tried method that works is to make the decision to pay the price of peace. The bully act won’t work.


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