Israel's 10 biggest mistakes this decade

Bradley Burston

In the Mideast, dreams can only end badly. Not because messianic messages are, in and of themselves, bad dreams, but because of the nature of this place, the history which is as much imagination as it is record, as much sacred hallucination as it is shared memory.

And because the dreamers of this place fail again and again because they are under the illusion that they are realists.   

The decade just passing is one in which Middle East dreams came to die. It began, appropriately, with an Israeli leader who saw his place in history as dependent on imposing a peace plan on the entire Arab world, and a Palestinian icon who saw his place in history as dependent on saying no.
In no decade of the modern Middle East has the roll of failure been so democratic. The titans Arafat and Sharon fought their battle to the death, and both lost. Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, Hassan Nasrallah, Ahmed Yassin, hilltop youth, Al Aqsa Martyrs, Yossi Beilin, the Yesha Council, even Jimmy Carter - all dreamed Icarus dreams and realized, only too late, that in the brilliant sun of the Holy Land, wings of feathers and wax reveal their true selves, which is to say, nothing more than feathers and wax.
It was a decade framed by a fundamentalist Palestinian belief in salvation through suicide and a fundamentalist Israeli belief in salvation through brutality.
The decade ends as it began, clueless, hopeless, exhausted. For having lived through this, we are, all of us, somehow much more than 10 years older, yet none the wiser. In fact, what passed for our wisdom had died with our dreams. Socialist collectivism, rabid Revisionism, Reagan-Thatcher neo-conservatism, none of them has anything to teach us.
The Palestinians are ideological orphans as well. Ten years ago, they were promised that the armed struggle would cause the Jewish state to collapse like a spider's web. Ten years ago, they might have had a state of their own. Now they can barely breathe.

For both peoples, the lessons of this decade are unbearable. No Greater Israel, no Peace Now, no Wholly Palestinian Palestine, no Two State solution. Perhaps this is truly what the messiah has decided to settle for: a situation in which every single inhabitant of the land is unhappy to the same extent. 

In this regard, there is perhaps no better time than this to review Israel's 10 Worst Mistakes of the Last 10 Years:
1. The Siege of Gaza - The stated goal of the siege was to undermine Hamas and to goad Gazans into rejecting Hamas rule. The effect of the siege has been to focus and intensify Palestinian anger against Israel, increase Gazans' dependency on Hamas social welfare arms, enrich Hamas coffers through tunnel taxation and foreign donations, and sap Palestinian support for Fatah, which, through its back-channel encouragement for the siege, is seen as a betrayer and a boot-licker in the eyes of many Palestinians.

2. The Siege of Gaza - The blockade was ostensibly a means to stem the influx of weaponry into Gaza. In practice, with shipments the size of automobiles flowing through the tunnels, the Hamas arsenal has grown ever more sophisticated, now believed to include Iranian-manufactured rockets capable of striking Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport from the Strip.

3. The Siege of Gaza - In the eyes of the world community, the overwhelming collective punishment - and the relative silence of Israelis in response - has gutted Israeli claims to the moral high ground. It has undercut sympathy for Israelis living within Qassam range. It has kept open the moral wounds of the Gaza War, cramping rebuilding efforts, enshrining universal unemployment, and ensuring agonizing homelessness as the coastal winter gathers full force. Israeli officials have quietly take steps of astounding insensitivity, arbitrarily barring such goods as school supplies.

4. The Siege of Gaza - The siege has been presented in the past as a means of pressing Hamas to release Gilad Shalit. Not only does he remain captive, the terms of a prospective deal appear not to include lifting the siege. The siege has been presented in the past as a means of pressuring Gazans to end rocket fire. But rocket fire only increased after the siege was put in place. Finally, Cast Lead, the Gaza war a year ago, might have been prevented altogether, had Israel adhered more closely to the Egyptian-brokered Hamas-Israel truce agreement of June, 2008, and lifted the siege more completely in response to a drop in rocket fire.

5. The Siege of Gaza - The siege works to the detriment of U.S. support for Israel. In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled anger at Israel over obstacles to humanitarian aid entering the strip. The message came soon after Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, visiting Gaza, learned that Israel had blocked shipments of pasta, ruling it off the list of permitted humanitarian aid items.

6. The Siege of Gaza - The fact that the siege has failed so completely in achieving its stated aims, reinforces the impression that its real purpose is punitive.

7. The Siege of Gaza - The siege places Israeli officials in jeopardy of being charged with violating the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international codes, as outlined in detail in the Goldstone Report. Referring to the siege, paragraph 1335 of the report states that: "From the facts available to it, the Mission is of the view that some of the actions of the Government of Israel might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed."

8. The Siege of Gaza - With the siege under the direct aegis of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his deputy, Matan Vilnai, the moral failings of the siege could prove the coup de grace to an already foundering Labor Party.

9. The Siege of Gaza - The siege threatens to destabilize the rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, posing a potential threat to Israeli-Egyptian peace and Israeli security.

10. The Siege of Gaza - The siege corrupts the moral values of all Israelis, who, whether or not they are aware of what is being done to the people of Gaza, bear ultimate responsibility for all acts being carried out in their name.

 * This article was first published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.