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I started out intending to release my annual year-end Predictions for 2009 today, but felt compelled to address the surprising uptick in violence between Israel and Gaza this past week instead following reports that the death toll there surged past 250 Palestinians killed and hundreds more wounded in just the past four days. Check back New Years Eve (Wednesday) for my yearly Predictions special.

In case you aren’t fully up on what’s happening in Israel this past week, briefly, the Israeli military has been firing missiles at “Hamas targets” inside the Gaza Strip… an area smaller than the city of Las Vegas (and 1/3rd as wide yet roughly the same population: 1.5M people). The strikes are said to be in response to near daily missile launches by Hamas into Israel for months, killing civilians. The way they have chosen to deal with Hamas is to fire retaliatory airstrikes back into Gaza. Reports at this time indicate over 270 Palestinian deaths.

Discussion of Israel is a tricky subject for those of us who are not Jewish, because any criticism can quickly get one branded “anti-Semitic”. But I see this as a “political policy” issue, not a “right to exist” issue, which both Israel and the Palestinians both clearly have.

The most telling point in all this is: “Why now”? If Hamas has been lobbing missiles into Israel “for months”, why have they waited until now to respond with force? Well, the first answer is the most telling: Because George Bush is about to leave office and Israel does not know what position Barack Obama will take on defending Israel. That seems to be quite an admission. Israel believes it has a limited amount of time left to be able to use military force with the full support of Washington. That should give everyone pause.

Reason #2, “elections are coming up in Israel” within days of Obama’s inauguration, and no one wants to appear “weak on terrorism” when Israeli voters head to the polls.

Few things bother me more than the culture born of the Bush Administration: one that wraps itself in the flag, praises God, claims dominion over issues like “the sanctity of human life”, and then uses the military to kill thousands all in the name of “protecting innocent lives”. And as usual, the people with their finger on the trigger and sending others off to die never consider the possible repercussions of their actions.

Hamas is lobbing missiles into Israel. Bad. Got it. Does the Israeli government REALLY believe it can fire missiles back into Gaza at people already out for blood and NOT expect the violence to escalate? Hamas is filled with violent radicals that don’t want “peace” with Israel. They want Israel “gone”. That’s not going to happen, but no one ever called radical religious extremists “rational”.

I’m going to grossly over-simplify the solution here, but essentially what Israel needs to do is pressure the Palestinian leadership to arrest anyone breaching the peace by lobbing an attack into Israel. And if they don’t, then you arrest the Palestinian Leadership for failing to keep the peace. One of the great “successes” (read: “Fuck up’s”) of the Bush Administration was to create an atmosphere where Hamas became a legitimate political Party in Israel and elected to serve in the government. THERE’S the Palestinian leadership you can hold responsible. Control the violence in your region or face arrest.

Now I already admitted that was a gross over-simplification. I know full well “it’s not as easy as that”. I also know the problem is “far more complex”, but my point is to lay out the kind of measures that need to be taken to promote peace, rather than lob missiles back & forth at each other, ensuring not only that the never-ending cycle of violence will continue, but likely worsen as a result.

So Hamas has been lobbing missiles into Israel? Why? Are they masochists? Is it simply out of blinding hate for Israel? They must have known Israel would respond with force, right? So why do it?

In the fourteen months from June of 2007 to August of this year, Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip after it was seized by Hamas who took a 19 year old Israeli soldier prisoner, depriving everyone in the territory of food, water and electricity (aka: “collective punishment”, and yes, it’s a war crime). It was the (foolish) hope of the Israeli government that by putting pressure on the Palestinian civilian population, they would turn on Hamas and “throw the bums out”. Speaking in Cairo, former President Jimmy Carter called the blockade “a crime and an atrocity”. Naturally, the reverse of what Israel hoped for happened: support for Hamas grew and anger towards Israel solidified.

Now, as I’m sure you’ve guessed Hamas did what it did because Israel did something. And Israel did that because Hamas did something else… ad infinitum. This is what is known by anyone with an IQ above that of a grapefruit as a “Death Spiral”. Someone has to be the first to say, “Enough is enough!” and come up with a solution that doesn’t entail lobbing missiles at one another under the cover of darkness. And it’s going to require outside help.

President Clinton spent his final year as President trying to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, even getting the two sides to meet in Washington to sign a peace accord (that later failed).

President Bush boldly declared that his Administration would be the one to finally bring peace to Israel. Yes, the most hated man in the Middle East, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims by attacking Iraq without provocation, someone who has openly declared his support for Israel, declared that HE would pull off what no one else has been able to achieve in over a thousand years of conflict: broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You can’t get more clueless (or arrogant) than that. Oh wait, yes you can. Announce you’re going to do it in just 12 months while you still have nearly 200,000 American troops occupying Middle Eastern countries.

In any case, The Bush Administration failed to make even the slightest headway, and the likelihood that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will happen in the next 30 days is about as likely as me suddenly farting solid gold petunias.

Rather than “spread peace“, Bush’s legacy has been to “spread violence“, which has now spread into Israel. At the same time, Pakistan is moving troops from the Afghan border to their border with India, risking a resumption of the conflict over the disputed Kashmir region. Oh, and lest we forget the conflict between Russia and Georgia earlier this year that ended in the deaths of over 1,500 Georgians in a conflict that was all but encouraged by Neo-Conservative hawks in the Republican Party.

Is it arrogance or stupidity? “A mixture of both”, I hear you say? Well, I dunno. I am loath to call these people “stupid” because I think it only serves to absolve them of some of their crimes. Comic/actor Patton Oswalt put it best in his 2003 comedy routine: (not suitable for work or around kids):

Patton Oswalt: Bush Isn’t Stupid

The outgoing warmongering Bush Administration has been enabling a hair-trigger Israeli Administration to use force without fear of a loss of support from the U.S., helping to perpetuate the “tit-for-tat” cycle of violence that has ensured nothing but continued war in the region. The incoming Obama Administration will be the first in decades with a *real* shot at breaking the cycle, with not only his own Administration taking over in Washington, but elections in Israel that… thanks to the current violence in Gaza, could lead to a rejection of the Party currently in power in Israel to one more willing to use diplomacy over military force (Clinton came close, but he had Yassir Arafat to contend with, who was either unwilling or unable to quell anti-Israel sentiment).

New leadership in both the U.S. and Israel could mean the first REAL chance at brokering a meaningful peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians since Carter brokered a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel that lasts to this day. We’ve done our part. Now it’s up to the Israeli voters We’ll see.

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