Opinion: Why Israel should give peace talks another chance

photo by: Tribune Content Agency

Clarence Page

What? Again?

Such was the stunning sense of surprise that rocked the world as the Palestinian militant resistance group Hamas delivered a devastating blow to Israel and the reputation of the nation’s globally respected intelligence services.

What went wrong? For Israel, it seemed, just about everything. Crucial warnings were not heard, perhaps because Hamas was avoiding forms of communication such as mobile phones that easily could be detected. Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome missile defenses were overwhelmed by a barrage of cheaper missiles fired toward Israeli targets.

An old military saying, attributed to a range of historically famous commanders, goes, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Many comparisons with 9/11 were made, especially by those of us who remember that day. So were comparisons with the Yom Kippur War, which happened to occur 50 years ago the same week as the Gaza attack.

Or many of us were reminded of the Tet Offensive, an unexpected setback in the Vietnam War or, of course, Pearl Harbor.

In short, surprises matter. Many questions have yet to be raised and debated about what went wrong for Israel in Gaza. But what stands out are hard-learned lessons about expecting too little from one’s enemies and presuming too much from tactics and information that may have worked before but become seriously outdated after enough conditions change.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been surging for months, along with warnings about the risk of an all-out war.

The Gaza attack came a few weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a somewhat self-congratulatory speech at the United Nations to announce the establishment of a new Middle East centered around Israel and its new Arab partners.

Speaking to an audience largely composed of seats left empty by delegates protesting Israel’s policies, the prime minister held up a map at one point titled “The New Middle East,” which conspicuously omitted any mention of Palestine. The illustration showed only the West Bank and Gaza within the boundaries of Israel, which is not the vision shared by the Palestinian Arabs.

If that was not enough reason to spur Hamas to its more recent bloody action, it certainly didn’t help matters move any closer to a peaceful reconciliation of a decades-old conflict.

Whether Iran may have played a role in the Gaza attacks is not clear but is widely believed to have led to it. Hamas has a strong interest in derailing the peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and various sources say Iran does too.

Palestinians have been fighting to liberate their homeland, in their view, from 75 years of Israeli oppression and terrorism. In short, they have been fighting a war, and it’s still going on. At the same time, the Netanyahu government has been shifting further right in its own era of polarization, which also provides an opening for Iran to drive more wedges between Israelis and Arabs.

The biggest tragedies are the kind that catch hundreds or potentially thousands of innocent civilians in the middle, as we saw when peaceful neighborhoods and a music concert became scenes for bloody massacres and hostage-taking.

I’m not taking sides in a battle that has been going on for decades, except to say that the world needs to keep our eyes on the prize of peace for this region, where sadly we undoubtedly have more pain and surprises to come.

We need to talk.

— Clarence Page is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency.


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