Gaza: A Pawn in the New ‘Great Game’

Alastair Crooke

Article posted on Asia Times, January 14, 2009

As Europeans watch the humanitarian disaster in Gaza unfold on nightly news bulletins, many may wonder why this crisis seems to have left their governments groping in such apparent fumbling disarray. The answer is that it is the result of policies pulling in opposite directions - of an acute irreconcilability at the heart of their policy-making.

What has happened in Gaza was all too foreseeable. A few Israelis forewarned about this coming crisis, but the appeal of the "grand narrative" - of a global struggle between "moderates" and "extremists" - overrode their warnings to the Israeli electorate.

The thesis that literally "everything" must be done either to lever "moderates" into power, or prevent them from losing power - euphemistically called "supporting moderation" - lies at the heart of the Gaza crisis.

It is a narrative that has served Israel's wider interests in garnering legitimacy for the Israeli campaign against Iran, and in dichotomizing the region into Westernized "moderates" and Islamist "extremists".

Former British prime minister, and current Middle East envoy for the Quartet group of the United Nations, Tony Blair's proselytizing around the world on this theme has been a huge asset for an Israel which aspires to become the leading member of a "moderate" bloc, rather than an isolated island in an increasingly Islamist Middle East. Yet Blair's and other Quartet members' attempts to fit this simplistic mechanical template over a complex Middle East, facing multiple struggles, has reduced the Palestinian crisis to being no more than a pawn in a bigger "game" of the existential global struggle against "extremism".

But such models, once generally accepted, force a deterministic interpretation that can blind its advocates to the real results of such narrow and rigid conceptualizing: a humbled Hamas was seen to be a blow to Hezbollah, which in turn represented a blow to Syria, which weakened Iran - all of which strengthens the "moderates" and makes Israel safer.

Whether this thinking will achieve anything approaching this result remains highly improbable; but its price - Hamas clearly branded and now attacked as a part of these global forces of "extremism" - has been the foreclosure on the possibility of any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

European acquiescence to this Blairite vision of squeezing and humbling Hamas has directly contributed to the bloodshed seen in the streets of Gaza today. European leaders are complicit in creating the circumstances that led to today's disaster.

At one level, Europeans may say they have been working diligently to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian solution, but their actions suggest the opposite - that they have been more concerned to deliver a knock-out blow to the camp of global "extremism". Pursuing such irreconcilable ends has only succeeded both in stripping their protege Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of any popular legitimacy and in closing the path of political participation to Hamas.

They have destroyed any hope to achieve a truly national Palestinian mandate for any political solution for the foreseeable future. European "social engineering" in Gaza has created only deep division among Palestinians, and possibly pushed a Palestinian state beyond reach.

European leaders bought into this strategy, hoping to pull-off a quickie under-the-table "peace" deal with Abbas that could then be "enforced" on the Palestinians through a multi-national "peacekeeping" force.

This was to be achieved with the collaboration of Egypt and Saudi Arabia who were becoming increasingly fearful of the challenge from within their own domestic electorate and who were not adverse to seeing Hamas cornered in Gaza and "punished" by the Israelis. Stage one was to weaken Hamas; stage two to insert an armed international force into Gaza; and stage three was for Abbas' British and United States-trained special forces to return to Gaza and resume control of the Gaza Strip. It is standard colonial technique.

Any psychologist, however, might have advised the European and US policymakers that putting one-and-a-half million Palestinians "on a diet", as an earlier Israeli chief-of-staff to the Israeli prime minister described it, and shredding any plans or hopes that they may have had for their futures, does not make humans more docile or more moderate. After a while in the Gaza pressure-cooker, anger and despair boil up: Gaza ultimately was set to explode - one way or another.

As Gaza was squeezed to the point of desperation in the hope that its inhabitants would turn on Hamas, Britain and the US busied themselves in training a Palestinian "special forces" militia around Abbas. The force was used to suppress political activity by Hamas in the West Bank and to close down welfare and social organizations that are not aligned directly with Abbas. A policy of political "cleansing" of the West Bank, cloaked under the rhetoric of "building security institutions", predictably has been met with an equivalent counter-reaction by Hamas in Gaza - exacerbating Palestinian divisions.

This, then, is the backdrop against which Hamas elected to decline a renewed ceasefire. To stand passive and cornered while Palestinians in Gaza were made destitute and hopeless in an extended ceasefire, and to watch as the Anglo-American political cleansing in the West Bank proceeded, simply was not feasible. European policy was not leading to a political solution, it was set on a course of self-destruction in Gaza and West Bank.

Even in the wake of this humanitarian disaster, European mediators seem more concerned to fight the global war of "moderates" versus "extremists" than to achieve a solution. Blair on Israeli television argued that the priority must be to ensure that weapons cannot continue to reach Hamas via the smuggling tunnels - or else the killing continues.

This is being said, however, at exactly the same time that Israeli officials were briefing journalists that the army began planning, training and acquiring the new weapons from the US for this assault - even as the terms of the past ceasefire were still to be agreed with Hamas.

The hold of this moderate/extremist mindset over Europeans and Americans suggests that Europeans again will acquiesce to ceasefire aims intended to hollow out any political future for Hamas. The conflict seems set to continue, but the outlines of a new ceasefire are available today if anyone chooses to pursue them.

The border crossings must be fully opened and life for Gazans must be returned to normality. On this basis, a stable ceasefire could be agreed on. Palestinian unity will be achieved only by opening Palestinian leadership institutions, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to radical reforms that will make them genuinely representative of the Palestinian people - and not through the political cleansing of Hamas from the political arena.

Repeated Western attempts to lay a template that has persistently misconceived where the real risk of extremism lies in Islamism, and miscast immoderates as the moderates, has so far only served to light the fires of extremism, rather than extinguish them.

Alastair Crooke is co-director of Conflicts Forum. He was formerly an EU mediator with Hamas and other Islamist movements and is author of Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution to be published in the UK in February and the US in March 2009.



7 Comments

  1. delia ruhe wrote:

    Framing the conflict within this moderate/extremist binary is a really good way to get a handle on the bigger picture. I hope Alastair Crooke’s forthcoming book is a further deconstruction of this binary.

  2. Victor Kocher wrote:

    This wise comment is highly appreciated. Hope someone shall listen to it.

  3. Michael G. Barrett wrote:

    This article is based on a fatally flawed assumption, that given a particular set of conditions ( I’ll leave it to Mr. Crooke to articulate this fantasy) Islamic Terrorists can be persuaded to live in peace with Israel and the Western world. Please, the foundation of Islam is predicated on world domination as illustrated over and over in the Quran.

    Mr. Crooke, wishful thinking while articulate and entertaining does nothing except lull the civilized world into avoiding their responsibility of eliminating this threat to Western Civilization.

  4. Persia wrote:

    Shame on the savage fake Zionist regime which mauls the guiltless children of Gaza. Once again the Israel showed its hideous face behind its deceptive disguise.
    As the world saw in this war their so-called powerful army just slaughtered 1300 unprotected civilians. This is the real holocaust which world witnessed thoroughly. This genocide was one step forward for Israelis toward their undoubted extinction. I am sure that GOD will retaliate their humanitarian crime very soon.

  5. Byron Raum wrote:

    Mr. Michael Barrett makes a very valid point – it is only wishful thinking to expect that terrorists can be persuaded to live in peace with everyone. Fortunately, though, most combatants in this matter are neither terrorists nor fundamentalists, and are responding to non-ideological grievances. Therefore, the gist of the article is valid, and I am very grateful that Mr Crooke has put it forth. We need more people who can think as clearly as he can.

  6. Ma3rafsh Ay 7aga wrote:

    Mr. Barrett, that is just about the most fascist thing I’ve ever heard. So basically anyone who is a Muslim and subscribes to the tenets of the Qur’an is hellbent on world domination and destroying “Western” civilization” (whatever that is supposed to be)? So we should make sure to somehow “eliminate” all “those people” if “our” “civilization” is to survive, right? You know, your line of argumentation lent itself to a very perverse ideology that took hold of Germany in oh, let’s say, the 1930-40s. What you have expressed here is truly sickening.
    Thank God there are people like Alastair Crooke who work tirelessly to use rationality and common sense to counter such mindless and dangerous drivel.

  7. revjobarker wrote:

    Michael Barrett:..Obviously you do not know the difference in a terrorist group…and freedom fighters fighting in their own country for their own country…No one in Hamas/Hezbollah were fighting anyone other than the invader ISRAEL into their homelands…they did not attack Israel first…Israel fears these “die for my homeland & peoples” resistance fighters…they have not aggressed elsewhere!! As for where they get their weapons…and their food, medicine, etc…they get that from various states that aren’t afraid to speak outloud about atrocities…As for me…I say long live a free from others Lebanon & Palestine…if you think they would not fight any one of those suppliers if they should aggress, you are a fool….They fight for the right to live freely in their own land & did live for awhile w/ Israel…until Sharon intentionally caused the 2nd? intifada…I believe their cause is just…they hit 3 civilians, they hit the sides of houses as their targets on Israeli population…not to kill, but,to make them question their gov’t..however,Israeli Professor stated that none of the news of what’s happening in Palestine is broadcast to Israeli peoples…they hear the propaganda…and those rockets that scare them but mostly don’t hurt them…Israeli lies by ommission & staight up in news to their people…
    (this following is not to be derogatory…but, I fear the truth if red blood & body parts of children & women & demolished city should happen to pop up on Israeli TV….the probable truth I fear is that Israel would feed them a line of b.s. stating it’s a LIE/ a propaganda ploy to try to strike back at their democracy!! This group, is the same a the Nazi’s…this was a holocaust..not a war w/ Hamas..a war on the upcoming generations…it’s called a genocidal swipe…they were not able to complete it…they got so sotted w/ the blood they hit the UN…& the flack started coming….Cheers to Hamas..who was elected..they were the Social workers who replaced all the things Israel blew up..school supplies, fuel, medicine, educational supplies…the Israeli’s have done horrific things as desroying all records of Palestinians such as birth, death, property claims, everything…over & over & over & over again & again & again..the zionists are a hair away from being the Nazi’s in Palestine…And, Israel alone amongst so-called civilized states does not declare their over 200 nukes, nor all the wearpons & munitions the U.S. shares in the genocide for providing them for this war!!!