Gaza Strip Hamas Israel Middle East peace process Palestinians

Israeli columnist: Cutting Gaza’s fuel supply is just “spin”

Americans for Peace Now’s latest “Middle East Peace Report” (link doesn’t work, so go to has some provocative critiques of the Israeli move to cut Gaza’s fuel supply, including lengthy excerpts from a column by Nahum Barnea in today’s Yedioth Ahoronot.

I keep waiting to read sensible justifications for this action from the Israeli security establishment. But thus far, I’ve yet to find anyone who can explain precisely how making ordinary Gazans suffer even more will prompt Hamas to clamp down on the renegades firing Kassam rockets. Why would this accomplish more than the bombing of Gaza power stations or other “tough” steps that the Israelis have tried? Given the absence of any logic, I can only conclude that Barnea is on to something when he writes “In the absence of a solution to the Kassam rocket problem, even a media spin can serve as a solution, just so long as no one knows that the defense minister’s mind is empty of ideas…” Here is an excerpt from the APN piece:

Nahum Barnea writes in Monday’s Yedioth Ahronoth that this decision embodies “a rare combination of errors. Firstly, it punishes not the Kassam rocket cells but the Gazan population, and pushes [the latter] into the arms of Hamas and terrorism. Secondly, it is opposed to all norms of morals and international law. Instead of severing Israel from the occupation, at least as far as Gaza is concerned, it exacerbates Israel’s image as a cruel occupier. Thirdly, it does not conform to the effort to reestablish a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and with the moderate Arab regimes. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia will not be able to sit quietly in Annapolis while [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak is plunging Gaza into darkness, not to mention Abu Mazen.”

Barnea believes that the decision to cut off electricity to Gaza, an issue now being reviewed by Israel’s High Court of Justice, is “good news for Hamas. It provides it voluntarily with propaganda ammunition and a good excuse for failing to administer the Gaza Strip. Every shortage that will be revealed from now in the kingdom of Hamas, in fuel, basic foodstuffs or humanitarian goods, will fall on Israel’s head. Indeed, Hamas did not wait for Barak: Yesterday, before the ink had dried on the decision, Hamas complained that Israel had halted the fuel supply. Whether it had halted or did not halt it is not important. What matters is that the impression of a moral balance has been created: We are hit by Kassam rockets. They are fuel starved. We and Hamas are in the same boat.”

“Why is Barak doing this nonsensical act?” asks Barnea. “First of all, because in the absence of a solution to the Kassam rocket problem, even a media spin can serve as a solution, just so long as no one knows that the defense minister’s mind is empty of ideas. Secondly, because it looks wonderful in the Internet comments: Every eight-year old who wants to express himself voices his enthusiastic support. Finally, writes the child, we have a defense minister with balls. But why complain about Barak. We have a prime minister who is willing to accept this folly silently, just to keep from rocking the boat. We have a foreign minister who is supposed to warn of the diplomatic damage, but she too is silent. We have a president who is supposed to represent the moral aspect of our life, but he too is silent.”

15 thoughts on “Israeli columnist: Cutting Gaza’s fuel supply is just “spin”

  1. There are only two ideas that I can imagine explain the action.

    1. Barak intends to trash the meeting, for who knows what reason (permanent failure of any negotiations, or temporary distraction “until the conditions are right”.)
    2. Barak thinks that it is a statement of alliance with Fatah, that Fatah dislikes Israel now less than it dislikes Hamas.

    Both are failed reasonings, that seem to lead to inane results.

  2. Richard,

    Number #2 is probably closer to what is on Barak’s mind. I’ve heard from Meretz friends that some of the fiercest opposition to Israeli negotiations with Hamas comes from Fatah.

  3. Thanks for this note of sanity, Dan, and I do admire your intrepid efforts to find some kind of moral compass in a country, Israel –and in a pro-Israel community in the U.S.– that has clearly lost it. (Seriously, I’m not being flippant, guy. I’ve come down hard on you in my comments but I do admire you, even if I think you are fighting a losing battle to try to preserve some kind of ethical Zionism).

    It’s clearly not easy for any Israeli leader to act reasonably, because that doesn’t buy votes. But when they inflict more suffering on Palestinians just do show they are doing something, for the sake of appearances, then in some ways that is even worse than targeted assasinations or long lines at checkpoints–at least the latter have some kind of ostensible “purpose.”

  4. Marco,

    What would you do if you were the defense minister or prime minister of Israel? Ignore the Kassams? Evacuate Sderot? Any bright ideas or are you just enjoying the sport of criticising Israelis who are in an impossible sitation?

  5. And still the task is to move from the present to the future.

    Rachel’s question of you is THE relevant one.

    What do you propose?

  6. Folks, I am also bereft of good ideas and have never felt more pessimistic. I do think that engaging with Hamas at a diplomatic level and striving for a formal “truce” would at least have a chance of putting them in a situation where they are compelled to clamp down on the rockets. But I am not optimistic and, as Teddy notes. Fatah does not want that to happen, either…Sorry to disappoint.

  7. My proposal is as follows:

    1. Negotiate for the green line (with mutually consenting modifications) as the border.

    2. Permit residents to remain where they are physically, with citizenship determined on a geographic basis. Those Jewish settlers that wish to remain in Palestine, do so as Palestinian citizens, with no pretense of civil rights in Israel.

    3. Permit legal proceedings on all land claims in both Israel and Palestine, with the opportunity to perfect title by compensation for settlers and of 1948 and succeeding displacement of Palestinians.

    4. Remove all racial or religious preferences in both Palestine and Israel (property ownership, freedom of movement, etc.) with the exception of right of return of Jews to Israel and Palestinians to Palestine (expedited immigration proceedings solely).

    That solution preserves a Jewish majority in Israel, while granting full civil rights to minorities, and similarly in Palestine. It establishes the present as the reference point for sovereignty, compels common standards for land title assertion that can be consistently applied from the present forward.

    It provides a path for restitution for contested claims, rather than the rhetorical “turn back the clock” (to some imagined past).

    It also provides for the prospect of further depth of association in that fundamental legal systems would be largely parallel, and suitable to encourage commerce and individual rights. (Less so for family, clan, and/or tribal rights, unless explicitly incorporated legally.)

    It would solve all material territorial basis of conflict and agitation.

  8. In the absence of a permament peace, I would propose the following set of steps:

    (1) A complete ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, etc. in both Gaza & the West Bank

    (2) A commitment by the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for stopping all acts of violence (simultaneous with point #4)

    (3) A lifting of borders, air & sea restriction on Gaza, and free passage between Gaza & the West Bank

    (4) Freedom of movement through the West Bank, including removal of checkpoints (simultaneous with point #2)

    (5) End of the diplomatic & economic boycott of Hamas

    (6) Dismantling the Separation Barrier, or at least moving to within Israel or the Green Line


    (8) Encouragement of reviving the unity government between Hamas & Fatah

    Note that this does

    “But critics of the government say it hasn’t tried truce talks with Hamas.

    A group of prominent Israeli intellectuals urged the government to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas and a broader peace agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    “Israel has in the past negotiated with its worst enemies,” the intellectuals said in a petition published in late September. “Now the appropriate course of action is to negotiate with Hamas to reach a general cease-fire that will prevent further suffering on both sides.”,1,6142489.story

  9. Sorry, I accidentally pressed the submit button before I was finished:

    In the absence of a permament peace, I would propose the following set of steps:

    (1) A complete ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, etc. in both Gaza & the West Bank

    (2) A commitment by the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for stopping all acts of violence (simultaneous with point #4)

    (3) A lifting of border air, sea & economic restriction on Gaza, and free passage between Gaza & the West Bank

    (4) Freedom of movement through the West Bank, including removal of checkpoints (simultaneous with point #2)

    (5) End of the diplomatic & economic boycott of Hamas

    (6) Dismantling the Separation Barrier, or at least moving to within Israel or the Green Line

    (7) International monitors to ensure no money or weapons goes to Hamas or other Palestinian militias

    (8) Encouraging renewal of the unity government between Hamas & Fatah

    Note that this not necessarily contradict final-status talks, but could be parallel to final-status negotations.

  10. Peter,

    The divide in the Palestinian camp makes it difficult to have much hope in any step-by-step plan that I have seen. That is why more and more Palestinians and Israelis think they should try to deal with final status issues first, and come up with some kind of grand bargain that would precipitate internal changes among people in both the territories and in Israel.

    For example, there is no way the separation barrier is going to be moved so that it conforms to the Green Line without the clear indication that a political solution has been agreed to. And support for armed struggle within a large swath of Palestinians will continue in the absence of a real and enduring solution. Those are political realities, alas.

    #1, the “complete ceasefire,” is a wonderful idea. What does it have to do with the present situation? Islamic Jihad and other groups do not want and won’t accept a ceasefire. And Hamas won’t clamp down on them. It has had the opportunity to do so before.

    With whom should Israel negotiate the ceasefire and other terms other than Abu Mazen and his crew? As several people have mentioned, it is (also)Fatah leaders who don’t want Israel to confer diplomatic legitimacy on Hamasniks.

    The PA has made a “commitment”(#2) to stop violence before, That was when it had titular, central authority in both the WB and Gaza. A commitment now would not be enough to justify #4 as stated, unfortunately. There are too many rogue and renegade cells who want to kill Israelis wherever they are. If you lived in Tel Aviv, no matter how far to the left you were, you would want some kind of border control. Freedom of movement WITHIN the West Bank should be permitted even without a blanket PA commmitment, however.

  11. All,
    The Palestinian National Charter said that Palestine could only be gained back through armed struggle i.e. terrorism. This has been part of the Palestinian political DNA since the 1930s with three generations now having participated in armed struggle. I am in the Army Reserve and have a superior who is by origin an Egyptian Sunni Muslim. He defines terrorism as hijackings or attacking targets outside of the country. As long as Palestinians attack whatever Israelis they want in Israel this is not terrorism but guerrilla warfare. This seems to be a widespread Arab belief. He denied that either Hamas or Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. When I pointed out that Hezbollah had attacked Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina he simply denied that this was true.

    Arafat tried the diplomatic approach out of desperation and wasn’t very convincing at it. In Dec 1988 he recognized 242 and condemned terrorism. But when Abu Iyad contradicted him he said everyone was free to speak their mind. In May 1989 he refused to discipline Abbul Abbas after his PLF carried out a terrorist attack against Israel. He smuggled arms and terrorists into Gaza with him when he returned in 1994. In Johannesburg he told Muslims that the Oslo accords were like an agreement that Muhammed signed with his enemies in Arabia and then broke when it suited him. He made this statement repeatedly to Palestinian audiences at home. He generally tolerated Islamist terror as long as the Islamists weren’t perceived as a direct threat to the PA. He prepared the PA for a breakout from Oslo before Camp David. Only once Arafat died did Fatah really abandon the policy of armed struggle–40 years after it officially started its armed struggle. Hamas has been conducting its armed struggle for 20 years now, so it probably has another 20 years left to go on the learning curve, possibly longer because of its religious nature.

    The best that Israel can probably do is conduct its own internal reform process so that it will be ready to negotiate seriously when Hamas et al. are finally ready. That means a major change in its electoral system. It also means a revived Labor Party or new center-left party made from Labor, Meretz, and parts of Kadima.

    Anything that Jerusalem or Washington does to attempt to influence Palestinian politics is likely to backfire. It will only reinforce the image that Fatah and the independents are the creatures of Washington or Jerusalem and it could cause them to become more obstinate and resistant to mutual concessions. Likewise, efforts to create a “united” government will likely just make the Palestinian government as inflexible as Israeli governments of national unity. It could just reinfect Fatah with the virus of the armed struggle disease.

  12. The question of armed struggle, gets to “armed struggle for what?”

    If, its armed struggle for A Palestinian state (that is sustainable if not everything desired), then a negotiated green line Israel and green line Palestine accomplishes that.

    I don’t believe that the majority of Palestinians have an all or nothing view of their needs or goals.

    I expect that even among Hamas, the militancy would shortly come to be understood as an obstacle to a desired/accepted Palestine, rather than a means to it.

    In the words of Bob Marley. “Now you got what you want, and still you want more.”

    There are only few things that I regard as non-compromisable in life in general, and in this specific example.

    Needs are non-compromisable. Needs for enough land to live on, needs for safety so defensible borders, needs for water, trade paths.

    Both Israel AND Palestine have needs, some common, some unique.

    My sense is that with respectful, imaginative, and skillful application, the needs of the communities can be reconciled.

    Personally, I believe that the green line is a more defensible border than the maze of settlements.

    Early Zionist settlement pursued the same geographic logic of becoming undeniable, and when the occupation came under Likud control, he assertively adopted the strategy of the fingers approach, making deep inroads into so as to make an either/or.

    And now that the need for acceptance of the other is obvious, the settlement pattern is an obstacle. For Olmert to seek to protect and maximize the settlement blocs is a deterrent to both peace and security. The land will not be annexed ultimately, and a maze is a uniquely indefensible shape.

    It was an aggressive approach, and in the light of permanent residence by both communities, with NEED for coherence of their communities, an immoral approach.

    For me, that is the biggest basis of objection that I can form, as it conflicts with the voluntary (accepted) commitment of being part of “a nation of priests”. (“I will make you a nation of priests”. “If you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time…”)

    If I/we are immoral, we lose our identity, our only God-sanctioned purpose on the planet. The rest is arbitrary or a guess.

    How do we know if we are fulfilling God’s commandments, the list and the essence of them?

    If, we are successful at transforming the world and ourselves from mundane and harsh and excessive, to profound and kind and temperate. With no rationalization of our assessment.

    If our ideology is zealous, even if we use the term “Tikkun Olam” to describe it, we are intemperate and at best change the shell, the political form only. It helps to change the form, but may kill the baby with the bathwater.

  13. I’m happy to see other people out there trying to bring some sense to this painful and seemingly intractable situation. I would invite you to check out my website,, where I also frequently write about the difficulty Israel faces in trying to protect its citizens, do the “right” thing and make peace with its Arab neighbors.

  14. Richard, you take an optimistic view of the situation. You (and I!) would like to think that 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, choosing statelessness and war instead of living in peace with a Jewish state, has ended. But the Palestinians tell you otherwise:

    [the quote below is from

    “Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, rejected on Monday the
    government’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

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