Monday, March 22, 2004

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Your mama should have taught you that.

Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin has been killed.

First things first, this was a man who gave religious sanction to mass murder. There is no escaping that though doubtless many will try. Were he white doubtless the postcolonial left would have spoken of him in the most disparaging language (especially if his victims were brown).

So, Sheikh Yassin supported the mass murder of Israeli civilians. The Israeli government's duty is the protection of its citizens. Therefore, the Israeli government was right to kill Sheikh Yassin, right?

Not so fast. I'm not going to touch the morality of suicide bombings, the occupation or the state of Israel. I'm going to focus on whether it was a good idea for Israel to assassinate Sheikh Yassin, (Let's not mince words here. Shiekh Yassin was specifically targeted. Connotations aside, that, my friends, is an assassination.) specifically from a cost/benefit perspective. Is this going to stop or discourage Hamas suicide bombings? No, quite the opposite.

Abu Aardvark points out,

For all the horrors of Hamas suicide bombing, Yassin has always been a pragmatist within Hamas. He was the only figure within Hamas with the authority, the charisma, and the inclination to negotiate and enforce compromise agreements. When it was in Hamas's interests to do so - as in the mid 1990s - he negotiated ceasefires and was able to enforce them. With Yassin gone, any possibility of a negotiated deal has gone. No such deal might have been possible at this point, to be sure - things have gotten so bad that it's hard to imagine a possible deal (anyone remember that road map which Bush promised Iraq would help implement?). At any rate, there will no longer be any check from the top on the most nihilistic, violent, and extreme lower level figures within the movement.
There are those who will dispute this characterization of Yassin's restraint or question the sincerity of his ceasefires given that his ultimate goal was the elimination of Israel (which he did not make a secret of). So the assassination of Sheikh Yassin almost certainly means greater aggression from Hamas and other intifada groups in the short term and also that Hamas no longer has a leader who could enforce a ceasefire. Both Israel and the US have been blind to the importance of a leader's credibility, as demonstrated by their circumvention of Yasser Arafat. No, Arafat did not make even a half-@$$ed effort to stop the intifada. But he has power and credibility among the Palestinians that Abu Mazen and, later, Ahmed Qurei don't. In fact, Israeli and US insistence on dealing with Qurei and Abu Mazen undermined their credibility in the eyes of Palestinians (and conversely the refusal to deal with Arafat increased his). Why would the Americans and Israelis insist on dealing with Qurei and Abu Mazen if they did not think the two more likely to make concessions? Only Nixon could go to China.

According to Allison Kaplan Sommer, Israeli public opinion has become pretty fatalistic:
They see that when we try to make nice and compromise we get terror attacks. And when we're tough and aggressive we get terror attacks.
via Gene@Harry's Place

Which brings up another good point. Remember when Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in the spring of 2000? What was the Palestinian reaction? Was it one of, "Hey, those Israelis aren't such bad guys. They aren't insatiable expansionists. Maybe we can learn to live together." No, the Palestinians, including leaders, saw this as the first victory in their eventual reconquest of the Holy Land. That kind of response does not give the Israeli government any incentive to make further concessions as well as gives lie to the cliche about "breaking the cycle of violence." It just isn't that easy. Of course, when "someone has to break the cycle of violence," more often than not it's accompanied by the strong implication that the burden falls more heavily on one of the parties.


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