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November 20, 2012

Area experts have grim hope for Gaza

Local observers seenew twists in old feud

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are fighting once more, with the conflict poised on the knife edge of an Israeli ground invasion.

For Brett Heindl, an associate professor of political science at the State University College at Oneonta, it has a familiar ring.

“It’s another one of those situations where it’s hard to tell who is at fault and who started it, because it all depends on where you start the clock,” he said. “Do you start at two weeks ago? Do you start at two years ago? Do you start at two centuries ago?”

Rabbi Donald Roberts of Temple Beth El in Oneonta has also seen crises play out many times in the Middle East.

“It’s an old story that continues to show its face,” he said.

But the rabbi cautioned against attempts to blame the violence on one side or the other.

“It has to get way beyond blaming everybody,” he said. “It’s never going to be solved by blaming the Palestinians or blaming the Israelis.”

The period outbreaks of violence have occupied that latter half of the 20th century and the opening decades of the 21st century.

“Both sides so fervently think that they’re right,” Heindl said, and when violence like that of the past week gets started, “the dynamic then becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Stopping such a cycle, once it gets going, is difficult.

“They think it’s a war of attrition,” Roberts said of radical Palestinians.

“Israel isn’t going to fall apart,” he said. “Israel is the 10th most-powerful military in the world, and it is the No. 1 military power in the Middle East, so it’s not going to fall apart so easily.”

Heindl pointed to the last time when outside mediation was effective.

“The closest they’ve come in 20 years has been with the Oslo peace talk back in the mid-’90s,” he said.

“What really helped there was you had the Norwegian government and the Clinton White House stepping in to act as mediators.”

But the situation now also is more complicated than it was back then, Roberts said.

“You know Iran is involved with a lot of this (violence) behind the scenes, and with Syria being in disarray – and God knows what will happen with Jordan next – the whole area is just a powder keg,” he said. “It’s a different environment than it used to be. It’s not just Israel anymore and the Palestinians.”

The United States has been taking a cautious approach toward the crisis, Heindl said.

“U.S. officials “have issued a couple of statements, and they’ve clearly put the onus on Hamas to back down,” Heindl said. “They’ve said it’s Hamas that needs to stop firing rockets.”

But the U.S. also hasn’t brought the issue before the U.N. Security Council, either, he said.

For now, mediation is largely in the hands of Egypt and its new president, Mohammed Morsi.

“Egypt is trying to live up to their agreement of the Camp David accords, and Morsi ... is trying to be a good guy,” Roberts said.

Heindl agreed that part of the reason for America’s arms-length position that may be friction between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think that does kind of play a role in that somewhere,” Heindl said, adding, “They clearly don’t like each other very much.”

Roberts, too, acknowledged the rift with Obama.

“I don’t think Netanyahu particularly relates to him,” he said, adding that while he voted to Obama, he thinks some past presidents were more supportive.

“I would say so far, he shown support for Israel, but it’s not a loud support,” the rabbi said.

However, Heindl said that U.S.strategic interests probably would trump any animosity between the two leaders.

“They’re a partner in the Middle East,” he said of Israel. The only other strong U.S. ally in the region is Saudi Arabia, he said.

In the end, Israel and the Palestinians will have to reach some sort of understanding for there to be peace, Roberts said.

“Ultimately my fantasy is that both countries would work together to enable each country to be a better country,” he said. “That would be the greatest moment in my life.”