Skip to main content

Message of Gaza violence: Hamas can't be ignored

By Nathan J. Brown, Special to CNN
updated 6:47 PM EST, Sat November 17, 2012
A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26. A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26.
HIDE CAPTION
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Warning: Graphic image (single)
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nathan Brown: In Gaza violence, neither side has much to gain. So why can't they stop?
  • He says both sides want to show strength, deny the other a win to help their domestic politics
  • He says Hamas wants to send message it can't be ignored; still fighting will likely abate
  • Brown: U.S. "peace process" has wished away Hamas but must deal with reality of what is

Editor's note: Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is author of six books on Middle East politics, the most recent of which is "When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics" (Cornell University Press, 2012).

(CNN) -- The outbreak of violence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled "statelet" of Gaza serves no end. Both sides know that, yet they plunge ahead anyway, claiming that they are forced by their adversary to escalate the conflict.

Most experts agree that eventually the fighting will stop and leave the situation unchanged. The only question is the number of victims. If neither side has much to gain, why can't they stop themselves?

Each side suspects the other of playing domestic politics. Palestinians fear that the Israeli government is making war with an eye to upcoming elections. Israelis suspect that Hamas -- whose full name is the "Islamic Resistance Movement" -- is lobbing rockets because it is tired of its rivals' taunting that it is not living up to its middle name.

iReport: Photos from inside the protests in Israel

Nathan J. Brown
Nathan J. Brown

There is some truth to these charges, but the deeper motivations have to do less with pleasing the home crowd and more with frightening and deterring the other side.

Both sides would love to have their adversary disappear but know they cannot make that happen any time soon, so for now they each have more limited goals.

The Israelis know that they cannot dislodge Hamas from Gaza without unacceptable cost and endless occupation. But they want to punish the movement so severely that it will be deterred from future violence. Hamas knows that the damage it inflicts serves no strategic value, but it hopes that its rockets will cause dislocation and even panic in Israel and send an international message that Gaza cannot be ignored.

News: Israel: 'Iron Dome' blocks rocket fired toward Tel Aviv

So the fighting likely will be contained in the end. In addition to civilian casualties on both sides (with the toll much heavier in Gaza, since Israel is the much stronger party), there will be substantial political damage, as well. The United States will be regarded in the Arab world as complicit in the Israeli offensive. And Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel but whose population sympathizes with Hamas, will feel badly embarrassed by its apparent powerlessness.

Massive explosion in Gaza City
Is Iran the real target?
Egypt's role in Gaza-Israel conflict
Barrage of bombs, rockets

But the real blame on international actors -- including the United States and Egypt -- falls not on their actions during this crisis, but on their long inaction before.

The United States under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama supported a harsh blockade on Gaza and pretended that the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be dealt with as if Hamas does not exist and Gaza does not matter. Under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt quietly supported that position. Under Muhammad Morsy, Egypt's new president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is no longer quiet or supportive, but it has only been able to wield rhetorical tools.

Opinion: New dangers in familiar Gaza violence

Egypt (which now tilts toward Hamas) and the United States (which supports Israel) can, if they cooperate, probably bring about a ceasefire. What they do afterward is the real question.

There is no clear path forward for international diplomacy, but it is quite obvious what does not work: Waiting for Hamas to go away. In a visit to Gaza last May, I saw how thoroughly Hamas has come to dominate politics and society in the tiny but crowded enclave. The movement runs ministries, polices the streets and manages the economy. Gaza residents see no alternative to Hamas, nor are they asked for one, with elections canceled and opposition closely monitored.

As the Obama administration moves into its second term, it makes more sense to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that really exists rather than to pretend that there still is a "peace process" that only needs one more round of quiet talks to succeed.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nathan Brown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT