Skip to main content

Message of Gaza violence: Hamas can't be ignored

By Nathan J. Brown, Special to CNN
November 17, 2012 -- Updated 2347 GMT (0747 HKT)
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
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT