Hope for the hopeless?

Richard Falk identifies a source of hope for the Palestinians:

Winning militarily but losing politically should not surprise students of modern warfare. After all, the United States won every battle in Vietnam and yet eventually lost the war. The same was true for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and indeed it was the general pattern in decolonization struggles. In such wars the militarily dominant side not only loses the war but generates a deep crisis at home and experiences a tarnished international reputation. What these counterinsurgency or neocolonial wars have in common is that "the enemy" is merged with civilian society; the fighting abandons the restraints of international humanitarian law; and by killing helpless civilians, the occupying or colonial power is perceived as committing war crimes. This has been the case in Gaza, with worldwide outrage inflicting on Israel a major defeat in the battle for public legitimacy, which in the end is often decisive in shaping the outcome of major conflicts.

Neither the United States nor Israel has discovered the limits of military power in the contemporary world. The leaders of both countries seem unable to learn the lesson of recent history: that occupation in the postcolonial world rarely produces the desired results at an acceptable cost. It is from this perspective, despite a horrific price in lives and suffering, that the Palestinians may be slowly winning the "second war," the legitimacy war, whose battlefield has become global. Perhaps the most impressive victory in a legitimacy war was won by South Africa's antiapartheid movement. If the Gaza conflict brings the Palestinian struggle for self-determination to the top of the global justice agenda, it will be a major victory for Hamas….

Military campaigns usually have a clear beginning and end, as well as a visible battlefield. In contrast, legitimacy wars have no clear boundaries and involve subtle shifts of public opinion that can alter the overall political climate in decisive ways. I believe the Gaza conflict, especially against the background of Israel's prior siege and its 2006 Lebanon misadventure, is approaching that tipping point. Despite the frightful punishment inflicted on Gaza's people, despite the bitterly divided Palestinian leadership, despite the cruelties of more than four decades of occupation, the Palestinians are poised to achieve victory.

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