Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Nathan Thrall, an International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst in the Middle East, wrote Thursday in the New York Times:

the most immediate cause of this latest war [in Gaza] has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.

This is a classic case of the logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc: after this, hence because of this.

Thrall is right about the merits of support for the national consensus government.  It would have been a good idea. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s allergy to negotiating with a united Palestine has more to do with his own hesitation about a two-state solution than it does with Hamas, with which Israel is in daily contact under normal conditions. But the notion that failure to support the national consensus government caused the war, and therefore the West is responsible, is both logical and analytical nonsense.

The most immediate cause of the ongoing Gaza war lies in the objectives of the warring parties. Israel says it is trying to end Hamas’ rocket and infiltration capabilities, by destroying rockets, launchers, manufacturing facilities and tunnels. Hamas says it wants release of its cadres re-arrested after the murder of three Israeli teenagers, as well as relief from the Israeli blockade of Gaza. I doubt either will achieve more than a small portion of its objectives, but both seem prepared to sustain the effort for weeks if not months.

Thrall however purveys the notion that Hamas would not have gone to war except that it was denied funding to pay its civil servants.  He writes in reference to the funding:

Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities.

This ignores Hamas’ stated war aims and strains credibility. If paying civil servant salaries were its primary objective, Hamas would stop manufacturing and launching rockets so that it could redirect the resources. If it wanted the border crossings with Egypt opened for legitimate trade, as Thrall also claims, it would have done well to accept the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire, since Cairo controls them.

Thrall is no better on Israel’s war aims. He describes them this way:

Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.

No doubt there are Israelis who wish these plagues on Gaza, and they may return as a result of this war. But Israel’s government will clearly not be satisfied with the status quo ante, which it would define not in terms of undrinkable water but rather in terms of the missile and infiltration threat.

Thrall’s inability to state Israel’s or Hamas’ war aims dispassionately and accurately renders his conclusion illogical and even silly:

The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.

Does he seriously believe that Hamas would be so pleased with Israeli willingness to talk to the national consensus government (in which Hamas is not directly represented) that it would agree to use financial transfers to pay its civil servants rather than to buy more rocket fuel? Is Israel likely to find reversal of its policy on Palestine’s national consensus government an attractive proposition from the perspective of ending the rocket and infiltration threats?

I agree with Thrall about the virtues of a “generous” ceasefire that enables Gaza to obtain the resources needed for its administration and to trade legitimate goods and services with the rest of the world. But there is no evidence that those are Hamas’ primary concerns, or that meeting them would convince Hamas to lay down its arms.

Regular readers of will know that I have often criticized ICG work on the Balkans in recent years. I fear the sloppy syndrome has infected its Middle East work as well. Neither ICG nor the New York Times should fall for post hoc ergo propter hoc.

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One thought on “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”

  1. Daniel,

    I take your critique and wholly agree with its validity. However, are you not also post hoc ergo propter hoc with tying this current bloodletting to the proximate causes put forward by the belligerents? Thrall begins his timeline with the rejection of the Palestinian ‘national consensus’ government. You seem to begin yours with the lobbing of rockets and their attendant terrorization of Israelis – perhaps with the Israeli arrests of Hamas members on the West Bank (so my point is ecumenical, not that you are ‘pro-‘ any one side).

    The point is that the ‘normalization’ of occupation and the blockade of Gaza should not be internalized in any valid critique of the conflict. The center cannot hold as long as violence of the occupation and blockade are maintained; they are not ‘normal’ conditions under which any human society could be expected to live.

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