This conflict is about Palestine’s existence, not Israel’s
By: Chris Doyle
Gaza. Here we go again? Another round. It is a cycle of violence, a tour de farce on a road map to more death and destruction. Sadly, it was all too predictable. To most outside observers, nothing positive or constructive has been achieved by nine days of Hamas rocketing and Israeli bombardment. The Israeli war camp faces off against Hamas and other Islamist groups and all are more than content to up the hostilities if for no other reason than to weaken Fatah and the Israeli left who have favored talks. Hamas have dutifully played into Netanyahu’s hands by escalating the crisis just when international pressure on Israel over settlements was beginning to build a modicum of momentum. Two months ago, international players were scratching around to rescue a failed peace process. Now they are struggling just to cobble together a ceasefire.
But after three major Israeli military operations in five years, what can be done to transform an eventual ceasefire into a meaningful political process that has the chance of delivering a permanent political solution?
Israelis will be jetting off on their summer holidays, whereas the only airplanes Palestinians in Gaza get to see are watching them or bombing them from the skies
On past occasions, it has been “ceasefire and forget.” The major powers miss the opportunity created by the crisis to alter the fundamentals. A ceasefire allows Israelis to return to normal life, but Palestinians only get to return to their ritual of daily struggle for survival. In Gaza, over 70 percent remain dependent on aid handouts with few jobs. About 90 percent of the water is not fit for drinking. As the head of the Israeli water authority told me, “Don’t drink the water in Gaza. It’s either s*** or sea water.” Israelis will be jetting off on the summer holidays, whereas the only airplanes Palestinians in Gaza get to see are watching them or bombing them from the skies. Israelis tour the world; Palestinians tour their prison and cannot even approach its edges for fear of being shot.
So, how is the cycle to be broken?
The existing reality needs to be defragmented. For the last decade at least, the Israeli strategy, the chief architect of which was Ariel Sharon, was the division and fragmentation of Palestine and Palestinians. The West Bank and Gaza were separated. Jerusalem was separated from the rest of the West Bank. Palestinians could not travel between these areas. The West Bank was further fragmented into over 227 Palestinian areas by settlements, checkpoints and the barrier. The geographic and demographic fragmentation was matched by the political fragmentation of the Fatah-Hamas split.
Only be reversing this will there be hope of progress. The rulebook of Middle East crisis management and peace brokering must take a trip to the shedder. The EU in particular will need to become a player not just a payer and be prepared to use its considerable trading power for political leverage.
Options for the international community
The following options for the international community will not resolve this conflict but are part of an approach designed to create the framework in which a final deal might eventually come about.
Firstly, the world must realize this is a crisis over Palestine not Gaza, about whether Palestine should exist, not Israel whose existence is assured. Time and time again events in one or the other of these two areas of the occupied territories lead to a crisis in the other. The proximate trigger for the recent escalation occurred in the West Bank with the killings of Palestinian and Israeli teens. Yet the West Bank has barely merited a mention since the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza started as if it was somehow in another world. International statesman must stare down the Israeli rejectionists and recognize Palestine, restate that the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are one single unit under occupation and insist that trade and travel between the two is facilitated. International powers should make clear that the West Bank and Gaza Strip based on the 1967 lines form the state of Palestine, a reality which can only be changed with the mutual consent of both parties. Israeli ultra-nationalists must be put on notice that, just as Palestinians have been expected to recognize Israel, they too must recognize Palestine and Palestinian rights. This includes Netanyahu, whose much heralded conversion to supporting a Palestinian state in 2009 was clearly exposed as a sham when he stated clearly on July 11 that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
Secondly, we should support one united Palestinian political authority. The entire crisis almost certainly originated in a desire to smash April’s Fatah-Hamas unity pact. Whoever kidnapped and killed the three Israeli teenagers on June 12, wanted to provoke Israel. Netanyahu duly obliged. His forces arrested over 1,000 Palestinians and trashed institutions throughout the West Bank. Hamas responded through rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza. The international community must try to get a Fatah-Hamas deal back on track, leading to the Palestinian elections that were included in the pact. This will be tough but failure will reward the spoilers who do not want peace. These two movements will have to sort out their differences but should be allowed to do so free from the meddling of external powers, including Israel and Egypt.
Thirdly, political, economic and security issues should be considered together, not separately. Israel routinely insists on a security-first approach but without simultaneous political and economic progress, it fails. Maintaining the blockade and occupation puts Israeli security at risk, and international statesmen should start spelling that out.
Fourthly, the international community must insist on a non-violent, law-based approach to this conflict. To reduce the chances of a future conflagration, verification and monitoring mechanisms are essential – perhaps an International Presence that was originally envisaged in the Oslo Accords is a good idea. Those who violate international law or break the ceasefire must be held accountable.
Pro-Palestinian movement has to be more vocal
To reinforce this, the global pro-Palestinian movement has to be more vocal about the rocket attacks as they are so damaging to the quest for Palestinian freedom, as were the suicide bombings. These rocketing of Israeli civilian areas have achieved nothing for Palestinians, offered no defense to any single Palestinian as well as being illegal attacks on civilians. Instead of deterring Israel, it provides Israeli hawks with their dream opportunity to visit further hell on Palestinians. Criticizing the rockets does not excuse Israel for the crimes it has committed.
Finally, a new broker for final peace deal has to be found. The Quartet’s usefulness expired years ago and should be disbanded and its representative, Mr. Blair, given overdue retirement. The U.S. has a key role to play but must accept that its own domestic politics preclude it from being impartial and a more neutral mediator should be given a chance. This is a core part of rebalancing the approach to this conflict that sets a more even stage for proper negotiations.
Alternatively, around December 2016 – in the final weeks of the Obama Presidency – is as sound a bet as any for the next Gaza conflict.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.