A Commentary on Gaza in Progress, and a Response:
CHANGING THE REALITY IN GAZA
Alon Ben-Meir,* January 5, 2009
Israel’s ongoing and decisive military response to Hamas’ continuing rocket attacks should have been anticipated by the organization’s leadership. Yet it seems they have badly miscalculated the Israelis’ sentiment and resolve. They have failed to realize that Israel cannot afford further erosion of its deterrence credibility especially in the wake of the summer 2006 war in Lebanon; that Israel views this conflict in its wider context of the future challenges from Iran and Hezbollah; and that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will not be conducted under the gun. Counting on international pressure to bring a quick end to the Israeli onslaught may also prove to be misplaced as Israel is now determined to never allow a return to the status quo ante.
It is nothing less than tragic that innocent Palestinian civilians are caught up in the middle of this and inadvertently suffering injuries and death resulting from the irresponsible behavior of religiously fanatic cult leaders who have long since they lost their moral compass. More worrisome is the reaction of many Arab government representatives, especially the Palestinian Authority, who publicly condemn the Israeli military response without even alluding to Hamas’ unilateral ending of the ceasefire, barrage of daily rockets aimed at Israeli communities and use of women and children as human shields. Privately the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, as many other Arab leaders, wish for the complete destruction of Hamas, yet never muster the courage to publicly hold Hamas responsible for putting their people in harms way while undermining the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to negotiate an agreement with Israel based on a two-state solution. It is understandable that the Arab leadership wants to end the Palestinian suffering in Gaza and needs to publicly appear sympathetic to that cause; hypocrisy however, will not stop future Palestinian suffering or end the bloodshed. The Palestinian people have suffered enough and the only way to end their misery is by insuring that Hamas emerges from this conflict as the ultimate looser. For as long as Hamas continues to openly advocate the destruction of Israel and other Arab states remain silent about it, the Palestinian people will be subjected, time and again, to the horror of war brought upon them by Hamas’ reckless leaders and Arab acquiescence.
Mindful of this, Israel must remain committed to ending the occupation. But to hasten that date the current conflict must be concluded in a manner that is conducive to the resumption of peace negotiations in a calm atmosphere. Short of toppling Hamas- which would be the ideal outcome, Israel must insist on the following measures before ending the hostilities aimed at Hamas’ leadership, infrastructure and military establishment.
First, Israel must compel Hamas to end its rocket attacks either by destroying its stockpile of rockets or by forcing its leadership to accept the Israeli demand without any recourse. Israel must not end its incursion into Gaza unless this objective is fully realized. This is particularly important as it sends a clear message to Hezbollah and Iran that the 2006 summer war was an aberration and that challenging Israel again will force its enemies to meet the same fate.
Second, to arrive at a sustainable cessation of hostilities Israel should welcome the stationing of international force composed primarily from Arab sates such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia and aided by monitors from the United States and given the mandate to use any force deemed necessary to prevent any violation of the ceasefire. The force should remain in the territory at the behest of the UN and can be removed only by UNSC resolution.
Third, Egypt in cooperation with Israel and with the help of the EU must bring a total end to the smuggling of weapons and munitions to Gaza from the Sinai. This requirement is a sin qua non to accepting any future ceasefire. Otherwise, as long as Hamas continues to be supplied with weapons Iran’s and Hezbollah’s influence will persist and it will be only a matter of time before the next conflagration.
Fourth, under the above three conditions to ease the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza on a permanent basis, the Israeli-Gaza and the Egyptian-Gaza border crossings should be reopened provided they are manned by Israeli-Palestinian Authority and Egyptian-Palestinian Authority respectively. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can accept any thing less than that as Hamas’ authority in Gaza must be marginalized and having no say on border crossings provides a clear statement to that effect.
Fifth, to seek a breakthrough from the current breakdown, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must recommit themselves to an immediate resumption of the peace negotiations to bring an end to the occupation. In this regard, the Obama administration can play a significant role by leaning on the leading Arab states to bring all the necessary pressure to bear on Hamas to accept the Arab Peace Initiative and ask Israel to embrace it as well. This will also restore Palestinian unity between a Gaza and West Bank both under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which is critical to any effort to bring about sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies: email@example.com, http://www.alonben-meir.com.