Sunday, November 23, 2014

From Gaza to Where?

CANBERRA – The wisest words on the Second Gaza War may have come from an Israeli living in a kibbutz near the Gaza border. “If you want to defend me… Don’t send the Israel Defense Forces for us in order to ‘win,’” Michal Vasser wrote in Haaretz on November 15. “Start thinking about the long term and not just about the next election. Try to negotiate until white smoke comes up through the chimney. Hold out a hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Stop with the ‘pinpoint assassinations’ and look into the civilians’ eyes on the other side as well.”

Israel is, of course, entitled to defend itself from rocket attacks. But the lesson of the last two decades is that attacks stop, and intifadas do not start, when there is a prospect of peace – and that, when there is no such prospect, Palestinian militancy is uncontainable.

The chances of a comprehensive and sustainable two-state settlement now being negotiated with Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) – and of its acceptance, albeit grudgingly, by Gaza’s Hamas after a popular vote – may be slim and receding. But the only alternative is an endlessly recurring cycle of deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The immediate priority is to calm and stabilize the situation in Gaza. But if there are not to be more and even worse eruptions, Israeli policymakers need to ask themselves some fundamental questions. So, too, must their rusted-on supporters in the United States and countries like mine.

How is peace fostered if the elimination or dramatic diminution of Hamas’s capability leaves Gaza in the hands of even more militant groups, and gives Islamists throughout the region another recruitment tool?

How is Israel’s national security served when, by its action in Gaza and inaction with Abbas, it jeopardizes its longstanding and hard-won peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan (both now looking very fragile indeed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring)?

How can Israel’s preferred Palestinian leaders, Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, be left with any credible capacity to negotiate if talks cannot begin until, as Israel insists, they retreat on their minimum condition of a settlement freeze in the Occupied Territories?

For all that Israel downplays its significance, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 still offers a critically important deal: full normalization of relations by the entire Arab world in exchange for a comprehensive peace settlement. How long can this Arab League position be sustained with peace talks going nowhere?

Another big question for Israel is whether it can accept the consequences if a two-state solution disappears completely from the agenda. Israel, as founding father David Ben-Gurion warned, can be a Jewish state, it can be a democratic state, and it can be a state occupying the whole of historical Israel; but it cannot be all three.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Jews currently outnumber non-Jews, by 6.4 million to 5.6 million, in the total area of historical Palestine. But, with a much lower birthrate and declining immigration, it is only a matter of time before Jews are in a minority.

With Gaza still smoldering, yet another burning question is waiting in the wings. What are Israel and its supporters supposed to gain by bitterly resisting the United Nations General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member “observer state” (with a status like the Vatican), which now seems bound to be introduced, and passed by a huge international majority, on or around November 29?

The text of the draft resolution now in circulation contains no offensive language. It makes clear both that full UN membership remains to be determined and that final-status issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and security all remain to be negotiated. True, passage of this resolution might give Palestine some standing that it now lacks to seek prosecutions in the International Criminal Court for alleged violations of international law. But the ICC is not a kangaroo court, and allegations without substance can be expected to be treated accordingly.

Palestinian statehood has always been an indispensable requirement of Israel’s own long-term peace and security, and it is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest to defuse rather than further inflame the issue. This need has become more urgent than ever in view of the new realities of power in the region.

In short, Israel should treat the UN vote not as an excuse for renewed confrontation, but as an opportunity for a fresh start to serious negotiations. The US reaction is key: Rather than punishing the PA, and maybe the UN as well, it should use the resolution to propose the kind of diplomatic circuit-breaker for which the world has long been hoping.

Of course, to put on the table a comprehensive settlement plan that addresses all of the final-status issues, with compromises that all sides could be persuaded and pressured to accept, would require statesmanship. Unhappily, that quality has been agonizingly absent from Middle East diplomacy for almost as long as anyone can remember.

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    1. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

      The United States intervention prolonged WWI and lead to a catastrophic peace, with shockwaves (like WWII) felt until the present day, the United States partisanship also prolongs the Israeli-Gaza conflict which should have been settled 20 years ago. Why can't the US simply endorse the reasonable Brussels positions? Without the might of the US Israel would seek peace rather than to nurture and escalate a conflict.

    2. CommentedOlanrewaju Kamil-Muhammed OSENI

      The violence will continue when you have people one side that have been reduced to nothing and are not afraid to die because life is meaningless as it is,no employment,no security,they see children and civilians been killed.If israel wants peace, empower the gazans and palestinians,open up borders and let this people live life and i can bet you, they will be more concern aboult living than dying and think more about their family before taking any actions.Things have changed radically.US does not decide so much what happen again and Palestinians are no more begging to have peace talks and they are moving ahead to fight for their right and are getting more sympathy from some western world. Israel should act fast and in good conscience to protect themselves and give peace a chance.

    3. CommentedCher Calusa

      Mr. Hermann is correct. The answer will come from widespread cooperation and concern. In the meantime people would like to believe the problem is on one side or the other when clearly it isn't. We don't hear about what is good for the Palestinians very much. Are Palestinians well off under the governance of Hamas? Have they ever been? If the current governmental structures were leading them towards cooperation and peace their country would be thriving. Are we so naive to believe that Palestinians are really determining what is best for their nation? They are virtual hostages in their own region. Solutions have not been carried forward because there are too many conflicts of interest among world powers who gain no advantage if there is a true peace or if Palestinian people themselves determine their own future. The world community shares responsibility for the exploitation of Palestinians and many other groups around the world because the world community has not learned to work together as a system cooperating for the good of all .

    4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I agree that long term peace can only be achieved in a wider, international context.
      And in this respect the two fighting parties, especially the Palestinians are just pawns in the hands of much stronger powers.
      It is not enough that the nation of Israel and the Palestinians wanted peace.
      Those nations, powers who keep the Palestinians there as proxies, live baits provoking Israel would also need to want peace.
      We can add to this circle the even greater forces who clashed and disagreed on any solution regarding Syria recently and thus we can see that as long as all the nations, especially the leading forces in the world are not interested in a long lasting peace in the Middle East (and other similarly conflict ridden regions), until they do not start viewing geopolitical situations, conflicts without self interest, concentrating on the well being and stability of the whole system, whatever happens on the ground has very little relevance.
      In order to this shift in attitude and policy making to happen people simply would need to recognize how interconnected and interdependent the world has become.
      Today in this fully integrated system whoever introduces a negative input into the network, gets it back with multiple force like a furious boomerang.