TAK­ING ITS TOLL

The Gaza wars have failed to liq­ui­date Ha­mas; on the con­trary, Ha­mas has emerged stronger and bet­ter equipped de­spite the pum­mel­ing it fre­quently re­ceives from Is­rael

Viet Nam News - - Front Page - EmileNakhleh*

The Gaza wars have failed to liq­ui­date Ha­mas; on the con­trary, Ha­mas has emerged stronger and bet­ter equipped de­spite fre­quent shellings from Is­rael.

— As the killing and de­struc­tion rages on in Gaza, and as Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and the Ha­mas lead­er­ship ex­change re­crim­i­na­tions and threats, key re­gional and world play­ers must ac­cept a cen­tral tru­ism: No peace can be achieved be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans with­out in­clud­ing Ha­mas. The quicker they in­ter­nalise this fact, the faster the cy­cle of vi­o­lence can be bro­ken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liq­ui­date Ha­mas; on the con­trary, Ha­mas has emerged stronger and bet­ter equipped de­spite the pum­mel­ing it fre­quently re­ceives from Is­rael.

At the same time, Is­rael’s as­sault on Gaza re­flects Tel Aviv’'s con­cern about the re­gion as a whole, not just about Ha­mas. Such con­cerns are driven by the rise of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism in Gaza and across the re­gion, the grow­ing in­flu­ence of right-wing rad­i­cal Jewish groups and po­lit­i­cal move­ments in Is­rael, the bru­tal civil war in Syria, the col­laps­ing state struc­tures in Libya and Ye­men, a fail­ing state in Iraq, the marginal­i­sa­tion of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity ( PA) lead­er­ship in Ra­mal­lah, and the frag­ile po­lit­i­cal sys­tems in Le­banon and Jor­dan.

Is­raeli wor­ries also stem from a resur­gent Iran, a po­ten­tial nu­clear agree­ment be­tween Iran and world pow­ers, and the per­ceived di­min­ish­ing in­flu­ence of the United States across the re­gion. Un­able to in­flu­ence these “seis­mic shifts” in the re­gion, Is­rael has re­sisted any long-term work­able ac­com­mo­da­tion with the Pales­tini­ans as well as end­ing its oc­cu­pa­tion of Arab lands.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and other gov­ern­ments must work to end the 47-year-old oc­cu­pa­tion of the West bank and the block­ade of Gaza. The Gaza Strip is con­sid­ered the world’s largest open-air prison, block­aded on three sides by Is­rael and on one side by Egypt. This eco­nomic and politi- cal en­cir­clement must be bro­ken if the eco­nomic and so­cial con­di­tions of Gazan res­i­dents are to im­prove.

Poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, poor health and hy­giene, and a lack of power and clean wa­ter have gen­er­ated anger and hope­less­ness, which have of­ten re­sulted in the fre­quent fir­ing of rock­ets to­ward Is­rael. While mostly in­ef­fec­tive, these rock­ets have terrorised Is­raeli res­i­dents in the south­ern part of the coun­try. This too must stop.

The bloody con­fronta­tions be­tween West Bank Pales­tini­ans and the Is­raeli forces in Jerusalem at the Ka­lan­dia cross­ing, and be­tween Arabs in Is­rael and Is­raeli po­lice demon­strate that the Gaza war has spread to other parts of Pales­tine. This bodes ill for Is­rael and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

Is­rael’s glee at the Egyp­tian govern­ment and me­dia’'s en­mity to­ward Ha­mas is ephemeral and tran­si­tory. The Sisi ad­min­is­tra­tion would be un­able to with­stand its peo­ple and other Arabs’ anger at what they view as Is­raeli ag­gres­sion against the Pales­tini­ans.

Hav­ing fol­lowed this con­flict, in­clud­ing the rise of Ha­mas, for decades, both in academia and in govern­ment, and hav­ing briefed se­nior officials on these is­sues for years, long-last­ing peace be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans will re­main elu­sive un­less re­gional and global lead­ers be­gin to re-exam- ine their decades-old as­sump­tions about the con­flict.

Such a step would be se­verely crit­i­cised by par­ti­sans from, and on be­half of, both sides, in­clud­ing many in the US Congress. There­fore, courage, per­se­ver­ance, and new think­ing are needed to em­power stake­hold­ers to push the process for­ward.

Ha­mas and Is­rael

De­stroy­ing Gaza, killing thou­sands of in­no­cent civil­ians, blow­ing up Ha­mas tun­nels, and liq­ui­dat­ing its lead­ers will not erad­i­cate Ha­mas or si­lence its drive against the Is­raeli block­ade. Ha­mas draws strength not from its re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy but from its re- sis­tance to the en­cir­clement, which has stran­gled and im­pov­er­ished most of the 1.6 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans in the Gaza Strip.

The cur­rent Is­raeli war on Gaza plus the two pre­vi­ous ones in 2008-09 and 2012 have not re­ally been about the per­ceived ex­is­ten­tial threat Ha­mas poses to Is­rael. These con­flicts have been rooted in the fail­ure of the so- called peace process.

The asym­me­try be­tween Is­rael’s mil­i­tary might and Ha­mas’ weaponry, which in­cludes home­made and home-up­graded rock­ets, can­not pos­si­bly al­low Ha­mas to pose a cred­i­ble mor­tal threat to Is­rael.

The ter­ror­is­ing of civil­ians along the Gaza-Is­rael border is ab­hor­rent and must not be tol­er­ated, but it is also not an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Is­rael, nor does it jus­tify Is­rael’s mas­sive bom­bard­ment of res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods, hos­pi­tals, and schools in Gaza City and across the strip. Is­rael could eas­ily de­stroy the tun­nels on both sides of the border with­out de­stroy­ing thou­sands of homes and re­duc­ing Gaza to rub­ble.

The Is­raeli as­sault could also be seen as a re­sponse to the re­cent rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the PA ad­min­is­tra­tion in Ra­mal­lah and Ha­mas in Gaza and the for­ma­tion of a Pales­tinian na­tional unity govern­ment of tech­nocrats. The sup­port the US and EU showed for the new Pales­tinian govern­ment con­cerned Ne­tanyahu deeply, and he pro­ceeded to tor­pedo it. Ne­tanyahu’s Gaza war be­lies his claim that he was gen­uinely look­ing for a so- called Pales­tinian “part­ner.”

Iso­la­tion of Ha­mas

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Is­raeli govern­ment sup­ported hold­ing elec­tions in Gaza in Jan­uary 2006, which Ha­mas won fairly and con­vinc­ingly. Both Wash­ing­ton and Tel Aviv were stunned by the re­sults and pro­ceeded to dele­git­imise the elec­tion re­sults and tor­pedo the new Ha­mas ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Gazans voted for Ha­mas not be­cause of its re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy but be­cause of its com­mu­nity ser­vice and re­sis­tance to the Is­raeli block­ade. The leg­endary cor­rup­tion of the PA ad­min­is­tra­tion in Ra­mal­lah also un­der­pinned the vote for Ha­mas.

The morn­ing af­ter the elec­tion, a few se­nior mem­bers of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­vo­cated giv­ing Ha­mas a chance to en­gage Is­rael on prac­ti­cal is­sues, in­clud­ing travel per­mits, the power grid, wa­ter, and com­merce. If Ha­mas failed to do so within a cou­ple of months, these officials ar­gued, the US and Is­rael would pull the rug from un­der Ha­mas.

That ar­gu­ment, which ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports at the time, was favoured by Pres­i­dent Bush, lasted for one day. The counter ar­gu­ment favour­ing an im­me­di­ate iso­la­tion of Ha­mas, which was strongly ad­vo­cated by neo­con­ser­va­tives in the US and in Is­rael, car­ried the day.

The Gaza wars in 200809, 2012, and now are ar­guably a di­rect re­sult of the re­fusal of Is­rael and the US to ac­cept the 2006 elec­tion re­sults and en­gage Ha­mas. Had en­gage­ment oc­curred, the liv­ing stan­dards of Gazans would have im­proved markedly; there would have been no need for a “tun­nel econ­omy” or a “tun­nel mil­i­tary”.

Un­for­tu­nately, Is­raeli politi­cians to­day seem to be view­ing Ha­mas and the con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion and en­cir­clement through the same nar­row prism of 2006.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle I ar­gued the two-state so­lu­tion was dead and called for new think­ing. The same ap­plies to the cur­rent con­flict.

Af­ter 47 years of oc­cu­pa­tion, nine years of blockad­ing Gaza, two in­tifadas, and three wars, Is­rael, the Pales­tini­ans, and the US must ac­cept the fact that war, ter­ror­ism, and oc­cu­pa­tion can­not solve the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

With the death of the two- state op­tion, the peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans be­tween the Mediter­ranean Sea and the Jor­dan River can only be achieved through a new par­a­digm grounded in jus­tice, hu­man dig­nity, equal­ity, and tol­er­ance.

In­clud­ing Ha­mas in talks for an en­dur­ing end to the con­flict could be done through a joint Pales­tinian del­e­ga­tion com­prised of the PA, Ha­mas, and other fac­tions. For this ap­proach to suc­ceed, how­ever, it must in­clude an end to the block­ade of Gaza.

Once the two peo­ples liv­ing to­gether em­bark on this path, they will re­ject the logic of oc­cu­pa­tion and ter­ror­ism and fo­cus on build­ing a more hope­ful fu­ture.

For its part, the US should jet­ti­son all fu­tile at­tempts to push for a so­called peace process. Rather, we should be­gin se­ri­ous ef­forts to help the two peo­ples op­er­a­tionalise the new par­a­digm. IPS

* Emile Nakhleh is a Re­search Pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, a mem­ber of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, and au­thor of “ A Nec­es­sary En­gage­ment ”

-- AFP/ VNA Photo

The bod­ies of those killed in an Is­raeli strike on a com­pound hous­ing a UN school in Beit Lahia in the north­ern Gaza Strip are lined up at Ka­mal Ed­wan hos­pi­tal in Beit Lahia early yes­ter­day. Is­raeli bom­bard­ments early yes­ter­day killed "dozens" of Pales­tini­ans in Gaza, in­clud­ing at least 16 at a UN school, medics said, on day 23 of the Is­rael-Ha­mas con­flict.

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