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In defense of the Gaza
Rewrite the Script
2009-01-04 11:05:04

The Nation Press -

Amjad Atallah and Daniel Levy (The Guardian)

As of last week, Israel’s air assault on the Gaza Strip, an area only twice the size of Washington DC, and the world’s most densely populated territory, counted at least 400 dead Palestinians, including scores of children and over 800 wounded, four dead Israelis, and one dead Egyptian soldier.

Demonstrations against Israel and the United States took place in Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon, the Israeli occupied West Bank, throughout Europe — and even in Israel itself.

Demonstrators targeted Arab governments too, notably America’s ally, Egypt. It will get worse — whenever it wasn’t getting better it has always gotten worse.

For anyone to believe that this time everything will be different, they would have to be incredibly optimistic or foolish. The most likely script will be a variation on previous wars. Israel will “punish” the Arabs in Gaza as they have never been hurt before. Hamas will find ways to attack Israelis, either through rockets or through attacks inside Israel. If there is a ground war, many more civilians will die.

Once some days have passed and each side takes stock, they will begin looking for an exit strategy. If the Bush administration follows past protocol, it will encourage Israel to prolong the war in the hopes of achieving a “knock-out” blow.

At the end, a shaky return to the status quo will take place, each side will declare victory, and everyone will have lost. Israel will still have a Hamas-run Gaza Strip as its neighbour, and a more angry one to boot, Palestinians will have hundreds — if not thousands — of new graves, and hatred of the US throughout the Arab and Muslims worlds will have received a fresh boost.

So why not change the script?

The US should step in now and help negotiate a ceasefire that can achieve those goals that are consistent with American, Israeli, and Palestinian security interests, ending the violence and lifting the siege on Gaza. A third-party monitoring mechanism should be established that can work with Israel and Hamas to ensure compliance with the agreement. There is a precedent for this — in 1996, following the disastrous Israeli “Grapes of Wrath” operation in Lebanon, a monitoring group consisting of the US, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and France was instituted.

America’s allies have a profound role to play right now. They will need to create back-channel opportunities for serious discussions between Israel and Hamas over the terms of a new ceasefire.

Those terms will have to include reliable security for Israel and for Palestinians and a full opening of the Gaza Strip to humanitarian aid and economic assistance and development through both Israel and Egypt. That opening will have to come in part with Israel’s assistance, but also with Egypt’s. The institutionalisation of the “tunnel economy” between Egypt and the Gaza Strip needs to be normalised above the ground and Gaza’s civilians need to be allowed to travel for the first time.

A monitoring and verification mechanism will need to be created to ensure that each side fulfils its commitments with modalities to handle the inevitable problems that will arise. It will be necessary to place some monitors inside Gaza and on the border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

The Bush administration can and should be part of this effort. It may be leaving the world a much worse place than when it started, but it can at least try to put out one fire in its last weeks in office. If not, others will have to fill that vacuum something that has happened often in the last eight years and that we are seeing already in this latest crisis, with the beginnings of Turkish mediation and French truce efforts.

Finally, it must be made clear that this is a stop-gap measure, a prelude to a broader stabilisation effort that can deliver something at least approximating peace. And for that, America is indispensable. The place to start is not by injecting new life into the flawed Annapolis peace process. That effort, focused exclusively on the West Bank and on reaching a deal on paper, absent implementation mechanisms, inclusivity and a regional component, has just been exposed in all its redundancy.

In re-thinking its approach, America will have to work more closely with its allies, and develop a meaningful division of labour.

For instance, Turkey, Arab states like Qatar, and the Europeans should be allowed to take the lead in working to get Hamas’ formal acceptance of the Arab League initiative and negotiating a power-sharing agreement between the Fatah faction in control in the West Bank and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. The US has vetoed this approach in the past. Those allies will also have to be more forceful in advocating a different approach to the US and be willing to carry the extra burden of new responsibilities.

A key US national security interest goal for the incoming Obama administration is ending the state of hostility between Israel and her Arab neighbours and ensuring the creation of a Palestinian state that is part of a new regional security structure.

This will help promote a more stable regional environment for withdrawal from Iraq, dramatically improve the US negotiating position with Iran, ensure Israel’s prosperity and security, and win allies in the battle against Salafist extremism.

It is hard to overstate the importance of creating a new regional context in the Middle East. The narrow and self-serving interests of particular Israeli and Palestinian governments (and the Palestinians currently have two) have to be subsumed to that overriding necessity.

But figuring out how to get there will take a major rethink. Obama’s silence right now on Gaza, as opposed to his comments on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai or on the financial crisis, may not be such a bad thing if the alternative is an endorsement of dead-end conflict. Nuancing the failed policies the US has pursued in the Middle East over the last eight years is not enough, it will not give us very different results.

Coming up with a new policy and tactics should be something that exercises the Obama administration starting from day one.

In the meantime, the United States must be seen to be a source for conflict resolution not escalation — starting now with Gaza.


Source : Thenation press servecis
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