Gaza solution must be inclusive
A new three-day truce has been agreed upon and the Israeli delegation is back in Cairo to deliver its response to Palestinian demands through the Egyptian intermediary.
But the gap between the two sides remains wide and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is resisting pressure to give Hamas anything that can be interpreted as victory. Instead he is pushing for acceptance of his condition that a wide-range political deal must include the demilitarization of the Strip.
Failure to achieve an agreement means that hostilities will flare up again and both sides will be drawn into a war of attrition.
The cost will be high for both. Netanyahu’s coalition is divided between those who believe the military option is no longer suitable and that Israel should engage in a political deal, and those, on the far right, who think the army should finish the job even if it means reoccupation of Gaza. Netanyahu would rather give nothing to the Palestinians and return to the status quo ante i.e. keeping the blockade and maintaining a long-term truce.
For Hamas and other resistance groups such an option is off the table. It means that Israel had won and that the heavy price paid by civilians in Gaza was all for nothing.
Furthermore, it would gravely unsettle Hamas, both politically and militarily, and take off armed resistance from the equation of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But most of all such an option is not realistic. Gaza has been destroyed in over a month of Israeli bombardment; its infrastructure has collapsed.
There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis, which requires regular and unimpeded flow of aid and goods into Gaza from all sides. Gazans will not accept anything less than the full lifting of the economic blockade. It is hard for Israel to acknowledge that it did not win in this latest confrontation. The political price will eventually be paid by Netanyahu and the top brass in the military and intelligence.
And as a result Israel must now accept that it cannot force a humiliating settlement on Gaza. Going back to the pre-July 8 flare up is no longer tenable. Even US President Barack Obama agrees that Gaza’s isolation should end.
Allowing the war to resume will prove detrimental to both sides. Israelis are getting fed up with having to head to shelters every time a rocket is launched from Gaza.
The economy has suffered and there is limited support for an extended operation that will involve full-fledged occupation. Israelis are coming to grips with the fact that their army has lost the weapon of deterrence.
But most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Israel’s image abroad has been tarnished as a result of using excessive violence against Palestinian civilians, including children. Israel’s month-long onslaught against Gazans has boosted support for Palestinians worldwide as demonstrated by public rallies held in many countries.
Public pressure on western governments, which had supported Israel’s operation in Gaza initially, is mounting forcing leaders to openly criticize the use of force against civilians and calling for an end to hostilities.
Continuing to pound Gaza will no longer be acceptable by the US and others and Israel’s window to carry out more bombings has already closed.
On the other hand, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others continue to enjoy the support of the majority of Gazans, despite the heavy price. But this may change if the war resumes and the humanitarian disaster expands. Meanwhile, no one really knows when the stockpiles of rockets will run out or how long can the resistance maintain its war of attrition. With the ongoing blockade it will be impossible for the resistance to replenish its stocks of rockets. But it seems to reassure its enemy that it’s in it for the long run.
Egypt’s role in bringing the two sides closer is crucial. Perhaps this role will assume more importance following the recent visit by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Saudi Arabia where he discussed the Gaza crisis with King Abdullah. Both countries now see an opportunity to find a long-term political solution to the Gaza issue.
One immediate step would be to encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Europeans to take over the border crossing of Rafah, on the Palestinian side. This would ensure the regular flow of goods and passengers and would alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
One thing that needs to be stressed by the Arabs now is the Gaza conflict cannot be separated from the entire Palestinian issue. The core challenge here is the ongoing Israeli occupation and the failure so far to find a political settlement.
Israel would loath to see international pressure gathering to force it to meet its obligations as an occupying power. But if stability and security is to be guaranteed Israel’s occupation must end.
The coming hours therefore are crucial. The Palestinians should remain united in their position and demands. The Egyptian mediator, backed by the Arabs, should push for a more comprehensive approach to the conflict.
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