Changing the reality in Gaza

by Alon Ben-Meir 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.
Web: www.alonben-meir.com
06.01.2009

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 behaviour 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 states
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 anything 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.


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